I and my colleague, Roben were privileged to attend a regional workshop on “Race & Diversity – Beyond the barriers” which was held in Sheffield last week. The workshop attracted leaders of organizations, practitioners and community activists from Yorkshire region. The aim of the workshop was to:
- Increase their range of options for working with racism and other prejudice.
- Explore the concept of deep democracy and how that supports diversity and everyday practice when we are working with marginalisation or scapegoating.
- Develop their own practice by working with the outer and inner conflicts that arise in this field.
The workshop included:
- introduction to deep democracy and issues of rank, power and privilege
- The roots of racism – our first patterning of race and culture – ancestral themes
- Inner work and group work – taking all sides in a conflict – facilitation skills
I am not going to go into detail of the whole workshop but I just want to share with you what struck me most out of this workshop. I must be honest, this was an eye opener to me and I am hoping that whoever will read through this article will have some parts of his/her mind unlocked forever.
As you might have noted from the heading of this article, I am here today to talk about a Single Story, its, impact, effect, what marks does it leave, how does it affect our lives, behaviour, thinking, etc. I am sure each one of us as we grew up we were being told different stories about, our ancestors, neighbours, tribes, communities and different people by our parents. Those stories have had impact on the way we are living today, how we relate with our family members, neighbours, workmates, other people and other people whom we meet in our daily lives. This trend of this life is based on what we were or have been told or have heard about our families and the people who have happened to live around our communities, country or region.
At this workshop we benefited from a story of one very brave, hardworking and very educated woman who has managed to break the barriers which were created by what she heard about different people. This woman analysed her own life by looking back from her childhood, the stories she was being told by her parents and how they affected her life and how her thinking changed when she learned the other side of a story about certain people. For example, she re-called during her tender age her mother telling her not to throw away any food from the table because other people like their houseboy’s family were poor and had nothing to eat. She re-counted that her perception about the houseboy’s family changed when she happened to visit his family in the village. She discovered that despite the image the mother painted about this family, the family had another good side of the story. She discovered that the elder brother of the houseboy had skills of making nice patterned baskets and this skill was so unique that she admired it so much. From that day her attitude, perception and the way she related to the houseboy changed. She discovered that the picture of poverty which was painted by her mother in her tender mind was not practically true because this family had other unique skills which other people didn’t have.
From this story, it took me backwards as well, automatically. I was forced to look back to my history, how I grew up, what stories I was told by my parents and when I went to school, what I was taught in school. I discovered that our families, communities, education systems and the people we have lived with have played a role and have left an impact in how we relate with specific people in our spheres of life. I remembered in my early age being taught about the history of my ancestors, where they came from and why, the journey they travelled to reach where we were. Then in school, the history of my country, the origins of different types of tribes present in my country, their life patterns, why they were found where they were settled, why they were following different system of life from other tribes and why their languages differed from one another despite of living in the same country. And these differences impacted both positively and unfortunate enough negatively on the way they related to one another. The differences of their ancestors lived in their lives and were passed on from generation to generation. I remember parents telling their children to marry from their own tribes, and gave some extent to other tribes and gave a total NO to other tribes. But Why?
As I grew up to higher classes, I was introduced to the history of my continent. The discoveries of different places, rivers, lakes, mountains by the early missionaries. I was taught about how these missionaries scrambled over the continent and made beautiful boundaries some of which passed through masses of water dividing one lake to belong to two countries. I discovered that this is how the maps of my continent came about. Then, I was taught about “human beings trade” which was called “slave trade” and how it came to an end and then civilisation was introduced, then the types of governments which existed and the independence processes and then of late democracies.
From these stories, one’s life is shaped and this affects how one behaves and how one relates with other people.
When I came to England, I was on day shocked when I was chatting with a workmate. I asked him if he wished to visit Africa on one of his holidays. I had a shock of my life when he made this remark, “I don’t want to be eaten by lions”. I laughed my lungs out because I thought it was a joke. But, alas, I discovered that he was very serious. I realised that he was told or he read those old books which stated how the early missionaries were eaten by lions and other beasts and that Africa was full of jungles. To him Africa was still the way it was in those missionary days. I had to explain to him that things were different now. All animals were now kept in secured game reserves and national parks.
Now, what if I was not taught about the good things the missionaries brought to my country – the religion, education, developments, etc. What if I was not taught that my mother was handpicked by a missionary to get education, what if this workmate of mine didn’t have a chance to hear from me that Africa is no longer a den of lions but it has people living in it?
And today we are talking about racism. Racism cannot be solved if we don’t go to the roots of racism – our first patterning of race and culture – ancestral themes. Why do we behave the way we do, why do we not feel comfortable with such and such group of people, why do we relate with people the way we do, what comes in our minds when we meet the people we live with in our communities, country and continent? These roots need to be dag and analysed. Shake off those that can be shaken and maintain only the good roots.
May be you have been told a single story about someone, some families, some tribes, some nationalities and some communities, it is not too late, develop an interest to confront or read, learn and discuss with such and this will iron out the unnecessary fears, hatreds, the perceptions and relationships with our neighbours, friends, workmates, communities and the whole nation at large.
As a start, I have deliberately put the picture above. One may make a story out of this picture at just a glance. But mind you, it will be a Single Story, you need another version to understand these two individuals. God bless you as you discover yourselves, your workmates and your community more closely. It will make life so beautiful. Beatrice