How You Tell a Story and How That Makes All the Difference

If there’s anything gained from the events that have happened over the last week, it’s that how a story is told can make all the difference in the long run. This is especially notable for when you’re recapturing events and occurrences that have happened in real life. It can influence one’s beliefs, determine one’s perception on things, and how they handle it.

To give more context on what I mean on all this, I believe it’s wisest to explain just what exactly has gone for me this week. Before dawn this past Monday, two friends of mine and I were among nearly 1,700 people who made the trip to Alcatraz for the Sunrise Ceremony in honor of Indigenous Peoples Day. It was very much like attending a church service, but one with urgency. Prayers were given, songs and dances were performed, and speeches were given on the brutalities indigenous people have overcame and the brutalities that are still going on today. To listen to a long list of names read aloud of indigenous girls and women who’re either missing or have been murdered shows how the attempt at erasing these communities is still going on even today – and that is not talked about enough.

That’s one way of how a story is told, when the story isn’t even being told at all, and when (if at all) it is told, it puts a lot of things into perspective. In fact, the reason for these Sunrise Ceremonies happening twice a year on Alcatraz is to commemorate the occupation of the island from 1969-1971. That’s 50 years this year since it happened, and this is a point in history – and local history even – that was never talked about in school. In fact, if you go to Alcatraz, you’ll likely notice graffiti on the walls leftover from the occupation. However, there’s no indication of the occupation ever happening on the government-issued signs there.

There was another event I attended this week that also emulated the power of how a story is told. On Wednesday evening, I attended a moderated talk that was done with author Tommy Orange. You might remember me mentioning him last year when I did a post about how his debut novel, There There, and how it brought forth a story in a familiar place but through a different perspective. To put it short, the novel is about 12 Native American characters of different generations living in Oakland who eventually all come together for a powwow at the Oakland Coliseum.

So anyway, in the midst of the conversation being conducted with him, one person in the audience didn’t like how it was going, and decided to interrupt and derail it altogether with a really ignorant question; the question being why the prologue is so sad. If you read the prologue, it touches a bit on the violence, genocide, and near erasure that Native Americans have been enduring for over 500 years, so the fact that she even asked such a question really shows her ignorance and fragility. (I should mention that the person was a white woman.)

Maybe some might give her the benefit of the doubt by arguing that she’s from a generation and from part of a country where this was not taught, but I honestly wouldn’t cut her slack at all. It was a hostile situation that she put the author in – who stopped her before it could get any worse – and she among a few others did the audience a favor by leaving. Assuming she read the whole novel, then she should know why the prologue is kind of melancholy.

That situation can show how a story is told when it’s a story that’s hardly been told at all, and reveals truths and realities that are hardly ever spoken are either embraced by those who’ve been wanting to hear them out in the open, or pushed away by those who’d rather live in denial. There There is a novel rightfully celebrated for capturing the perspective of a community that has been largely overlooked for too long, with the eloquence and craft of a genuine pro. Those who have anything against it at all are those who really need to ask themselves why and whether their logic will hold up in the long run.

How a story is told can make such a difference. Whether that be if a story is told at all or how a story that hasn’t been told before is received, it can shape our the world, how we treat one another, and how we go forward.

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