How do we change the narrative? And what happens when we do?
November 6, 2021
History is controlled by the victors. When I heard this prompt, what I immediately thought of was the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Africa and their interactions with colonizers. Much of what I learned in history last year, as well as what we’ve begun to delve into this year, was centered around empirical rule and colonization. As Europeans ventured into “unexplored” continents, they consequently encountered the native peoples. Their technology, traditions, culture—and most importantly—race, differed from that of the white Europeans. They were other-than and therefore labeled as such.
Bitter titles such as “savages”, “dirty”, and “uncivilized” were not only spoken by the colonizers but recorded in their history. As these cultures were ravaged and the people and land further exploited, the imagery and language used to oppress them provided malicious justification. Discriminatory portrayals were injected into the veins of the Europeans’ cultures, protected by the calloused skin of collective biases. This spread, now engraved into the minds of the successive generation, then to their children, and then again until you reach the people living today.
This historical narrative branches beyond that of personal bigotry. The dominant narrative, whether that be from the social preference of whiteness or something else, is so deeply ingrained into all of us. It dictates media, education, government, courts, and our deepest subconscious actions.
To disrupt and replace dominant narratives that are so integral to society, we must start with what’s tangible. Pushing for the accurate representation of those who don’t fit into this narrative, not only in modern entertainment and marketing, but in the history we teach to our children, is an important place to start. Another and significantly bigger step is assessing our governments and authority powers. Just Mercy provides great examples of a disproportionate legal system, disfavoring poor, black people. The prosecutors and police force were more than happy to keep the true details of McMillan’s case hidden, therefore doing their part in enforcing the dominant narrative. Lastly, and perhaps hardest, is recognizing and analyzing our own biases and working towards destroying this narrative within ourselves. Everyone is prejudiced on some level, whether it outwardly manifests itself as bigotry or remains internal.
Denying these biases is counterproductive to making an overall difference. After recognizing they exist, you must think about where they stemmed from: retrace your steps. Then, think about what you can do to encourage behavior and thinking that is productive in destroying bigotry in yourself.
Destroying the dominant narrative—in greater society and ourselves—is crucial to creating a truly just society. This is incredibly necessary in our government, prisons, portrayals of history, and in interactions between people. Removing issues so ingrained into our culture and mindset is no easy task. However, with the willing participation and enthusiasm to make a difference, a world free of the dominant narrative is within sight.