The Collective Narrative

I first heard the phrase “collective narrative” from Darin Waters, PhD in 2014 and it lit up my mind. His insights awakened me to the impact the stories we are immersed in have on how we see ourselves and each other. How our society operates. The importance of an inclusive collective narrative hit me like a ton of bricks. It has been guiding my work ever since.

Whose story? Democratizing America’s collective historical memory” was printed in the Mountain Xpress in June of 2014. In this column Waters discusses history and how, “in many respects, African-Americans have never truly had the opportunity to engage forthrightly in the discourse about our collective memory.”

“Asheville Black History Matters” by Jason Krekel

In 2015, Waters’ published “Bridging the Psychological Divide: Restructuring Our Collective Historical Memory,” in The Urban News. Referring to the income gap between black and white Americans, he writes, “Perhaps a less visible and thus not-so-obvious divide among us is the ongoing division within our collective historical memory. Indeed, despite the election of the first African American president, we continue to operate within a collective historical framework that privileges white supremacy. For the sake of the health of our collective national psyche this narrative needs to be dismantled.”

Earlier this month, Water’s published an op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times entitled, “Were all things considered in Asheville talk?” about the recent live taping of the NPR radio show “All Things Considered.” The topic of the show was “When Your Hometown Gets Hot,” and a panel of locals were invited to share their perspectives. Waters’ column points out that the African American and Latino perspectives were not included. “In the case of the African-American community,” he writes, “this experience of exclusion from important conversations has deep historical roots. Throughout the period of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, our community was kept on the social, economic and political periphery…In most instances, our lives, interests and aspirations, if it was even acknowledged that such existed, were expressed for us, and in most cases by those who were responsible for our community’s marginalization in the first place. The failure to include African Americans in a conversation that addressed issues that impact their communities so directly only reinforces this history.”

This omission, “not only reinforced false notions about the region [that there are no African Americans here], but also perpetuated the sense of marginalization and invisibility that African Americans have been combating for a long time.”

Clearly, this is not ok.

Having an awareness of who is and is not part of conversations/events/etc we are involved in is critical to breaking this pattern. Making an effort for inclusion is work we can all do right now, in everything we are involved in.

There are many people of color contributing to our community’s collective narrative, and we can amplify those voices via social media and our personal networks.

Waters and Harvey Photo.jpg
The Waters & Harvey Show Hosts

One example of this is The Waters & Harvey Show, a radio show co-hosted by Waters and Marcus Harvey, PhD. The two were interviewed about the show this week on The State of Things on WUNC, you can click here to hear the interview. The show airs Saturdays at 3 pm on Blue Ridge Public Radio, or you can subscribe to the show as a podcast on iTunes. Waters also organizes the African Americans in WNC conference, and the fourth annual conference will be happening this October.

DeWayne Barton with Hood Tours van. Photo by Adam McMillan.

Another example is DeWayne Barton’s organization, Hood Huggers International. Specifically, his Hood Tours of Asheville highlight the past, present and future of African Americans here. On the tours, Barton and his guest speakers tirelessly share the story of their community, and the art/poetry/activism it has inspired in them. Hood Huggers also works to support young people and promote black-owned businesses, among other projects.

(I am fortunate to get to work for Waters & Harvey and Hood Huggers.)

Members of Nuestro Centro

Yet another example is Nuestro Centro, an inspiring organization that actively promotes Latino perspectives and culture and advocates for immigrant rights.

These are just three examples. There are many, many people of color in our community who are consistently and beautifully describing the world as they experience it, using a variety of mediums. They allow me to believe the current destructive dominant narrative is done for, that we can scrub away the whitewash. They are providing the ingredients for an inclusive story which can allow us all to flourish.


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