Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I was talking to a conflict researcher the other day, who mentioned to me the positive effects of storytelling on trauma recovery and reconciliation. While he was coming at it from an angle backed by years and years of research, dissertations, journal articles and fieldwork, everything he was saying really resonated with the research I've done on spoken word and hiphop. Whether it be recovery from a horrible breakup, a traumatic childhood, a violent encounter, or life under an oppressive system; the words we use to tell our stories define and shape how we will live the rest of our lives. The stories we tell ourselves create our memories, histories, beliefs, values and ideals. I know this is true, because I've both experienced it first hand and can point to many artists who use it for this very purpose (whether they realize it or not).

Those who do realize this healing property have always been the ones who are most interesting to me. The ability to heal and reconcile with words is a power that artists are blessed with, and many use it not only to heal themselves, but heal others around them. While it is most beneficial, in my opinion, to tell your own story, many of us cannot or will not. So when there is an artist who has the ability and means to tell the silenced perspective, it legitimizes that perspective into something beyond the margin. Something powerful, undeniable and real.

The denial of legitimate perspective causes ripples of pain throughout a culture. These pains manifest themselves in the words people use to describe their history. And-- as many of you know-- the words we use to describe our past mold the lens through which we view our future. These wounds cut deep: they are not healed by handshakes, revenge nor by reparations. In this way, it's quite interesting for me to look at how people use art as a tool to legitimize their narrative. You may disagree with what the artist says, or you may agree and want to mobilize, but the point is, by putting it out there, it becomes real and accessible to the masses. It becomes a "thing" instead of "nothing", and regardless of its validity, its existence can no longer be denied.

But what precisely is it about this repetition of narrative that causes us to heal? Indeed, putting it out there once is therapeutic, but I think it is the repetition that actually is the key to emancipating oneself from the trauma of the actual event. I often find that in telling and retelling a story, the perspective not only becomes fact, but more importantly, it manifests as almost a separate entity entirely. Eventually, we realize that we are not our stories alone-- that it is the power of reclaiming our story that is perhaps even more important than the story itself. Maybe it is the process of reclamation that helps legitimize our voices, not only allowing our stories and perspectives to step out of obscurity, but our very selves as well.

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