Recently I had the opportunity to reflect on my original vision of blogging about Single Stories, and where that vision came from. It has been a year and five months since my first blog, Transcending Single Stories, and I have been inspired to write many more since that time.
Visiting with my brother I was introduced to his friend’s mother who had recently moved to Atlanta from New York. Having a conversation, mostly listening, with my brother’s friend’s mother, whom I will call Jane for anonymity purposes, was quite jolting.
There was no specific topic that we were discussing, but the main theme was single stories. Jane is sixty-seven years old and recently retired and moved to Atlanta to be close to her only son.
I was jolted by what I was hearing Jane say because I had an expectation of what the conversation might bring, since she is from New York. My single story of New Yorkers is that they are very diverse and tend to be open-minded.
Needless to say my belief about all New Yorkers being open-minded was challenged when Jane shared her strong beliefs and opinions on things such as why she prefers not to visit Africa. She said Africa is, “Too third world for me.” “America is the best country in the world.” “Everyone [in America] has the same opportunity if they just work hard and stop complaining.” “Things have changed, and racism is more towards white people.” And so on. All of these beliefs she attributed to being from New York, and that she’s, “Seen it all.”
My personal experience as a woman of color having lived with racism since the age of nine, when I immigrated to the U.S., is that racism toward people of color is still very much alive. Jane’s single story about Africa, America being the best country in the world, and how everyone has the same opportunity gave me a deeper awareness and understanding of the power and danger of a single story.
I sat and listened to Jane and when she took a breath I was able to respond with respect, saying that I didn’t agree with her beliefs and perspectives, and that each person has their own perspective, beliefs, and experiences. She wasn’t very open or receptive to my words, as she seemed to believe that her truth is fact.
As I excused myself from the conversation, she said that she was looking forward to America being great again. I then asked the question, “Do you mean back in the time of the Native Americans?” Surprised by my question, she quickly changed her tune and said, “Yes, they are good people, I had a friend in New York she was part Mohawk and part Black, she was nice.”
It is interesting how we can let our single stories distort our perceptions. Jane lived her whole life in New York and didn’t feel the need to travel. Her experiences and the single stories she heard created her worldview.
I appreciate conversations, as uncomfortable as it was, like the one I had with Jane because they give me the opportunity to speak my truth, and I am reminded of the importance of being diligent and mindful of my own single stories.