For Black History Month, LAC worked with Silence Genti, Writer-in-Residence, to develop a series of honest, thoughtful, and inspiring stories highlighting the experiences and perspectives of black artists in our community. Throughout the month of February, we will be publishing one story each week on our Cultivating Allyship webpage.
Silence Genti Silence Genti is a former Zimbabwean journalist now living in London. Silence has written for publications such as Toronto Star, The Beat and NOW and also co-founded The Insider, a now-defunct community newspaper. A father of two, he is an avid community builder dedicated to building a better world for his children. He can be reached via iamsilence.ca. Shohwera! I dreaded that word when I was young in my native Zimbabwe. You see, my mom (and most mothers) always told the story of the boy who got a shohwera, (an inflamed swelling or boil) on the edge of his eyelid because he looked at something he wasn’t supposed to. Discouraging this behaviour was the motivation behind this rather incredulous story.
Our children learn from stories as we do. Stories are all around us, helping us make sense of the world and its wonders. They teach us right from wrong, guide, and enrich our lives. Most importantly, they help create a shared understanding of our world. In fact, most traditional cultures have a special role for storytellers. Since the 13th century, griots have been custodians and orators of the history of their communities in West Africa. Dastangoi, in Urdu, is another form and tradition of storytelling as is Rakugo, in Japan.
Because stories are so powerful, they can also be dangerous. Often, we rely on single stories to define people, communities, cultures or just things we know nothing about. What causes a restaurant host to assume that when a man and woman walk into a restaurant, the male will pick up the cheque? Why do some look with unasked-for pity when they hear where one was born?
Single stories do a disservice to all of us. They reduce our friends, neighbours and fellow human beings to single, monotonous stereotypes. The beauty, and complexity, of humanity can only be captured in the multiple facets and stories of all that we are—happy, sad, joyful, hopeful etc.
“One feather does not describe the whole pigeon,” my mother always said. A pigeon has multiple types of feathers—from hair, contour to wing and tail feathers—and thousands of feathers. Each individual is a complex being with so many feathers or layers. Each of us have a myriad of changing stories that explain who we are.
The idea that a single story could adequately define anyone or anything is ludicrous at best and damaging at worst, yet we do this every day without missing a beat.
Even how we talk to people we meet can limit our ability to get to know them. Within the first few seconds of a conversation, one’s job comes up. "So, what do you do?", we ask.
If the other person looks or sounds different from us, we might even start with, "Where were you born?".
Questions are a great way of learning—about people and everything around us. They often lead to stories. The type of questions we ask though, may limit how much we learn. Why assume that my job is the most important thing to me?
"What brings you joy?" is one of the most stirring questions I have been asked. Such a question allows me to talk about what I care about. It could be my children. It could also be my garden.
As we emerge from a COVID reset, our community needs to recuperate our connections to a world that was shaken to its roots by the pandemic, to each other, and build anew.
Stories are a way of understanding and getting to really know each other. Stories delve into more of who each of us is, and peel back past the first layer.