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Nov 24, 2018

The Dominant Narrative


The Dominant Narrative

By Rev. Keisha Kogan


A few days ago my 11-year-old son came to me to tell me about his day. It was a normal sixth grade day until he got to Current Events. Current Events is when the entire sixth grade meets with the school’s principal to discuss a topic presently in the media. This day the topic was the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony of Dr.Christine Blasey Ford. The sixth graders were supposed to decide whose story they agreed with the most. What my son said was not what I expected. He said that he was leaning toward Dr. Ford because she had a very “compelling” story. What she lacked, he said, was "evidence."


I asked him what kind of "evidence" would have completely swung him to her side. I knew that somewhere inside, he knew there was no answer. His instinct told him to believe Dr. Ford, but his somehow having fallen into the Matrix, accepting the Dominant Narrative, he was forced into the land of needing proof. The place where the word of a victim-survivor is not enough.


What do I mean by the Dominant Narrative? It is the story told over and over again until it becomes a natural part of our collective consciousness. We don’t question it because we think it has always been this way. But it hasn’t. It has been created by human beings to modify human behavior. And in this case it is to undercut the word of the victim-survivor. Being someone who works with victim-survivors of domestic violence/intimate partner violence it was very difficult to hear my son say he wanted evidence. He still bought into the Dominant Narrative. It is time to change this narrative.

After Dr. Ford’s testimony, much like the beginning of the #MeToo campaign, stories of sexual abuse were free-flowing. People needed an opportunity to talk about the pain and hurt they had been carrying for however long. Some were liberated by Dr. Ford’s testimony and others re-victimized. The hashtag movements that followed the hearings were about the survivors: #Believesurvivors, #Believewomen, #Believeallwomen. The narrative appeared to be changing.


But believing is more than saying "I believe you". Believing is being willing to stand in support of the

victim-survivors. It means validating those in the presence of others who would seek to deny the truth of their experience. It means standing up again and again for the rights of victim-survivors everywhere. Believing is just one step in the process of changing the narrative. The next is taking control of the story. Don’t like the story that has been written? Write another one and repeat that over and over again. The last part is difficult but key: do not drop out of the fight. Changing that which appears normal in our society will take effort and time. The Dominant Narrative was centuries in the making. It will take that much strength and passion to alter it. The hashtag movements have been a clarion call. They have awakened people to the truth of sexual violence and those who come forward to tell their stories. It has expanded the way we view abuse. And it has made the stories very close to home. When one in three women and one in four men will be the victim of a violent crime in their lifetime, there is no room to refuse to act.


We all must answer that call to be a witness, an advocate and a warrior for change. The story is the evidence. The story and the storyteller must be believed for the Dominant Narrative to change.


Rev. Keisha Kogan is an interfaith minister in New York City. She is the coordinator of

CONNECT Faith, an organization dedicated to preventing interpersonal violence and promoting gender justice in diverse faith communities.

Dear Keisha the words "validating those in the presence of others who would seek to deny the truth of their experience" really speaks to me. The Dominant narrative seeks not only to deny the truth of the "other" but to place it in a box and through pragmatic problem solving "fix" it. Most of our lives don't fit into that neat little box but rather are a collision of opposites; death and resurrection, loss and renewal, injury and pardon, sadness and joy. Life is inherently tragic, and that is the truth that only faith, not logic, can reconcile. Matthew (25:35-36) I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. It takes courage, compassion, and love to hold those who are on the edge of what the Dominant narrative has defined as normal, proper, or good. For the Dominant narrative to change we as you say must answer the call to be a witness, an advocate and a warrior for change. We must also provide people with the skills, practices and tools to make healthy informed choices that not only enhance their lives but also the lives of the "other."

Nov 25, 2018

The interesting thing is that everyone except white cis wealthy men are other. And even some men within that group think of themselves as being "othered" by the "other;" that they are losing control over their world - the world. And I have always felt that creating boxes is a way for those who embody the Dominant Narrative to know how to interact with others. If you are a black, poor single mother - well there are certain expectations placed on your behavior and whether you live those expectations or not I am going to treat you as though you do. It is, yet, another way to halt truly interacting with other people. Those boxes is what facilitates the growth of nationalism.

