I firmly believe that the ability to tell our stories is the beginning of managing our narratives. For me, I come from a long line of people who understand this at the soul level. Black and Indigenous people (and the myriad of smaller cultures that comprise these groups) have always had strong oral traditions.
In fact, that’s part of our resilience, I think. Despite a myriad of obstacles, despite attempts to diminish or deny our personhood, from ancient healing circles to hip hop, we keep finding ways to continue to tell our stories. Yes, much was lost in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Trail of Tears and the tyranny of the conquistadors…but there was also so much retained…even if it exists in what is called “blood memory.”
The resilience of these cultures—my culture, piecemeal that it is—lies in our ability to remember without remembering. We often say things, share things, and it’s unclear as to who is really speaking. We aren’t always sure of where our words come from. And yet, there’s a resonance. There’s something that rings absolutely true, even if we can’t put our finger on its origin.
This has happened to me. As a writer, a character will show up in my mind. I’ll begin to develop that character. Learn more about where they comes from. Create a time and place and an encounter for that character. And then I’ll realize that this character is more real than I thought. The character feels like someone I’ve known before. Or someone who someone I know has known before. Nevertheless, this character is telling their story through me.
Yeah, not really.
Many people are documented as having this experience. Walking into a room and feeling intently drawn to the space. Meeting someone, connecting with them instantly, and then later learning that this is more than a coincidence. Even mental health challenges like the PTSD I live with are based on the brain’s ability to relive in vivid detail a traumatic event long after the event actually occurs.
This reminds me of the biblical story of Cain and Abel and how Abel’s blood from the ground cried out to God after he was killed by his brother. Our stories always find their way back to us when we are open to hearing them. For many Black folksTo have symbols and rhythms and inclinations show up in our present day experiences that harken back to the past is sometimes a sign that we weren’t ever truly bad or broken—at least not in the ways we’ve been taught we are. And now, some of the resistance we see today to the call for diversity and inclusion across multiple industries is coming from people who want to essentially return us to our “our place” under the foot of white supremacy. They want to make sure that we never totally recall the beauty of our cultures; that we never fully recover the rest of our stories.