The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Ethical Storytelling with UUSC and CAPAS
April 26, 2023
Stories are just another word for experiences, and since everyone has life experience, everyone has a story. People may decide to share (or not share) their own stories for a host of reasons, but how do we decide how to share other people’s stories in a just and dignified way?
This was the main question asked during UUSC’s first Congregational Accompaniment Project for Asylum-Seekers (CAPAS) workshop exploring ethical approaches to storytelling. The workshop gathered individuals from around the United States, and one individual from Australia, to discuss. The facilitator of the workshop was UUSC’s impact storyteller, Deanna Johnson.
The workshop began with a clip from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s 2009 TED Talk on the “Danger of a Single Story.” The clip underscores the importance of presenting comprehensive stories about groups of people—especially those whose stories have historically been co-opted and misrepresented by groups who derive power through oppressive systems. In the talk, Adiche uses two examples to make her point: The first example is of a houseboy who used to work for her family in Nigeria when she was a little girl. The boy, Fide, was from a poor, rural community in Nigeria. Due to the words of her parents and teachers, a young Adiche saw him and his community as sad, helpless, and incapable. However, upon visiting Fide’s village she realized that this was not at all the case—she had fallen into the trap of a single story. She then reinforces this by sharing a second example of when she first met her college roommate in Connecticut who was surprised that she knew how to use a stove and that she listened to Mariah Carey instead of “tribal music.”
Understanding the existence and and consequences of both intentional and unintentional perpetuations of single stories is critical to understanding how to amplify other people’s stories with honor.
For the CAPAS program, and for many other programs and organizations that are donor-funded, being able to speak about the work done and accomplishments made without centering Whiteness or Westerness and without perpetuating ideas of White saviorism is critical. The public needs to know about the individuals who are supported by the organization and the work that the organization does to support. During the workshop, the participants discussed strategies they use within their own storytelling and shared resources and tools for others to continue learning and implementing anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-oppressive language and themes.
Additionally, during the workshop, participants read and reflected on real-world examples of ethical and unethical storytelling. This allowed for critical discussion and thought around how to produce stories.
Following the event, participants received access to the facilitator’s presentation slides and a resource library with links to learn more about the topics covered in the session. The participants also expressed interest in future related events. To keep up with future events, please email Deanna Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Ethical Storytelling.”
The library will regularly be updated with audio, visual, and written resources. Know of any resources that should be added to the library? Fill out this form, and we will review your suggestion to potentially include in the library.
Image Credit: UUSC