Nov 25, 2018Edited: Nov 25, 2018

One more thing I would like to add, from my perspective the Dominant narrative has created a series of "labels" and notions of "good" and "evil" that for some reason we have excepted and use to define people. "Victim","Perpetrator","Batterer", "Deviant", "Abuser"......words that deny people their "wholeness" and are used to punish them. As Parker J. Palmer, Founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal writes - “There are no shortcuts to wholeness. The only way to become whole is to put our arms lovingly around everything we’ve shown ourselves to be: self-serving and generous, spiteful and compassionate, cowardly and courageous, treacherous and trustworthy. We must be able to say to ourselves and to the world at large, ‘I am all of the above.’”Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen follows this truth up by writing, "We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people; to lift it up and make it visible once again and, thereby, to restore the innate wholeness of the world. This is a very important story for our times — that we heal the world one heart at a time. This task is called “tikkun olam” in Hebrew, “restoring the world.”

"Don’t like the story that has been written? Write another one and repeat that over and over again." At the risk of sounding whiny... But it's HARRRDDD. Seriously. After awhile I just get tired of being the one to have to keep saying the same thing and having the same arguments over and over again. I am also aware that people are rarely changed by information. They are changed by experience. I find myself asking- how do I create an experience that enhances awareness of the insufficiency (at best) and harmfulness (at worst) of the Dominant Narrative?

Nov 28, 2018

YES to experience, Dr. Franz! In an experience, the very cells of the body take on the task to remember it!

Nov 29, 2018

Keisha - I feel you, I really do. And... as I see it, the dominant narrative is one of the most powerful forms of structural racism that exists. The powerful (as you describe them, "white cis wealthy men") have permeated our language, culture, systems, relationships with their narrative, their truth of "how it is," which of course, props them up and privileges their truth over all others. And justifies their behavior and their way of being in the world by any means necessary. Everyone else be damned! We all know this. More and more these days, thank God. And... I believe we must reject the other insidious side of the coin that exalts this ill-gotten power - the internalization of this narrative by the rest of us, the internalized oppression that enables the acceptance of a false narrative. And makes us victims who believe their definitions of who we are. I am not/we are not victims! We must be unapologetically fierce about our own truths, and collectively reject the false, dominant narrative. And together bond with others who reject it, too.

Amen! It takes courage and doing to be unapologetically fierce about our own truths, personally I don't believe it can be done without a community of like minded spirits. Thank you both!

Nov 30, 2018

Often in trauma situations, lies make matters worse. Like you, I have wondered about the effects liars create. From the days when I worked at a law firm, I recall attorneys talking about how to determine if a client was telling the truth...or lying to his or her hired representative. I'm not sure that humanity has come up with The Way Of Discernment yet, but I think we get closer to a solution every day. Part of this unknown solution is knowing how to ask the right questions--and that is a difficult skill. The purpose of this Forum is to open dialogue about issues like this, so thank you for your input and consideration.

Dec 20, 2018

Rev. Kogan / Keisha:


I love real-life stories and parent child interactions!


We so often forget that first person testimony is actual evidence. It's admissible in a court of law. We can know our experiences but depending on who we are in a culture, that alone is more or less likely to stand alone, be believed or enough... depending who is sharing and who is listening. And, like you share, when one person's experience is directly in contrast to that of another, especially a powerful person, we tend to believe/support the person who is reflecting the dominant culture/narrative.


Thanks for the reminder that it will need to continue for a LONG time before the dominant narrative changes.

And also the reminder that it can be empowering or upsetting or a bit of both when we hear new narratives and see and witness how they are (or aren't) heard, believed, received.


Survivors, saying the truth of our experiences isn't what's new, but doing so often, so repeatedly, publicly, and supporting and corroborating each other in such numbers, and not waiting for authorities to take action or intervene, sometimes was and still is the only way for being believed... and bearing witness publicly, repeatedly and often to others and feeling safe and free to feel pain, to share sorrow, to express outrage. That is still new.


It does make a different. It does matter even if it doesn't always seem to make change in a particular situation.


I keep thinking more and more about my own place in the dominant narrative and where I have been hurt and where I've been oblivious and harmed others, where I've benefited from being a part of a dominant group and not been self-aware and where I've also been keenly aware of how I've been hurt and sometimes have just accepted that as how things, people, or the world are.


Anyhow, thanks for sharing, getting me thinking and feeling and pondering.



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