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Understanding the Societal Narratives

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At the 2-day WISDOM Retreat in January, attendees heard the terms “Current Dominant Narrative” and “Equity Narrative” as related to race, poverty and power in the United States. What do these and how do they affect those thirsting for social justice?

Onegreenplanet.org has a definition of dominant narrative that makes it easy for us to understand. That definition is quoted here.

“Dominant narratives are the stories told by the dominant culture; they define our reality and guide our lives like an invisible hand. And when the dominant culture is oppressive, so, too, are its narratives. Such narratives are fictions, constructed to delude people into supporting the dominant way of life even though that way of life runs counter to what they would otherwise support, and to silence the voices of people who seek to tell the truth. Thus, social change is made possible by those who challenge the dominant narratives, replacing fictions with facts by bearing witness to and speaking out against oppression. Revolutions that change the course of history are made possible by those who speak truth to power.”

The equity narrative represents the facts related to race, poverty, and power. Here are a few examples.

Dominant Narrative says: Equity Narrative says:
Humans derive their value through their work, income, and power. All humans have innate value and deserve dignity and respect.
Corporations are people with rights to be protected. Corporations are not people and should not have the constitutional rights given to individuals.
Government is separate from us, and we are helpless to change it. The people comprise the government. Our voices and votes are strong enough to change laws and policies.
White culture and white people are superior. Currently, white culture and white people are in the majority. That does not make them superior.

How do we promote the Equity Narrative in a kind way while remaining calm and reasonable and keeping in mind the value and dignity of the person/people reiterating the dominant narrative? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Call out and name the dominate narrative but refrain from challenging facts or attacking the individual. Calling people stupid, narrow-minded, a redneck conservative, or a flaming liberal will not help. Instead, ask questions, “Why do you believe the food share program should be cut?” “You believe the minimum wage should not be raised. Can you explain why?”
  • Avoid calling the dominant narrative “wrong.” Instead, describe the world as you would like to see it using equity values and beliefs. Or, describe the world as you do not wish to see it and point out the inequities.
  • Draw on your own experiences and observations. Use specific examples and reliable statistics when you can. Do not try to convince people they are wrong or convert them to your way of thinking. Don’t hesitate to say, “My faith informs me. . .”
  • Of course, our actions will show more than our words. Let’s live the equity narrative to the best of our ability!