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What's The Narrative?

The social media gurus, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey were called to Capitol Hill recently. Republican lawmakers specifically want to know why Facebook and Twitter limited the circulation of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden. They were further questioned about whether they had been working together to determine what would be censored and what would not. This questioning along with the aptly titled Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, highlights the issue of "narrative."


Most people don't realize it, but more often than us articulating our particular point of view on a matter, we are actually parroting a "narrative" that we have received via a media outlet's programming. The media does this by determining the subjective sentiment to be conveyed and then promulgating that message and removing or deleting any competing sentiments. This is how a narrative takes hold and establishes beliefs on a particular matter. The narrative itself does not have to be factual or true, it only needs to be told to be believed.


Through a various number of outlets, I've heard some particular narratives of late to be considered. Glenn Loughry, a professor at Brown University, talks about two particular types of competing narratives. One is identified as the "bias" narrative. The bias narrative indicates that a certain group or groups through their actions and attitudes, and their ability to do so, disfavors another group or groups, who are subject in certain ways to the "biased" group. The competing narrative offered by Mr Loughry is the "developmental" narrative. This narrative competes with the "bias" narrative in that it states that each person is responsible for developing what Loughry calls, "social capital." This "social capital" is what determines a person's value or worth and their ability to achieve without regard to "bias." In short, if I go to school, study, learn, graduate, marry, have children and do all of the right things for my personal development, then I will achieve life's best. I am responsible for my development. Those are a couple and there are many more. A great example follows.


This should illustrate clearly the concept of narrative and how it is promulgated. Someone asked me one day if I'd heard of Michael Brown and of course I immediately responded, "of course, Ferguson, Missouri, hands up, don't shoot." That is the typical response expected when you hear of Michael Brown. His story and the protests and division that ensued following his shooting by police became the biggest story of 2014 and for many years following. His name became a rally cry for the newly formed movement at the time called Black Lives Matter. His name became synonymous with outrage and protest against police brutality.

In April of 2018, another Micheal Brown, notice the inversion of two letters in the spelling of the first name, hit the public scene when this young high school student from Lamar High School in Houston, Texas was awarded scholarships and acceptance to 20 colleges/universities in America. And not just colleges and universities, but the most elite in our country, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford. This was a feat seldom pulled off by any high school student and surely seemed out of place for a "black" student. Thus another narrative had been created.

The Michael/Micheal Brown narratives are competing. Have you considered why you have heard of Michael, but not Micheal? Have you wondered why perhaps the good news of a student receiving 20 scholarships to the top institutions of our country was not all over the news networks for days and weeks on end? What we should first ask ourselves is why did Michael Brown get so much coverage and Micheal Brown get so very little. Could it be "the narrative?" Could it be that the media themselves decide which narrative should get the prominence? Is it because politicians, businessmen, educators and others prefer one narrative over the other? Why oh why is one narrative preferred over the other?


The reality is that we may never know why certain things are promoted while others are demoted but one thing we can do is determine the narrative that we make most important for ourselves and for me, that is the narrative of "agency." The narrative of agency says that I can do anything that I decide that I want to do. It says that I am capable and if not capable then I can become capable and then enact whatever measures necessary to accomplish the goal. The narrative of "agency" doesn't give room for excuses or for the attitudes and actions of other people. "Agency" is up to me. With that as a given, I will close out this blog post with two final competing narratives. The narrative of "race" and the narrative of "humanity."


My objective at ERASE Races, the nonprofit, is to eliminate the "race" narrative. I understand how and why it came into being and realize that we've all accepted it for many years. Recently a young man was shot by an older man after an argument over the younger man's music being played too loud. The media immediately injected the "race" narrative and reported that a "black" teenager was shot by a "white" man. The "race" narrative needlessly injects skin color because that's "the narrative." The reality of the "race" narrative like all narratives, is that it self-justifies. If you support the narrative, like "race," then of course every action is justified upon that basis. That narrative says that we must have statistics by "race," we must have neighborhoods by "race" and we must have institutions and organizations by "race." That is because that is the "race" narrative.


But what if we had, and we do, a competing narrative. It is the "human" narrative. What if we began with the idea that we are all made in the image of God and we began treating each other that way, with dignity and respect? What if skin color was no more important to each of us than eye color? What if we evaluated people on character qualities rather than their physical properties? What if we understood that we are all first HUMAN? What if that became the narrative that the media pushed, that the churches pushed, that the government pushed, that businesses and schools pushed and that you and I pushed? Here again, while I hope and pray for the "human" narrative to take hold, I will in the meantime invoke the narrative of "agency" and whether anyone else pushes the "human" narrative or not, I will choose not to love certain humans because of their skin color, but to love all men and women because they are "human." What's Your Narrative?

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