Who is Missing From the Story?

Mom, the first Thanksgiving lasted three days and the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims and they had a big feast to celebrate their friendship! 

National Day of Mourning plaque in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Well… Yes, kind of. I responded as we drove down the road. I hesitated, wondering if I should continue the story. If we should talk about our history of genocide and the thanksgiving feasts that celebrated the destruction of native societies.

Last week, one of our pastors texted that she was going to hear Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney speak and wondered if I wanted to join her. We’re coming off of a few weeks of busyness and I wondered if it was a good idea to head downtown for the conversation. I’ve been a longtime fan of Dr. Gafney on Twitter and have been meaning to read her newest book, A Womanist Midrash for a year so decided it was worth it.

It’s been just about a week-and-a-half since I got back from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage and I’ve been sorting through all the thoughts and ideas that started to germinate in those five days of learning and conversation. On the outside, I returned to my normal routine of school, volunteering, and all the daily tasks that keep our life humming. But my lens has sharpened. I’m looking at the narratives we’re telling our girls and ourselves and am remembering to ask, Who is missing from the story? Whose story needs to be told?

When we were on Ellis Island, we walked through an exhibit called The Peopling of America… it started in 1520. What?! What about the people who nurtured and cared for America’s land long before the first Europeans landed on these shores? A panel or two was dedicated to Native Americans but more as a sidenote in history rather than the genocide our ancestors committed.

Later, we had lunch with Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis at Middle Collegiate Church, the oldest continuous church in the United States. After our inspiring lunch, we got a quick tour of the sanctuary where Tiffany stained glass windows told biblical stories. Most of these Middle Eastern characters are shown as white in these windows, except for one. I don’t remember the process but the church decided to add darker backlighting to the face of Jesus, making his skin tone a truer representation of the man who lived in ancient Palestine.

Who is missing from the story?

On Sunday, Dr. Gafney talked about how changing the narrative is going to make people very uncomfortable. We like our ancient stained glass windows and childhood Bible stories. But those aren’t true. Dr. Gaftney offered gracious ways of taking small steps toward inclusion – what if we hang banners between our windows, depicting a truer interpretation without completely destroying the past? What if we change our communion loaf to a bread whose color represents that of Christ who we remember?

Going to hear Dr. Gafney was the best way for me to round out that first week of reentry after the Pilgrimage. Her words solidified some of my biggest takeaways.

I’m not sure how these ideas will play out in my life but I know that for now, I can talk with Bea about the Wampanoag story missing from our school Thanksgiving retelling. I want her to feel safe questioning our history together. I can look at my own book choices and notice who is missing from the narrative. I can keep my mind open to ways in which I have embraced a comfortable yet inaccurate narrative.

As we look toward our Thanksgiving celebration, I want to be careful. We will be thankful as a family and we’ll eat all of the foods that we only eat this time of year. But we’ll also pause to remember the rest of the story. We’ll hang our banner beside the stained glass already here, adding a more complete narrative to our history.

Looking for a place to start?

Check out ManyHoops.com, a website devoted to creating a more complete Thanksgiving story. Coloring pages, recipes, traditional prayers, and history are all included.

Also check out Decolonizing Thanksgiving, a way to combat racism in school environments.

What about you? How are you remembering a fuller narrative this Thanksgiving?

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Life is a Narrative Story, Not a Report

One of the best outcomes of this practice of blogging has been learning the art of storytelling. My goal with each essay is to take a life experience and weave a greater thought that can be applied beyond my story at this moment. It’s been a good practice as I reflect on this phase of parenting. Some days are hard. What’s a bigger lesson I can learn from it?

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Image source: Falco on Pixabay

Part of embracing storytelling is letting go of journalism. I have no recording devices in our house to go back and make sure our conversations are accurately fact-checked. Sometimes I embellish things to make a point. It’s never as deep or complex as real life. In fact, it’s always funny talking with real-life friends about blog posts because they see so much more than is written. (It’s equally funny talking with people who read the blog but who I don’t see often in person. There are a lot of gaps between the written story and the lived story!)

I’m reading through Exodus right now and reflecting on the ways in which we read this text. Some read it in a journalistic style: Each of the elements of this story actually happened in the timeline stated. We read it literally and draw our conclusions based on that. Others believe it’s complete metaphor, leading us toward a bigger story. None of this happened but it helps give us a history and journey as a culture. Many are in the middle: The exodus probably happened, though probably not exactly the way the text states. It’s storytelling and the narrator will embellish certain aspects to make a greater point.

This is what we do. As Americans, we’ve created a narrative about scrappy underdog Colonists fighting the big business of Great Britain. It’s a cultural narrative that lives to this day. I was talking with a friend who said that even though the Confederacy lost the Civil War, they won the narrative. We still revere antebellum culture, architecture, and memorials in ways that usually doesn’t happen to the losers.

We all do this, whether its written or a story we’ve told again and again over beers with old friends. The more we tell it, the more exaggerated it becomes. The bigger our audience, the more we need to think about how our stories can apply to more people. I write from a perspective of motherhood, but I try not to make my stories about motherhood.

I’ve been thinking about this as we interpret laws in our country that are over two hundred years old. We have created a cultural narrative around them, making them something that they weren’t originally. The problem is that my cultural narrative around a particular phrase in the Constitution is going to be skewed differently than someone’s from a different region or background. We all bring our own lens personally as well as within an overarching societal telling.

I’m wondering how to dig in deeper. When I meet with friends in real life and we talk about our journeys, they get a more dynamic story than the one on this blog. They know more sides, more nuances, more of our journey. How do I apply this to the news and current events? How do I step into the discussion and recognize that I’m reading the news and our laws through my own cultural lens?

I don’t have any answers or books to read. I suppose my next steps are simply being aware that I don’t have the whole story – none of us do. How do we interpret and process with this idea of not knowing? Will that help us break our steeped perspectives toward moving forward?

How do you step back and shift your thinking? What are ways you recognize your cultural lens in order to see things in a new way? Any helpful resources?

41P-7PjUPDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Recommended Resources: Chapter 3: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” from We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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