How Black Stories Have Been Told
You may find it unsurprising that Black stories have been mismanaged and reconstructed over the years. Anyone who has attempted to tell the full story has been silenced, defunded, or others have attempted to discredit them. There are resources out there, like the Zinn Education Project, working “to introduce students to a more accurate, complex, and engaging understanding of United States history than is found in traditional textbooks and curricula”
However, the curriculum shared in our public school system was written by white people for white people. Black stories are rarely included in the narrative (usually resigned to months like Black History Month). When they are, the focus is on stories we are comfortable with or have been “wrapped up” well. You know the ones.
Stories that don’t mention MLK’s anti-Capitalist, anti-Imperialist beliefs. Stories that only talk about Rosa Parks’ role in the bus boycotts, but don’t mention Claudette Colvin. Stories focusing on the resilience of Elizabeth Eckford of the “Little Rock Nine,” but ignoring the tormenting she endured at the hands of white peers and the enabling administration during her year at Little Rock Central High.
We either ignore, or briefly cover, the horrors of slavery. We’re taught narratives like workers being “brought over” from Africa; the Civil War being about “States’ rights;” not mentioning the origins of policing being slave catching patrols; and we’re told the “faithful slave” narrative, but never the stories about slave revolts and resistance.
The Lasting Effects of White Supremacy
Black folks today are still facing the effects of white supremacy in this country. We’re still discovering and uncovering Black contributions to the arts, medicine, science, technology, and more. Four years ago the world was introduced to NASA mathematicians Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson through the film Hidden Figures. But even in the movies that should center Black women, a white male savior is inserted and applauded for doing the bare minimum deed of not being as racist as his colleagues.
The majority of Black stories we see in the media are created by people who are weirdly obsessed with “trauma porn.” As a result, we’ve become desensitized to harm inflicted on Black people.
Black stories must be told truthfully and honestly. The best way to ensure this is done? LET BLACK PEOPLE TELL THEIR OWN STORIES!
Black Stories in the Future
In case you’ve forgotten or were unaware, it’s Black Futures Month! Many only know of it as Black History Month but I’d like to bring to our attention:
THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE!!
Afrofuturism is the reimagining of a future filled with arts, science and technology seen through a Black lens. Afrofuturism imagines and creates a world “rooted in and unapologetically celebrating the uniqueness and innovation of Black culture.” It doesn’t center whiteness and white supremacy, or trauma caused by them. These stories are important and worthy of telling.
When we talk about telling Black stories, we must remember that Blackness is as beautiful as it is complex. We contain multitudes.
Getting one story from one Black person (whether that be a family member, lover, or your Black friend) DOES NOT tell the story of ALL Black people. It doesn’t do justice to the diversity in Blackness because of our queerness, socioeconomic status, citizenship status, etc. Our stories also differ geographically. My experience in Decatur, Georgia is not the same as someone in Cape Town, South Africa, or even a different city in the U.S.
There are many Black stories to be told. Read that again: there are many Black stories to be told! Keeping this in mind helps keep us honest about all that we do not know and prevents us from making “big T” truths out of our “little t” truths. It leaves room for others to share their perspectives, for knowledge and opinion to be created together.
Black Narrative Power
A dear friend of mine is a part of a project, Media 2070, that asks the question: What would be different for Black folks if we had always owned our stories?
This is a question worth deeply considering.
I encourage you all to check out the work Media 2070 is doing to reclaim and embrace what they call Black Narrative Power:
Black Narrative Power means “we have the ability to really hold tenderly and steward our stories from ideation to creation to distribution and everywhere in between that process.” - Alicia Bell, Media 2070
I believe the future of Black stories (of all kinds) depends on how we tell the truth about the past, our present moment (leaning into Black Narrative Power), and how we imagine our future (free from the white gaze and approval).
My Black Futures’ wish is for this to become a reality. May it be so.