narratives

A few years ago, I taught a Year 2 class in East London. I had built up a good bank of multicultural picture-books and resources and shared these with the class whenever seemed appropriate. When it came time for the class to write their own stories, I suggested that they used the name of someone in their family for their protagonist. I wanted them to draw on their own backgrounds, but was worried about ‘making an issue of race’. When it came to sharing their stories, I noticed only one boy had acted upon my suggestion, naming his main character after his uncle. He had recently arrived from Nigeria and was eager to read his story to the class. However when he read out the protagonists name he was interrupted by another boy, who was born in Britain and identified as Congolese.

“You can’t do that! Stories have to be about White people.”

I’m confident the boy who announced this was being sincere and indeed, in the ensuing class discussion there was a fair bit of uncertainty about who could and couldn’t be in stories. I was surprised and confused by this. Why did they always write stories about children from very different backgrounds to themselves? And why were these characters always White? After all, I had shared a number of stories about children of colour with the class.

I just hadn’t realised what I was up against.

Dénouement

is a word I learned from my dad when I was young and had just finished reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.

I told him I had been absolutely transported by the story and now felt abandoned by it, that it seemed wholly unfair. The feeling I could most closely compare it to was the nauseating stillness left when the engine of a car shuts off, which I’m not certain is entirely relatable.

Because I was a difficult child I’d been ferried often to and from offices of people who claimed some knowledge of how to deal with children like me.

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V.

Monsters are variously characterized by accident, indetermination, formlessness; by material incompleteness, categorical ambiguity, ontological instability. One may create monsters through hybridization, hypertrophy, or hopotrophy; through lack, excess, or multiplication; through the substitution of elements, the confusion of species, or the conflation of genders and genres.

monsterinthegirlmask asked:

It's not art related, but I was wondering your opinion of this. I was at a zoo recently and I couldn't help but notice that nearly every non-western animal was "discovered" by a white male explorer. Uhm, so, no one ever saw any of these animals until white people did? Even though in the case of a few of them Chinese people domesticated them? Good thing white people showed up to discover animals so POC could finally be told that zebras and kangaroos are in fact not plants or hallucinations.

First of all, I laughed a bitter laugh at the last line, and second of all, you’ve underestimated my ability to make everything about art history.

Almost every “discovery” narrative you come across isn’t even internally consistent. I mean, have a gander at what is oft referred to as The Beowulf Manuscript, dating from c. 1075 in England. It also contains a manuscript called “Marvels of the East”, which is about people, landmarks, plants, and animals of the world. It’s also illuminated:

See? People, camels, some other stuff. Here’s a lizard:

Anyhow, what I’m getting at here is that the whole “discovery” narrative is silly, because it hinges on the idea of a totally isolated, racially and culturally
“pure” Europe that supposedly existed in “the past”, as in “before discovery!11!!!”, and that’s just not true.

I know a lot of joke articles make their way around about the laughable inaccuracy of Medieval European illuminations of “Exotic Animals”, but it has more to do with the art style and cultural factors than “ha ha this person never even saw an animal before”.

I mean, here’s a Medieval (c. 1250s) English Illumination of some people riding an elephant:

And here’s a Japanese painting from c. 1550s of some Europeans riding an elephant:

Basically the point I’m making is, 1. the “Discovery” narrative doesn’t work because the people who lived in the same places as these supposedly “exotic” animals obviously already knew what they were, and 2. the “Discovery” narrative doesn’t work because centuries ago, Europeans often knew what those animals were, too.

admiralofthehip replied to your post: “How do paintings of legendary figures from the past in distant lands prove anything about Bohemia’s demographics? That’s like saying Jesus was in Milan in the 15th century (or in any other place anywhere) because everybody was painting pictures of him.”:

Apparently, white people in medieval art is evidence that they were there, but POC in art isn’t good enough?

I’ve often thought about changing the title of this blog to “Let’s pretend you have a point”.

Because it’s never really been about facts, or logic. As much as people have “complimented” (*eyeroll*) this blog on using both those things, the situations I’m addressing via this blog aren’t truly based on either of those things.

The “burden of proof” such as it is, will always remain solely on those who are historically disenfranchised. Notice the lack of calls for “proof” that people in Medieval Europe were all white.

Our vision of the past has been and continues to be written by the present. In the post linked above, I speak about the ubiquitously disappointing limits of our imaginations, which have been truncated by the endless amounts of money and resources thrown at producing the same stories, over and over again.

