That We Might Listen to the Story Behind the Cry
It’s becoming something of a broken record.
A needle stuck, dragging through the same depression on nicked vinyl over and over, blurring notes and tones into an unidentifiable blur before yanking free and returning to beautiful music already in progress, only to come around on the next rotation.
The record plays on. Same song, second verse, then third and so it goes.
There will be hashtags made, twitter buzz, demonstrations, protests, outrage, riots.
There will be people who thieve by breaking into stores and there will be people who thieve by denying any story but the one they believe to be true.
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” Says Nigerian novelist Chimamaanda Ngozi Adichie.
Power is the ability to look at the past year of uprisings in the U.S. and call protesters “street thugs” who need to “go to work” and “get over it.”
Power is the ability to forget and move on when #BlackLivesMatter stops trending.
Power is having the option of living a story in which you live unchallenged. You read the things you like, you watch news which you agree with, you live with people who value the same things as you and perhaps your greatest grievance is that one neighbor across the street who refuses to take care of their dandelion infestation or their yippy dog.
Power is the position you sit in when you look at Ferguson or Baltimore and all you see are riots, when all you hear is breaking glass and fires raging, when you cannot hear the cry that is welling up and spilling over in the acts you’re too busy condemning.
“Freddie Gray is a culmination of systemic issues that have plagued communities like this all across this country. I think the children, you know, we raise our children and we say you can be whatever you want, but unfortunately children in urban America at some point feel hopeless. And when you don’t provide them with the right educational structure and they can’t intellectually cry out and beg out their frustration and their anger unfortunately you see them turn to violence.” Notes Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby.
What if the hashtags, the marches, yes, even the riots, what if they are an attempt to tell a story that those in power simply refuse hear?
What if they are the stories of frustration, buried deep inside a young man who is innovative and passionate and hardworking, but who will fight the label of “thug” his whole life because of his skin color and zip code.
I started to listen to the other stories around me five years ago when I moved into a neighborhood where most of my neighbors are of a different culture, race and socioeconomic status than I am. When my story became the minority story. When I made the choice to be quiet enough to hear something besides myself.
I started to learn the story of valuing the moment you’re in and the people you’re with when I became friends with those who had different rhythms of life than I. People who would show up 20 minutes late to an appointment, but it was because they were in good conversation with a friend or neighbor, and that person is more important than a clock.
I started to learn the story of vibrant celebration, for birthdays and for graduations because every moment is a gift, and we’re blessed by God to have those moments and so we will celebrate as people who have been blessed.
I learned to laugh when I am happy, to wail when I am sad, to shout when I am angry and to experience the full range of emotions. That sometimes skeletons need to get out of the closet and dance.
I learned about the strength of African American leaders, beyond just Martin and Malcolm. I learned that sometimes the strongest community leader is the Grandma down the block who has stayed in that neighborhood through thick and thin, whose knees are worn, whose door is open and whom you best know not to play with.
I learned that I know nothing about what it is like to be black in America.
Or what it’s like to be poor in America.
Or what it’s like to have experienced educational injustice.
And In learning that, I pressed my ear all that much fuller to the ground. Desperate to hear, to try to catch a whisper of the story beneath the cry.
I think there is a story trying to break out. A narrative desperate to be heard.
It’s in the hashtags and Twitter feeds. It’s marching in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore.
It’s not the story of poor black babies we need to go rescue.
Nor is it the story of lazy “street thugs” who would rather pillage than get a job.
It’s the story of a beautiful, vibrant, strong people repeatedly stomped on, immeasurably resilient but also tired so tired of winding their story with no one to hear. Tired of being told their story is invalid at best or, worse, that it doesn’t exist at all.
“The consequence of the single story is this:” continues Adichie, “It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
So as the broken record winds it’s way around the track once more, the gauge in the wax inevitably going to catch again, perhaps we should listen more closely.
Listen to the stories of those around you, really listen.
Make friends with someone different than you are. Share your stories. Find ways in which you are surprisingly the same.
Get offended, and then ask yourself why.
Find space that is comfortable, ask yourself why again.
Learn to see everyone around you as a collection of tales, wound throughout their lives instead of a statistic or a stereotype.
Listen for the story behind the cry.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quotes all taken from her brilliant TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.“
Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby quote taken from his interview with Jose Diaz-Balart on MSNBC’s The Rundown on April 28th, 2015.