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November 11, 2016
Intersections – it’s where the magic happens or not.
I have just returned from New Orleans where I delivered at a conference on “Livable Communities’ for AARP (http://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/) Another organisation called Safe Growth (http://www.safegrowth.org) facilitated the three days and the way they worked was inspiring.
We had spoken the day before the conference about intersections. I related this to how people’s stories and journeys intersect; the story of a child’s journey to school, the story of an Elder’s journey to the shops for example. The point where these two intersect I find fascinating. It can be laden with false narratives that inform action. (The Elder seeing the child and his friends as being ‘threatening, because they are in a group. The children seeing the Elder as “snobby’ because they cross the road to avoid them etc.)
However, Greg and Jason, the two people from SafeGrowth, were talking about intersectionality, I thought it was the same thing - it is not. Though, I realise it is ALL to do with narrative and story. This is the definition of intersectionality:
The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
I think you can probably see what I mean about narrative applying to the above. So let us think about the nature of social categorization …..
I am a woven fabric of identity comprising of threads of narrative. Some of those threads I cannot change, my colour, my age, my ‘class.’ (Though I have jumped from ‘working class’ to ‘middle class’, the ‘working class’ thread still snags in certain situations and forms a large part of the main warp and weft of my identity.) I am related to as an older, cisgender, white female. Luckily for me, the narratives that my society has created for such a character are many and varied; (though as I age they may become smaller.) But what narratives are open to people of colour? What narratives to those who identify as LGBTQIA? People with disabilities? You just have to look at magazines, TV commercials and newspapers to see how limited these are. One cannot create a positive and powerful fabric of identity if you do not have a range of threads to weave together and if they are limited; well then the fabric is not going to be as strong, resilient or beautiful as it could be. And as for those who say if you work hard and weave hard and put all those threads together we can all achieve equally… Well many people do not even know where the shop is to get the threads or even that the shop exists!
So what can we do as people who work with story? We can realise how the patchwork of our communities or organisations does not actually represent the potential and ability of the people, only the threads that they were offered. Imagine if we offered, through story, a whole range of narrative threads; imagine what could be woven then, what beauty, what strength what identity. Imagine all of those threads intersecting, some strong and thick, some uncomfortable and scratchy but necessary, some light and fine. What an amazing fabric that would be.
I think of the ‘Song Lines’ of the Indigenous people of Australia, these are ancient story songs that act as ‘maps’, enabling people to orientate their country. As a very simplified example; one clan can start singing the story of the ‘Black Python Spirit’ travelling east to west and as they walk and sing they will come to the part of the story where she sat down, and there in front of them is a canyon formed from the imprint of her bottom. Another clan travelling south to north will tell a different story but at that exact geographical spot their story will also contain Black Python Spirit sitting and resting. The stories intersect at geographical spots; hence the people can orientate themselves through the country through a grid of intersecting narratives that have geographical markers
If one story is not known, if one story is missing from the grid, then it becomes far more difficult to find your way and you lose your sense of place. If one thread is missing from the fabric of our communities or organisations we too will find it difficult to find our way, to find our sense of place, our belonging.