Those who control our present control our view of the past. I live in a nation where it is perfectly legal to intentionally falsify “The News”, while simultaneously presenting yourself as a reputable arbiter of the truth. If these are our standards for journalism, then even marginally creative endeavors owe absolutely nothing to reality or truth.

It just goes to show that aligning with popular misconceptions and cultural narratives never requires proof. It’s only those who disagree, and those who are harmed by these narratives, who must prove the same thing over and over again, who are perceived as requiring approval, permission, or the showing of deference to the systems that created the misconceptions in the first place.

It’s a glaring and painfully obvious double standard, but hey…let’s pretend they have a point.

It’s still wrong.

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“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ― Audre Lorde 

Aesthetics continues to be an essential basis by which we are judged, looked at, and ultimately defined as women. This space is an attempt to curate and document all the ways in which as Women of Colour we navigate, understand and own the embodiment of our narratives and experiences. At the heart of this journey, we seek to uncover how our bodies belong to ourselves.

In collecting a diverse range of women of colour’s voices (across race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, geographic location, able-bodiedness and gender queer identities) and mediums, we hope to create a restorative body of work spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually that heals. 

Using articles, interviews, essays, love notes, poetry, prose, art, photography, film, and discussion both online and offline we attempt to map these journeys.

Follow us! Support us! Get in touch if you would like to get more involved or have something you’d like to share/contribute either by the Submission or Ask box or email us: thebodynarratives@gmail.com 

P.S. check out Jay Katelansky’s work she’s contributed to make our banner and part of our logo  - doesn’t that get you excited?

4 shades of narratives”: a book by One Direction’s management.

1) Bad narratives (beards, gay rumours ruined a friendship..): for the ones who believe in everything they’re told

2) Gryles and Harry+men narratives: for the ones who can see that someone might be not exactly straight, but choose to not see Harry and Louis’ relationship

3) Blind Gossip and "insiders” narratives about them being not together anymore or not exclusive: for Larry shippers who need non-stop confirmations and can be easily trolled.

4) “Try again”: Larry supporters with real eyes that realize real lies

A Cartoon About Sports by Molly Brooks

This may seem a bit off topic as Brooks’ comic is ostensibly about all spectator sports/hockey, however, her piece underscores what I find intriguing about competition: its grand unscripted narrative. It’s what I find myself often talking about to either a) my girlfriend, who doesn’t really care one way or another, or b) when I meet other writerly types and must defend the amount of time I spend thinking about baseball.

Because, at the end of the day, like most things, sports are these highly complex, organized pieces of meaningless chaos. Except that in the chaos, they reflect our culture, beliefs, values, and, as Brooks points out, are “elevated to theatre by the eyes of an audience yearning desperately for stories to connect to." 

It’s why I write about and follow baseball the way I do, because sports are nothing more than a grand story where the hero doesn’t always win. But when he or she does, when our rooting interest succeeds and our time spent viewing is rewarded, there’s nothing more sublime. 

It’s a great comic, so definitely do yourself a favor and click through for the whole piece

(h/t Jay Tuohey)

Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History  by Joel Christian Gill

Strange Fruit, Volume I is a collection of stories from African American history that exemplifies success in the face of great adversity. This unique graphic anthology offers historical and cultural commentary on nine uncelebrated heroes whose stories are not often found in history books.

Among the stories included are: Henry “Box” Brown, who escaped from slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia; Alexander Crummel and the Noyes Academy, the first integrated school in America, established in the 1830s; Marshall “Major” Taylor, a.k.a. the Black Cyclone, the first black champion in any sport; and Bass Reeves, the most successful lawman in the Old West.

Written and illustrated by Joel Christian Gill, the diverse art beautifully captures the spirit of each remarkable individual and opens a window into an important part of American history.

[book link]

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I thought I’d check in on SugarScape’s One Direction related stories for today to see if the Niall parade continues and no! Interestingly enough, today their focus has shifted to Liam as a songwriter.

The first article about Jamie Scott’s writing collaboration with the band focuses heavily on Liam.

The second article about them not wanting to break up into solo projects focuses mostly on the Liam/Louis songwriting team.

The third is basically just a photo roundup from the Rosebowl1 show last night with Harry earning slightly more mentions than the others, but no one particular member notably singled out. 

