By Anne Price, President
Originally published in Insight Center’s February 2017 Newsletter.
This year’s Black History Month culminated in dramatic fashion. It started with the man in our nation’s highest office intimating that Frederick Douglass was still alive, and ended with Moonlight, a drama about the coming of age of a young, black, gay man, crowned as the best picture of 2016 (after some dramatic confusion). Moonlight was not just historic for becoming the first film from a black writer/director to win best picture, but because of how its narrative, about race, sexual identity and economic liberty, transcends one of America’s most socially taboo subjects and reveals a deeper universal truth about alienation, struggle and resilience.
Moonlight provides a shining example of how powerful shifts in narratives can serve as a critical component of reimagining economic inclusion and liberation. It allowed us to move beyond a one-dimensional, siloed approach that remains at the heart of how we address economic security in contemporary America, starting with mind-numbing statistics on disparities and poverty along with a focus on risk factors. Our default setting on stories of drug abuse, mass incarceration and poverty too often lend themselves to age-old morality tales of good versus bad and oversimplified racial stereotypes and racist tropes.
There is a missing truth about the lived economic experiences in communities of color. People face a gauntlet of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, immigration experience, sexual orientation or gender identity, and even skin color — each one a separate and compounding obstacle to economic security. The lines between good and bad decisions can become blurred when considering how man-made policies and institutions constrain life choices and shape life outcomes. Alienation, depression, survival, hope and resilience are all part of understanding the lived economic experience of people, and these realities must begin to influence our solutions to economic exclusion and marginalization.
We need more narratives like Moonlight to uncover the hidden truths about economic exclusion and racial inequities so that we can reimagine bigger, bolder economic policies that can transform lives. Confronting the challenges of economic exclusion requires systemic, broad-based advocacy with the potential to change institutions and reform systems. This is a time for innovative thinking and visioning, as we still lack a cohesive, holistic vision to tackling economic insecurity and racial resentment.
As Shanelle Matthews, Communications Director of Black Lives Matter Global Network so pointedly reminds us, “Our obligation [is] to dream and radically imagine the world we want and need as one with deep-seated moral and ethical implications as well. We have a duty to dream and radically imagine with fervor and passion and to embrace creativity, innovation and a fail-fast-to-learn-fast approach — a duty to yield ego and build collective power.” Our ancestors pushed beyond the circumstances of their own oppression to create something absolutely transformative. They created and thought themselves into history. We must do the same.
At Insight, we are working to capture the lived experiences of people in new and exciting ways to help build political and public will for transformative policies. Our latest Hidden Truths podcast highlights an amazing project, Echoing Ida, that is doing the much needed work of amplifying Black women and non-binary voices so that they can be seen as the experts they are, share their real-life experiences, and challenge current paradigms and narratives. We also published an op-ed that pushes us to think beyond our comfort zone on creating true sanctuary cities for immigrants because we know that physical and emotional safety, dignity and peace of mind are interconnected with true economic security and liberation.