Monday 1 December 2014

If you let someone else tell your story, don’t be surprised if they getit wrong

The topic of misrepresentation in mainstream media is one that many people of African and Caribbean heritage are all too familiar with. To many, we are portrayed in a limited number of lights, none of which rightly represent us as a people. Products of broken families, having problems with education and perpetually on the other side of the law are only a few of the portrayals that many object to.

As much as there is a point here, I often wonder what else people expect when most of the creators of these representations are not from the Afro-Caribbean community.
Top Boy (TV show) and Pigeon English (novel) are two depictions of Afro-Caribbeans that have enjoyed good mainstream success in the recent past but it is worth noting that both are written by white authors. Top Boy, for example, has a predominantly black cast but is written by Ronan Bennett, an Irish writer. I am not for a second suggesting that white authors should not write about Afro-Caribbeans (I thoroughly enjoyed Top Boy) but I think we need some stories about us, written by us.

What's your story?

There is much to be said about the need for a revolution in the Afro-Caribbean community to unearth a new generation of opinion formers and thought leaders who will go into the world with our stories. To add a variety of stories to the mix that until now have not been given the attention they deserve.
As the playing field has already been set, we will need to raise people who will be ready to play by the existing rules and standards. People who have a clear understanding of their own culture and stories, as well as a balanced and accurate understanding of the mainstream cultures that we will be trying to appeal to.  There is also the option of creating an entirely new playing field to favour our stories but I am not a big fan of this. Skewered as the existing playing field might be, to intentionally sideline others would be just as wrong as what we are trying to correct.
Let’s not fool ourselves, there are problems in the Afro-Caribbean community with broken families, criminality and other things. To ignore these problems for the sake of painting a rosy picture will be just as detrimental as any other misrepresentation. We need to hear about the gang members as much as we need to hear about the budding artists. An accurate picture is not always the prettiest picture, it gains its beauty from showing the truth for what it is.

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