Who Gets To Tell The Story?
I’ve been thinking and hearing a lot about story. Our organization’s conference this summer highlighted story, I hear talks on how important it is, and I read blog posts about how to use storytelling to develop organizational identity. Just yesterday I read a post by Jen Duncan on story that spurred on more thoughts on this topic, and I want to explore them a bit here.
The blog post, “Inspiration vs. Appropriation: When Does it Cross the Line?“, is great and definitely thought-provoking, but one line in particular stuck out to me that I want to process. The writer, while talking about the movie The Help, commented, “When do people of color get to tell their own story?” The title she gave the post on Twitter also drew my attention because she asked the question, “Will the dominant culture only pay attention to a story if it is told by one of their own?”
These two questions are questions I’ve been asking lately as it relates to ethnic minority ministry within a predominately white organization. I’ve been reminded lately that it is difficult for the dominant culture to really engage stories of people that are different than them. The way I’ve seen majority culture people (that are motivated to have all ethnic stories told) try to compensate for that is to tell the minority story for the minorities. The hope is that having it come from them will make people more able to listen. The other tendency I’ve seen is for a majority culture person to tell their own story of how they personally experienced transformation when they stepped into the reality of an ethnic minority. Both of these methods are good and have value, but the question still remains: When will the ethnic minority get to tell their own story? When will they be given the microphone in these majority culture settings to tell of their God story that looks different than the others in the room? When will that space be created for them to speak up and be empowered to use their own voice?
While there have been times that I’ve seen minorities be given a platform to express their own experiences, those times have been far too seldom. My hope is to see that happen more and more. It is redemptive when a person from the dominant culture steps aside and says, “I want to hear you. I want to be changed and have my view of God expanded. Share and let me listen.”
The concept of empowerment comes to mind as I type out my thoughts here. If empowerment is embedded in servant leadership, shouldn’t we seek to serve minorities by empowering them to be their own communicators of their own journeys? While there is a place for expressing and advocating on their behalf, shouldn’t we primarily be trying to give them the space to do it themselves?
As a minority, I’m not exempt from needing to think about this. Whenever I am given power to speak up on behalf of my culture, am I making room for other’s stories besides my own? Am I so enamored with my own opportunities that I forget I am called to servanthood just as much as my majority culture brothers and sisters? If I advocate only for myself, I fall into the same self-serving pattern of looking out only for my own interests. I don’t want to be that kind of leader. I must steward my storytelling opportunities too.
So here are my questions to majority culture people:
- How do you seek to let ethnic minorities tell their own story?
- In what ways have you given them the room to be their own advocates?
To minorities like myself:
- What keeps us from stepping into that place ourselves where we push for opportunities to be our own storyteller? We have a powerful narrative that speaks of God and is unique to each one of us.
- What are some of your experiences with this?
- When we have the opportunity to share, are we empowering others too?
Photo courtesy: Jakuza