We want to believe that we can change the world, and change it right now! But we don’t always want to put the work in, the long and necessary and very disciplined work, to do it in a way that will stick. That’s the danger, to me. I worry that people, all excited by the transformative power of storytelling, won’t take the time to understand how those superbly transformative stories develop. The kinds of stories we’re talking about are filled with archetypal images and tropes that have been growing for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. The idea that you can sit down in a workshop one day and write a new story that has that kind of transformative power just doesn’t make any sense to me. Which doesn’t at all mean that people should stop trying, or stop writing stories! Stories are life. But we need to approach the process with reverence. As an apprenticeship. Stories are magical. They have to be seduced, cajoled. Stories are the basic constituents of the world – at least, of the way we perceive the world and our place in it. They deserve to be treated with respect.
—  Sharon Blackie in Transforming Stories

omnuspowered asked:

Just wanted to throw you a message and thank you for all the work you do. As someone who writes PoC-centric fiction, your blog is both a great resource and a HUGE inspiration for my stuff. Maybe one day I'll finish this damn book, but until then, keep up the awesome job! You're one of my hands-down favorite blogs on this site.

Thank you so much, and I hope you finish your book and let me know, so I can pick up a copy. Sometimes stories are the most powerful tool we have for change. <3

Our stories give shape to our inchoate, disparate, fleeting impressions of everyday life. They bring together the past and the future into the present to provide us with structures for working towards our goals. They give us a sense of identity and, most importantly, serve to integrate the feelings of our right brain with the language of our left.

[…]

We are primed to use stories. Part of our survival as a species depended upon listening to the stories of our tribal elders as they shared parables and passed down their experience and the wisdom of those who went before. As we get older it is our short-term memory that fades rather than our long-term memory. Perhaps we have evolved like this so that we are able to tell the younger generation about the stories and experiences that have formed us which may be important to subsequent generations if they are to thrive.

I worry, though, about what might happen to our minds if most of the stories we hear are about greed, war and atrocity.

[…]

Be careful which stories you expose yourself to.

[…]

The meanings you find, and the stories you hear, will have an impact on how optimistic you are: it’s how we evolved. … If you do not know how to draw positive meaning from what happens in life, the neural pathways you need to appreciate good news will never fire up.

[…]

The trouble is, if we do not have a mind that is used to hearing good news, we do not have the neural pathways to process such news.

[…]
You may find that you have been telling yourself that practicing optimism is a risk, as though, somehow, a positive attitude will invite disaster and so if you practice optimism it may increase your feelings of vulnerability. The trick is to increase your tolerance for vulnerable feelings, rather than avoid them altogether.

[…]

Optimism does not mean continual happiness, glazed eyes and a fixed grin. When I talk about the desirability of optimism I do not mean that we should delude ourselves about reality. But practicing optimism does mean focusing more on the positive fall-out of an event than on the negative. … I am not advocating the kind of optimism that means you blow all your savings on a horse running at a hundred to one; I am talking about being optimistic enough to sow some seeds in the hope that some of them will germinate and grow into flowers.

[…]

We need to look at the repetitions in the stories we tell ourselves [and] at the process of the stories rather than merely their surface content. Then we can begin to experiment with changing the filter through which we look at the world, start to edit the story and thus regain flexibility where we have been getting stuck.

I don’t know if I have talked about this previously, but I find it really interesting how the landscape of trans identity has changed pretty dramatically, but a lot of the same thoughts from those times are reinforced even when they don’t really make sense anymore.

When I was reading things about being trans, and coming into my own as a trans person (starting when I was about 18, coming out at 19), most of them were talking about ‘early transitioners’ as being people in their 20′s. That’s shifted quite a bit even from when I started out being trans in the world; there are lots of children in high school and sometimes earlier who are coming out, and I guess I’m somewhere in the median now? Even though when I came out it was basically conceptualized as ‘at a young age’ at the time.

However, a lot of the self talk (much of it negative) that is built up around transitioning later is still around. So like, that feeling of ‘lost time’ that lots of later transitioning people have makes sense in the context of age (especially for trans women, since youth matters much more to womanhood than to manhood). But even though the ages have changed, the same sort of internalized shames come back up even if they don’t contextually make sense. Like, I read a 16 year old talk about all the time they had lost since they didn’t transition at 14, and there’s just something interesting there because I wonder ‘what is being missed?’ I guess lots of trans people wish they had earlier, if only for more years of relative stability. Most of my ‘lost years’ shit is less around trans stuff than about mental illness, but I definitely get it.

But I wonder if the memes of the normative trans narrative are just imposed upon us even if they don’t necessarily logically make sense anymore. Or at least, the context has changed so much that it’s surprising to hear the same words from someone who has transitioned younger than many of the original people who said such things could have dreamed of transitioning.