Monday, February 25, 2019

Changing the Narrative

Most of the small evils in the world come from our flawed nature— territorial squabbles, envy, poor communication, insecurities and undeveloped personalities. The big evils, the things that cause untold and unnecessary suffering to millions, may come from the same roots magnified manifold, but all need some kind of narrative to sustain them and drive them forward. Within the logic of the narrative, all killings and oppression make sense. What’s needed is not to encourage people to please be a bit nicer to each other, but a complete shift of narrative. 

Thus, Manifest Destiny drove the robbing of land and genocide of Native Americans. The Theory of Racial Superiority made slavery look like benevolent whites were doing the poor Africans a favor providing food, shelter and work. The Master Race made extermination of Jews necessary. The story of Adam’s rib (and other such tales) made men Master of the Household and women their inferior servant. The Trickle Down Theory justified no taxes for the rich and cheered on Wall Street’s heartless greed. 

And so it continues. Today, there are more such narratives disguised as truth designed to promote fear so people like Mr. T. can get elected.  "The unprecedented number of illegal immigrants who are rapists and murderers are threatening to swarm over the border—we need a Wall!!" "Affirmative action and welfare rewards lazy people of color! That's why whites will lose all job opportunities and are becoming an oppressed class. We need White Power!"
FOX News and right-wing radio feeds these kinds of stories to the folks whose jobs have been sold overseas and who are being duped by the rich people like Mr. T. who cares nothing for them beyond their votes.  They purposefully let the lies pass unchallenged and though balanced by the New York Times and the Washington Post, their intentional control of the nation’s narrative has fueled and allowed such atrocities as the election of a President who has told over 1500 fact-checkable lies to the populace. And a fearful public hungry to justify their own smallness, ignorance and prejudice eats it up. 

One antidote to all of this is any story, be it the truth of fact or the truth of fiction, that exposes the lie of hurtful narrative. Anything that shows the humanity of groups purposefully demonized, anything that reveals how small exclusive points of view can grow to larger inclusive ones, anything that celebrates the heroism and courage of those who dare to speak out and burst through the glass ceiling of imposed limits, is a radical vote for a more humane humanity. Anything that can open a closed mind, open a closed heart, shift arrogance to humility and hatred to acceptance to kindness, is feeding the needed and necessary new narrative of hope and justice. 

And that brings us to the Oscars. I was thrilled that the winning film was one that had it all. The painful truth of how racism worked, the determination to bring beauty into all that ugliness as Don Shirley offered his music to audiences black and white, the utter strangeness of whites willing to accept the music, but not let the musician use the bathroom (a theme also inThe Help and Hidden Figures), the slowly transforming relationship between the musician and the chauffeur and the latter’s opened mind and heart. Fox and the Toddler may be trying to control the narrative of the Daily News, but Hollywood, while still perpetuating its share of stereotype and gratuitous senseless violence, has most definitely expanded the narratives we need to be discussing and not only brought them into our homes and theaters, but honored them with its most coveted prize. Recent Oscar-winning films like The Green Book, Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave taking on racism, Spotlight sexual abuse in the church, The King’s Speech dealing with disability and so on. This year’s films, including Black K Klansmen, Roma, A Star Is Born, Vice continuing the theme of artful exploration of big issues brought into a human-size story. The list these past few years seems long. 

And the number of people of color, immigrants, women who were honored both in the forefront and behind the scenes was notable. And soon, hopefully, not so noticeable, just the reality of who we are and without having to make a big deal of it. It only becomes a big deal because of those who would wish that we all looked exactly alike, worshipped alike, married alike and so on. 

So hooray for Hollywood! May it continue to challenge the hurtful narratives and create the hopeful ones and spark the kinds of discussions we should be having in our schools, our neighborhoods, our families to edge one step closer to our country’s promise. 

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