Home Society & Culture This Obsession to Make the Narrative Fit Needs to Stop

This Obsession to Make the Narrative Fit Needs to Stop

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The days leading up to the start of a new year can be a time of anticipation, planning, and reflection. People frequently use this time to evaluate their lives, consider their successes and failures from the previous year, and make plans for the future. Sadly, for one mother, this would be a time of utter despair.

On 30th December 2018, around 7am in the Houston area, LaPorsha Washington and her four children were driving to get coffee when a gunman opened fire on their vehicle. Multiple bullets pierced through the vehicle, one of which struck Washington in the arm. When the mother desperately checked on her three daughters in the backseat, she discovered that one of them, Jazmine, had been shot in the head and was now struggling to breathe. The 7-year-old took her last breath on the way to the emergency room.

Witnesses described a White man in his 30s or 40s with a thin build and a moustache fleeing the scene, wearing a black hoodie, and driving a red pickup truck. A suspect sketch fitting the description was then released by the police. Predictably, the Black community erupted in rage after concluding that this was a premeditated act of racial hatred. Protests took place in many cities before all the facts were revealed, but this did not seem to deter the demonstrators, who were convinced that the suspect being White was sufficient information. Celebrities and other public figures joined the call for justice, and author and activist Shaun King stepped in to “help” by putting up a $100,000 reward for information that helped catch this white terrorist.

Just over a week after the murder, two Black men, Eric Black Jr. and Larry Woodruffe, were arrested by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. It is believed that they fired at the vehicle because they mistook its occupants for members of a rival gang. In light of this minor change in detail, the overall tone of the incident changed, even though the key elements of the case – a child being killed senselessly – remained unchanged. There was a discernible decline in the number of high-profile comments, and the story gradually faded from mainstream circles. The racial makeup of the offender – which should have been the least significant factor in this horrifying murder – was the focal point and the main determinant of whether the story would continue to receive national attention or be consigned to local news.

The ongoing politicisation and “ideologisation” of current events are the primary cause of people’s preoccupation with how well a particular narrative fits into a given scenario as opposed to addressing the issues that such scenarios highlight. The compulsion to demonstrate that racism is “alive and well” in society causes people to lose interest when their ideology does not align with the actual situation. This is amply demonstrated in the case of Sasha Johnson, a well-known member of the Black Lives Matter movement who was shot in the head at a South London party last year by four other Black men. The “Black Panther of Oxford” was paralysed and partially blinded by those she zealously defended and fought for.

Initial speculation linked the shooting to her activism. Diane Abbott, a Labour MP, asserted brashly that it was because she “stood up for racial justice”, but after facing significant criticism that her remarks exacerbated racial tensions, she later acknowledged that she didn’t know all the facts of the case. Politicians’ irresponsibility in intentionally inflaming the public in order to bolster their political rhetoric is nothing short of dangerous. Fortunately, the Metropolitan Police firmly dispelled rumours that this was a targeted attack, and it is likely that Johnson, like Jazmine, was an unintended victim.

Despite Johnson’s tireless efforts on the front lines for “Black Liberation”, often alongside other leading organisations advocating for Black civil rights, there were no protests condemning the violence, and, much to her mother’s dismay, no one from the birthday party even came forward to speak with the police. BLM remained deafeningly silent. It’s almost as if publicly chastising the criminals would have hurt their political standing and helped the “other side” win. 

But taking sides should not be the priority when such tragedies occur. Certain incidents should transcend our ideological divides and personal philosophies. We must resist the urge to let these events solidify our political beliefs and further segregate us into our respective cliques, à la high school. Instead, we can take advantage of them to unite around important issues.

When family members are unable to put their differences aside after a death in the family, it is one of the most unpleasant things to see (or experience), with some even using the funeral as a forum to air their grievances and intensify arguments. Neither side can seem to put aside their conflicts, even temporarily, in order to show respect to the one they lost.

One recent incident that required people to put aside their ideological differences was Tyre Nichols’ case. The young, defenceless man was beaten to a pulp by five Black police officers in this disturbing incident, which resulted in his death a few days later.

This was a missed opportunity to come together and ask the right questions, such as “How can we prevent those entrusted with assisting, protecting, and serving us from becoming instruments of fear, barbarism, and inhumanity?” rather than “How can we connect this to racism?” The latter was the primary question on the minds of many in the progressive world.

This was a clear case of police brutality; no reasonable person could have viewed the video footage of the incident without feeling indignation and horror. Unfortunately, the voices of those who are irrationally devoted to their political narratives are frequently amplified on major platforms, and you can always count on them to polarise the population.

Let’s avoid becoming so enamoured with our own perceptions of reality that we lose the moral rectitude, honesty, and humility necessary to recognise when our quest for ideological validation clouds our judgement and causes us to mislead both the general public and ourselves. There is nothing wrong with everyone having their own theories about how the world works. The issue arises when our unwavering adherence to our personal doctrines causes us to uphold or defend social narratives at the expense of our shared humanity.

Ada Akpala is the founder of Different Voice Initiative. It is a space for learning to help people navigate in this world of uncertainty and disorder.


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