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  • Carolyn L. Baker

The Battleground for the Imagination

Growing up white, and in segregated communities, I didn’t think I even had a race. There was nothing to be questioned, learned about, or studied. I was oblivious, bathed in the safety and comfort I thought everyone was enjoying. I never had to wonder whether or not I “belonged” in the U.S. This experience reifies the reality of whiteness as the dominant culture. To know who I am as a racial being today I firsts had understand my racial past. This is the concept of Sankofa, a Swahili word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, embodying the idea that, in order to go forward, we must first look backwards. We take the knowledge from the past, bring it into the present, and use it as a guidepost to the future.

The narrative I learned in school about early America history went something like this: Columbus discovered America, the Spanish conquistadors came to civilize things, the pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower and had a neighborly Thanksgiving feast with the Indians in the colonies, and then after “the shot heard round the world”, our freedom-loving forefathers established one nation, under God, on the principles of representation, due process, and universal rights. It was taught as though America started out perfect and then just got more and more perfect from there. The Civil War was taught as part of this ongoing perfecting, with a commendation for freeing the slaves. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution ensured equality for recently emancipated slaves, right?

In recent days we have all observed the power of narrative to impact social action. Consider how the power of storytelling drove important change regarding subjects such as domestic violence, drunk driving, and LGBTQ issues. After Black History Month, let us continue to interrogate an America story that does not yet have a happy ending, a tragedy that tells us about ourselves, our condition as a nation.

In times such as these, imagination is not only a resource, but also a battleground. It is critical to expand all storytelling genres to include narratives that repair the damage done by previous incomplete storytelling and racial stigmatizing. The onus is on storytellers to illustrate our capacity to reimagine race equity, the criminal justice system, and economic reform. And with the distributors to create a continuing medium for voices to be heard, for invisible people to be seen, for society to be reeducated. It is time for reckoning and repair. Confronting the contradictions in the America narrative is important storytelling!

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