This is so perfect, I don't want to ruin it with my prattling: People of colour are not a story of suffering . . . Or resistance. « Restructure!
We should be familiar with the 'single story' told by our most familiar -isms: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, cisism, etc.
What is the 'single story' that feminism tells?
What is the 'single story' of our national identity?
What is the 'single story' of your city or town?
What is the 'single story' of your religion or political party?
(Even the Tea Party has a 'single story' being told by the MSM and others.)
What is the 'single story' of your work - especially if you work for a non profit human services organization?
This is not a weird question: the 'single story' most orgs tell is of the broken down - nevermind the agency that these populations have shown, or that these populations very well might have their own stories to tell. But the 'single story' we tell about these populations is a direct product of the racial/class power and privilege of those of us who work in these orgs.
A friend of mine recently confronted this single story issue when she was preparing a proposal for a large corporate donor for one of our service areas. She was in the middle of writing it when something began to niggle at her. The whole thing felt wrong. The women we were purporting to serve weren't in it at all. It was all stats and 'statements of need' that made it seem like the west side of Chicago was just a bombed out crater, where women wandered the streets begging for bread and children lived in boxes. It was a standard grant narrative that painted the worst picture, without any room for self-determination, agency or stories other than the one we told of poverty levels, literacy rates and lack.
So my friend retooled her proposal to make that niggling itch go away.
It's significant to note that my friend is a woman of color (it is.) And when the proposal was reviewed by a non person of color, the shift in frame was immediately noted - and instantly edited. My friend was told that the single story of women's experiences on the west side is the preferred story to donors - this is the reality that needs to be made even more starkly solid, and repeated everywhere we go, and to everyone we solicit.
The voice of our org, therefore, must reflect "No possibility of feelings more complex than pity." We must reify, no matter how problematic, unfair or racist, a power and privilege that has "the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person."
As a writer I know that I've been guilty of telling only one story. It's an easy shorthand to fall into, especially if this is the way one's sector works. I don't quite know how to end this post except to hope that those of us who are privileged to be in the position to tell the stories of others take our storytelling seriously - and resist the impulse to tell them singly.