I was listening to a radio programme the other day that was talking about some people in Macedonia who earn money by making up fake news. It felt a bit shocking but it shouldn’t really be shocking because that is what we get fed all the time. I guess what was shocking was that these are actual individuals potentially changing the course of events regardless of the consequences. ‘We’ve got some good stories lined up for the French election,’ was how the programme ended in an ominous and threatening cliffhanger.
But why should that be shocking? Because it is blatant untruth not wrapped up in shiny paper? I’m not sure but it certainly doesn’t sit well. We are being fed lies all the time and how are we to know what is the ‘real’ story and what is not? We can’t all go out to various parts of the world to find out the truth about what is actually happening but we can find out from someone who is out there or who does know. Even then, we would only be getting one person’s reality amongst the zillions of stories that unfold around us.
We are fed stories all of the time and whose stories are they anyway? We are influenced by the stories around us, we are made up of stories, they are the very bedrock of humanity and they are also manipulated to make us believe whatever is convenient for us to believe at the time. As Terry Pratchett (I really miss him) once said, “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around…”
What happens when people write your story for you? What happens is that people start spouting complete rubbish, believing it to have some basis in reality, and there is a very real impact upon a person’s life. For example, the likes of the Daily Fail and The Sun say things like ‘We are being overrun by foreigners and you will never get to see (usually a foreign) doctor ever again.” Panic sets in, fear fuelled by ignorance and then a Polish family has their shop burnt down. Person writes story for money = person’s story being rewritten as a consequence. Every time you, or anyone, squishes a person into a triangular shaped hole of prejudice, you are writing their story for them.
There is the narrative of the good immigrant/bad immigrant that hangs heavily in the air. Yes you can be here but you have to be a super human being and not commit any human error at all, ever, not once. Even a speeding offence can be enough to prevent a person from applying for citizenship. You can jog along through life being super good, super successful but please don’t outshine everyone else, very very polite and then maybe maybe we might give you a polite applause. The judgement weighs heavily on what constitutes good immigrant/bad immigrant and it takes very little for a person to have their story rewritten for them.
Last night I watched a programme about 5 year olds and they had a selection of 5 year olds from different backgrounds to try and cover the range of people that might ordinarily be represented. No Chinese children. In Eastenders there are no Chinese people. You hardly ever see Chinese people represented in stories or the media and yet there is a huge population of Chinese people in this country. They are the group of people in this country most likely to be on the receiving end of a racist attack and yet we hear nothing. Why? I think it is because the story (stereotype) that is written on behalf of the Chinese population is that they are quiet, uncomplaining and hard working so we never hear about them. What if a Chinese girl wanted to dye her hair purple and join a rock band, sleeping all day and partying all night? Gasp, Chinese girls don’t do that, we haven’t written that into their story.
By neatly putting people into categories – Chinese people are good at maths and work hard, certain castes or classes of people can never aspire to a level of education, Muslims are terrorists, only children are spoilt, the Irish are drinkers – their stories are being written for them before they are even born. A Muslim will have to prove that they are not a nutter rather than it just being presumed, a Chinese girl will have to battle for a place at drama school rather than doing maths, the behaviour of an only child will be interpreted as spoilt before proving themselves innocent and so it goes on and on and on and on. The consequences of writing someone’s story for them is huge, it results in death and misery on a very very big scale.
Even on a small scale it can alter the path that people might take or feel able to take. The careers advice at my school was that, as girls, we might get a job as a secretary but probably not even that. We just survived the experience, it was hugely zen and in the power of now. ‘Have you done your homework?’ ‘I’ve just been to the loo and survived miss…,’ our thoughts didn’t extend far into the future. At another school, just a few miles down the road, children were being told that they could aspire to great and grand things in life. It was just the luck of the draw but people were having their stories written for them except for those determined few who had the energy left to take their fate into their own hands.
I was speaking with a Kurdish friend who asked me how many people there are in London – around 16 million I think was my reply. He said that there are around 7 million people in Kurdistan. I said that I thought that there were around 40 million Kurdish people and we sat in the silence of our mismatched information. What if the Kurdish people are being told that there are not many of them to make them believe that they could not be a force to be reckoned with and we are being told that there are millions and millions of them to make us believe that they are a force to be reckoned with? How do we actually know how many people there are in London? It’s easy in a village to go round counting people but in the whole country, how do we actually know that there are too many people as we are being told? So there are registers and lists and data and all that stuff but who is collecting it? The very people who are feeding us the stories that fuel the fear and ignorance that is writing the stories of others.
The truth is that we can never actually know. The more I know about various goings on, the less I know to the point that I now feel like I know pretty much nothing. What I do know is that we have to write our own stories. To place judgement upon another person is to write their story for them and none of us have the right to do that to another person. Our stories are sacred, our stories are the very essence of who we are, our stories are to be held sacred rather than to be rewritten and meddled with as if they were some sort of game. Write your own story and stand very proud within your own story’s skin and leave everyone else’s stories alone.