This month a Ted Talk popped up in my Facebook feed; it was a Nigerian novelist named Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and she spoke on the danger of a single story. The single story that she speaks of is the story that is written about another race, religion, gender or national identity, by the powers that be. It made me think of the quote by Winston Churchill, “History is written by the victors.” Chimamanda first speaks about finding her own authentic voice, then goes on to teach, through her own personal experiences, how we lack a greater understanding and wholeness of another person or group based on believing the singular stories told to us about them. I immediately began to resonate with what she was saying based on my own experience of growing up in the racially mixed town of Uniondale, NY. I remember observing, as a young teen, that the story I was being told about who I should be and my own personal experiences were two different things. I was aware that most of our neighbors were black professionals with whole families and we were the family with the working widowed mom who at some point needed government assistance. I am grateful for the experiences I had growing up in that town, thankful that I was able to gain that kind of insight and make such an observation at a young age.
Chimamanda got me thinking about our stories in general and how intertwined they are; How we need each other to experience what we had planned to experience on this earthly plane, and to move forward from here on out to change the world. As a country known for our melting pot of diversity, some still believe in the single stories that we are told about one another and remain ignorant to how those stories have a negative impact on the people they are written about. Where are we going as a country? Are we aware of our behavior and actions fueled by these false narratives, as well as the price we are paying because of them? When my son was a young teen looking to venture further away from the house, I was torn– did I keep a protective eye on him, or want to let him cultivate some street smarts and learn how to handle himself independently? I ultimately allowed him to venture further away to a friend’s house, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself about a mother of color having to make the same decision I did. It was hard enough for me, and I couldn’t imagine what it was like for them.
Chimamanda goes on to explain how people are disempowered by such stories. You tell a single story about those people over and over again, and it is continuously created from a negative perspective. The subjects begin to believe and become that story. It starts to define who they are, not only in other’s eyes, but their own. I agree it’s all a strategy used by those in power to disempower everyone on some level. We all are bombarded with stories of appearance, weight, and age, all attached to unrealistic ideas. Your own personal traumas pair with these unattainable ideals to create an inner story on loop in your head. My father passed away when I was nine and, of course, it changed the dynamics of my family, but for me, there was a shift in my inner being and my perception of the world was never the same. It was like someone pushed the recorder button and an inner dialogue started that didn’t exist before. An inner story of being incomplete and unguided. It shifted my sense of stability, self-worth, identity, trust, and how I expressed myself. I was angry at him for a long time for leaving me. Someone told me once that all I wanted was to be a princess. I had never thought of it that way. For years it was part of my own disempowering, single story.
Our stories are layered. If you are a woman, you are born into a patriarchal society that belittles, devalues, and oppresses us. If you are born black, you have received your oppressive message right out of the gate as well. If you are a woman and black, well, you get a double dose of oppression on top of everything else you believe about yourself. Things are changing though, and fast. Like Dorothy with the ruby red slippers, our power has always been here. Women all around the world are rising up, and our sisters of color are not waiting around for the hurricane anymore–they are creating it.
A few months ago another post came to me, and it had a comment attached that read “Women are going to save the world.” The post was about 19 black women judges, 17 of whom were elected as judges in Harris County, Houston, Texas and all won their position by double digits. The other two lost their statewide races but still remained judges. I remember thinking: Yes! Here we go, shit is getting real now! I’m reminded of the black women who, in an upset victory, voted Doug Jones to the Senate in Alabama. I’m reminded of my own Sistas Turn-up group comprised of inspiring and empowering women that I am honored to say I am a part of. You are as good as the people you surround yourself with, and I must say that when I am with them I feel like I am raised to a higher level. I’m not going to lie; when I started meeting with them I would take all their words and hopes and stories in, hoping that some of their magic would rub off on me. It’s the realness that I love about them. The way they hold it down. Their sense of independence, honesty, and integrity, how they speak so openly about their men and their community. They are all powerful, uplifting and supportive.
I know it’s the awakening of the divine feminine and all her qualities that will save the world, women of color are sure as hell showing us how it’s done. I recently watched a video from the Sanders Institute on criminal injustice. Dr. Cornel West was one of the speakers and at some point, he was speaking about Jesus, justice, truth and the spread of love. He states that love can be difficult but yet it’s the most precious and powerful thing we have. Why? “Because we have to have the courage to examine ourselves and learn how to die in order to become a new person in love.” At that moment I immediately thought of the phrase “death to the story.” I don’t remember where I heard that phrase, but I understood it deeply. We must love ourselves enough to courageously go within, seeking the single story you have been believing about who you are and observing the person that shows up as you in your life. Are you being your authentic self, or do you play a role in a story? Allowing that story to die so you can be birthed anew in love, your highest and best self, is the greatest form of self-love. This is my perspective of it and it starts with self-love. It needs to eventually spill out into the world so we can begin to ask ourselves as a group of individuals, as a country, do we like who we are in the world, how we show up and what is happening in our name? Can we kill off the old America and become reborn? Martin Luther King once said, “we are still aspiring to be the America that we are supposed to be.”
Negative stories create stereotypes and rob people of their power. They make us focus on what is different about us rather than what we have in common. Negative stories keep us imprisoned in a life that we are not meant to live. The process of going within with love, kindness, and compassion for yourself is where you get to rewrite the story from a positive perspective. You get to make a conscious decision on what you choose to believe about you and your story that will help support you in being the person you want to be in the future. The same goes for us as a country.
To all my sisters, of every race out there sitting at the table with books open, trying to better yourself, carry on– I’m with you. Whatever it is that you are doing, know that there are other women out there that love and support you. Let’s kill the stories that have kept us small, rewriting it with the grandest dreams and visions of the future.
Special shout out to the empowered women that I work with everyday, to my Sistas Turnup ladies, my running sisters, and to my real sisters. So grateful for you. Love you.