The Importance of Stories and the Dangers of Forgetting

I have been thinking about stories a lot lately. (By a lot I mean even more than usual because I have had stories on the brain for as long as I can remember.) Specifically, I have been thinking about the importance of stories, and just as significant, our tendency to forget them. An 18-year-old boy named Michael Brown was killed by a cop in Missouri a couple of weeks ago. People peacefully protesting his murder are being shot with rubber bullets and tear gassed in the streets by a militarized police force. A few nights ago the police raided a church that was supposed to be a safe haven. They’ve arrested reporters and photographers who were trying to honestly cover the story. 

Suffice to say, I know many people who are shocked by these events. “How is this happening in America?” “I can’t believe this!” “What decade is it!?” I am less shocked than I’d like to be because Michael Brown was black. This is part of a bigger story– a story dating back hundreds of years, a story in which the color of your skin grants you less dignity and humanity than other people. I will never understand the full extent of how horrible this kind of oppression is. My skin color renders me privileged enough that if a cop killed one of my brothers (which would likely not happen to begin with) he would lose his job and probably go to jail. He would be deemed psychologically unstable, but there still wouldn’t be a fund to support him. But knowing that other sisters have very legitimate reasons to fear that their brothers will be killed by people meant to serve and protect– and that if they do lose a brother, there will likely be no justice– breaks my heart.

I am not shocked. But I am pained and disturbed and I don’t know what to do. I want to listen to the stories of people who protest, who do not accept injustice and face the abuse of power head-on. I want to make sure that these stories are heard and connected. I want us to see how all of our stories are woven together, how far they go back, how there’s no such thing as an isolated incident. I want justice and I want us to remember. It’s so dangerous to forget. 

In that spirit I urge you all (especially my fellow privileged folks) to seek out the truth not only in present events but in our history. Shock doesn’t help us move forward the way understanding does. Because I have very little intellectual authority on this matter I will stop talking now because it’s not my voice that needs to be heard, but please follow some of these links and hear the stories of others. Please do not allow history to be forgotten, because that is when we give it the power to repeat. 

Some stories that have been on my mind as I have followed Michael Brown’s death and the protests in Ferguson: 

Black Codes: 1860s 

Lynching in the 20th Century

(More on the culture of lynching)

Emmett Till: 1955

On Race and the Legal System (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow) 

Trayvon Martin: 2012 

Mike Brown and Ferguson Timeline: 2014

John Oliver’s report (in case you need a little humor and sass)

(Author’s note: I am not here to argue about particulars or discuss politics. I am reflecting upon these events honestly and earnestly in the context of history and the power of story. I know that I do not know everything about these events, but I do know that I do not believe that anyone deserves to be killed in the street and I do know that this event is symptomatic of something much bigger.)


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