When a Singular Story Threatens to Divide People and Communities

As a social worker, and an empath, it’s not easy to watch the people in my life and those in my community become so divided on an issue, that on the most basic level is about honoring people, celebrating diversity and believing that people, regardless of where they were born, what race they are, or how much money they make, deserve a life of dignity.

I can’t begin to fully understand the reasoning behind the divisive and hurtful behavior happening across the United States. That’s not to say that I don’t know why it’s happening, because I have a good idea; the behavior just doesn’t align with my values and who I am as a person, so wrapping my head around it feels difficult.

That being said, I also recognize and want to acknowledge that a person’s lived experiences greatly shape the lens they view the world through and the assumptions they make about the people around them. Often times those ways of thinking and being are also shaped by the media, geographic location, and the people they spend time with. This can create a singular story about entire groups of people and their communities. The inability to see the world from many perspectives can divide people and create an “us versus them” mentality. This way of thinking leaves no room for nuance.

I’m a feminist so I believe in inhabiting contradictions. I believe in making contradictions productive, not in having to choose one side or the other side. As opposed to choosing either or, choosing both.

Angela Davis

Right now, in the United States, an “us versus them” mentality is bleeding though society in a way that many white people have never experienced before. The murder of George Floyd was the tipping point in a fight that has been going on for longer than many of the young people protesting have been alive. Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) have been living the fight across generations.

From time to time something happens to a person of color that infuriates enough white people to draw attention to the inequities that the BIPOC community experiences every day. Conversations are happening that have long been swept under the carpet within the white community, exposing their privilege, which produces shame, and sometimes defensive behaviors.

“Thousands of people lay down on June 2 on the Burnside Bridge for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in remembrance of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer”. The Oregonian. Ariel photo by Andrew Wallner.

The Black Lives Matter protests that followed the death of George Floyd at the hands of police occurred around the world, as demonstrated in the collage I put together, showing solidarity in the belief that the recognition of Black lives having value is long overdue. Protests happened, some in small numbers, while others contained thousands of people; they were overwhelmingly peaceful, powerful, and often awe inspiring.

I began to wonder if this time around the Black Lives Matter movement would open people’s eyes to the intimidation, fear, violence, and death that Black people experience in the hands of the police every day. I can honestly say that many white people I know have started listening to learn and began acknowledging that they have advantages because of the color of their skin that is totally foreign to BIPOC.

On the other side of the spectrum, I know that many people, even some in my own family, have done everything in their power not to sit with the discomfort or acknowledge that what is happening around them is factual and cannot be explained away regardless of the many judgments they place upon BIPOC. They see the protesters in Portland in one way; they are rioters destroying “their” city, one that not even a single family member of mine lives in (other than me).

I hear statements such as “ya know, I saw a Black man on YouTube denouncing the protests, saying that Black people can no longer use slavery as an excuse” or “they are criminals because they riot, steal, and deface property” or “the protests are bullshit” or “the protests should stop because not everyone agrees with them”. They see videos on television and photo’s on the internet that depict the side of the story they seek out, or the side of the story that the news channel they watch highlights. They only see one side of the story and for them that story is the truth and the only truth.

Top: Getty Images; middle left: Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP; middle right top: KPTV; middle right bottom: John Rudoff/AP; bottom: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

This singular story, the one that white people who hold power want to tell, is creating divisions that may never heal. At first I fought tirelessly to create a bridge between the divide, offering perspectives that some may not have thought of before; but no more. I can put my energy into trying to break down the singular story one person at a time, or I can let it go, and use my abilities to stand alongside people of color, asking them what they need and how I can support them to get there.

For me, engaging in never ending battles with people who refuse to accept that people are more than a singular story simply isn’t worth my time. Community means a lot to me, just like family does; sometimes our families and communities are ones we create or become a part of, not the ones we are born into.

Collage Photo Credits:
– Nairobi, Kenya (Fredrik Lerneryd / Getty Images)
– Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)
– Maastricht, Netherlands (Reuters)
– Sudan (Ashraf Shazley/AFP/Getty Images)
– Dakar, Senegal (Sylvain Cherkaoui/AP)
– Krakow, Poland (Reuters)
– Nairobi, Kenya (Baz Ratner/Reuters)
– March on Washington (Hulton Archives/Getty Images) & Harlem, New York (David “Dee” Delgado/Getty Images)
– Tunisia (Getty Images)
– Idlib, Syria – Artists Aziz Asmar & Anis Handoun (Reuters)
– Piazza del Popolo in Rome, Italy (Reuters)
– Mexico City, Mexico (Reuters)
– Berlin, Germany (Sean Gallup)

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