I didn't watch the Oscars the other night. We haven't been to a movie in ages and for once I'm itching to see so many. Storytelling has always been a popular way to deliver content, change minds, and sell crap. There are so many people making movies about hard places and beautiful things to tell stories and change minds. Sign me up to pay a sitter more than we can afford.
After all, blogging at its heart was always about telling our stories. (The selling stuff came later. It always does. Let that not diminish your stake in it though.)
But I've also been thinking a lot about how we hide behind stories hoping that their truths (however insignificant) will shield us from contemplating bigger and more diverse perspectives. Or how a story delivered in teary repose can, in a moment, unseat an opinion buoyed by years of research. I often read about discomfort being the best lever for change and I believe it. But I also believe that we throw all that discomfort into the highly emotive and empathy based story telling basket. "If we would just listen to each other's stories…" People have been telling their stories and we still have a dangerous person for a President, a bigot for an Attorney General, a relatively uneducated person for an Education secretary… We are still complicit in the bombing of far away places and we are anxious about people "stealing our jobs" and buying junk food with food stamps. So. I guess I'm wondering if story telling has run its course in the current discourse? Do we need more than stories?
So what about listening to the facts. Do facts move us?
My kids always want the facts. They care about the stories, but they are highly suspicious of them. In their world a good story is something you use to get out of trouble/bait and switch/make someone spit their water out at the dinner table. So, I've been trying to get better and dialing in the data sets so that they have something to roll out when they get told that "they are making something out of nothing" or that they only believe what they believe because of our political leanings.
When Sam was in Kindergarten his teacher did a unit of Frida Kahlo.The kids all painted gorgeous water colour portraits that they captioned on the bottom. It's one of my favourite possessions. Sam was not yet six and yet he described the coming together and pulling apart of Diego and Frida in detail. He was fixated slightly on her physical limitations and the eventual decline in her health. He wondered how she could make art while in pain. I spoke to his teacher about it because I was kind of surprised she covered all of that. She explained that this story resonated deeply with kids in her class. Her class of five and six year-olds. The complicated romantic relationship mirrored the complicated relationships they saw in their own homes. The story of pain was familiar across socio-economic status. I tell this story frequently because I don't think it's typical Kindergarten fodder (and I also love to talk about culturally responsive educational strategies). But mostly I love this story because it illustrates the deep well of empathy our children have when presented with the facts.
Which brings me back to thinking more about Innocence Hoarding and why we do it and why I think it's so harmful for both our white kids and our kids of colour. I think we unwittingly begin this because we want to protect them from the facts and so we also shield them from the stories. Stories like Frida. Or Colonialism. Or Slavery. Or Eugenics. These are big words attached to a lot of facts but they are also attached to a lot of stories. If we get about the business of pulling out these stories for our children when they are young, they'll have the foundation to accept the facts– and their present reality– as they get older.
They won't be shocked by the statistics that show us that more black men and women will be incarcerated than white people who are convicted of the same crimes when they understand the basics around the 13th amendment ("If we cannot enslave them, then we must criminalize them.") They will grasp the deep inequalities of educational opportunities in our cities and rural outposts when they know about the Freedom Riders or Ruby Bridges. They won't be so quick to embrace the sports industrial complex when they know the stories behind the Negro League or Jackie Robinson.
I do not know all the stories and I have not figured out how many facts are too many. I am still circling around what I know I should do and what I have the capacity to do in this moment. The days are long and especially so when you get yourself in a cycle of fighting them. Which I do. Which I have. But it's March now (and we've gone over how this is my month) and I am fighting to revel in the promise of Spring. Spring and Facts.
Do you have an hour to listen to three incredible Doctors? If you have trouble talking to people about the tangible effects of racism and trauma this is so worth your time. I love science because it turns the battle of the dueling stories (like the one that says "that kid was being defiant" vs "that kid was experiencing stress") on its head. Exploring the Psychological Effects of Racism is a OHSU Grand Rounds Presentation and it's both engaging and approachable. The Q&A at the end is great– in part because it demonstrates that so often we don't even know the questions to ask. The kids and I talk a lot about their adult and kid behavior because they are often in situations with children who have trauma responses to conflict or fear or transition. Or all three. And to be really honest, they also struggle with this on a personal level. This is a great intro for people interested in Trauma Informed Care and why we need it so desperately in our schools and social service systems. (You may need to scroll down a couple to find it. The best part is that it's split screen so you get to see the slides while the Doctors are doing their presentation.)
America has locked up so many black people it has warped our sense of reality The economy is NOT my Wheelhouse. But I need to get over myself and dig in. It's one of those things that people try to whitesplain/mansplain/oversplain to make sense of their own racism.
"Over the past 40 years, the prison population has quintupled. As a consequence of disparities in arrests and sentencing, this eruption has disproportionately affected black communities. Black men are imprisoned at six times the rate of white men. In 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to federal or state prison in their lifetimes. For some high-risk groups, the economic consequences have been staggering. According to Census data from 2014, there are more young black high school dropouts in prison than have jobs."