Guiding Question: Do the Stories I Know Tell a Full Picture?
An opportunity to:
- think about how “thin” stories and few examples lead to stereotypes
- explore instances where you have many examples and others where you have few
- consider how some stereotypes are intentionally propelled and why they endure
- begin to consider the power of “counter narratives,” and how you can play a role in strengthening them as a parent
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.
(Adichie, 2009, para. 24)
Much of the work that we do together as a We Stories community is about providing a counter-narrative to harmful, thin, or stereotypical stories about others and our society. When you are not part of a particular community, it is easy to obtain only a narrow representation of what it’s like to be a part of that community. We often only know one version of a story about others who are different from us. Our job, always, is to expand that representation and seek multiple truths about other people, other experiences, other cultures, and other groups. While we can never really experience someone else’s reality, we can, through multiple representations, begin to see the nuance, complexity, and common humanity of those that may seem different from ourselves. And when we’ve been exposed to multiple truths, it’s easier to dismiss common tropes and defend against the very powerful stereotypes that pervade our society.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah, has a brilliant Ted Talk that illuminates “The Danger of a Single Story.” If you do nothing else with the curriculum this month, watch this talk! Adichie’s framing about what happens when we only have one story about someone, and/or when we don’t see ourselves represented in the world, is very powerful.
This curricular focus gives you the opportunity to apply this “danger of a single story” lens to the narrative and counter-narratives surrounding fathers of color. For decades, there have been thin stories told about absent fathers of color, particularly black fathers. Prejudiced rationale abounds. These stories aren't told in historical context, nor are they representative of many families and many fathers. The related stereotypes are harmful, and their impact extends beyond gratuitous narratives, resulting in these stereotypes becoming codified into both policy and practice. Below, we’ve included some links to articles that provide some cursory historical and policy context for some of the racial disparities we see across family outcomes and structures.
As parents, you have the opportunity to share an abundance of examples of involved, loving, precious black fathers with your children. While this can never completely inoculate them from the damaging and pervasive stereotypes that exist, it goes a long way. The books we’ve selected all highlight the powerful father-child bond in various families of color and through warm, poignant and fun stories. We also suggest exploring the “365 Days with Dad” project (online, in calendar form, and at the shop) by Cbabi Bayoc, as is further described below.
Questions to consider for yourself:
- What do you know about fathers of color? How do you know it?
- What dynamics have contributed to the rise and maintenance of the pervasive stereotypes that we have today?
- What first-hand experiences do you with fathers of colors (...for example, but important to consider with any targeted /stereotyped group)?
Questions to consider as a parent:
- What messages do you think your kids are likely to receive about fathers of color (given your own particular circumstances - neighborhood, schools, media, friends, communities, etc.)?
- What messages and images of fathers of color are you making/can you make available to your children (and yourself)?
- What history and information do you need to better nuance and explain the messages about fathers of color that your children will be exposed to?
** While our focus for this unit is on fathers, it’s important to also use this opportunity to continue expanding instead of narrowing our understanding of families, and of fathers in general. After all, not all fathers are nurturing, present, or supportive. Many families don’t have fathers. On the other hand, many families have more than one father. Some families are intergenerational. The very concept of family is highly nuanced and culturally-informed. Same-sex parenting, death, divorce and modern conception options make for rich and varied family constellations. We Stories stands for families. All families. The following books are great ways to help share and open a conversation with your children on the diversity of family life: Everywhere Babies; Families; ABC A Family Alphabet Book; The Different Dragon; Mommy, Mama, and Me; Daddy, Papa and Me; Who is in a Family. And for toys: My Family Builders is the best!
"Stories of FATHERS" Stories
“A Beach Tail”
by Karen Lynn Williams
“Papa and Me”
by Arthur Dorros
by Jerdine Nolen
“The Bat Boy and His Violin”
by Gavin Curtis