Owning Our Stories

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels

There are times I haven’t wanted to own my story. But as I was attending a webinar on how to put together a social media plan from Jasmine Star, owner of the company Social Curator, I realized it may be better to focus on telling the story of who I really am. Jasmine makes no bones about the fact that she is the daughter of immigrants and went to college on a scholarship. She hustles, she says, because she wants to break that cycle of struggle for her family. I’m doing the exact same thing myself, but I’m normally to hesitant to share that part of myself with others because I’m embarrassed. 

My husband had to participate in the “Privilege Walk” exercise that many colleges and workplaces are conducting, where participants learn how power of privilege affects their lives, even if they don’t realize it. He told me that based on the statements that were given out, I would have had to take multiple steps backward during the exercise. He wanted me to be mindful of that whenever I get down on myself. 

 Some of the directions included, "Take a step backward if:"
• If you have been divorced or been impacted by divorce (my mother was divorced twice) 
• If there have been times in your life where you skipped a meal because there was no food in the house 
• If you had to take out student loans to attend college 
• If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke or statement you heard related to your race, ethnicity, gender, appearance, or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation 
• If you have ever felt unsafe at night walking alone 

I’ve had friends who have joked with me before about how many writing gigs I take on. They wonder why I feel the need to do so much all the time. I don’t tell them it’s because I worry that I will one day go hungry again and don’t want my kids to feel like they can’t apply to the colleges of their choice. I don’t tell them that I worked my behind off all through college because I was grateful just to be there and needed to make money for basic living expenses. I realize by staying I may be doing other women like me a disservice by not speaking up. 

Yes, I’m Mexican American. Yes, I had a grandmother who worked as a housekeeper for a family in Texas. Yes, I had blue collar parents who never attended college. No, I didn’t have health or dental insurance as a child. No, there wasn’t a college fund waiting for me when I graduated from high school. No, I’ve never inherited money from a relative, nor will I ever. I had terrible math grades in high school and didn’t do so well on my SATs, but I also didn’t have access to tutors that could have helped give me an edge. Reading and writing are the only things that have come to me naturally, so I’ve leaned on those skills to help me survive and accomplish the things I have. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, having some of these things give us an inherent privilege over others. By speaking out and working to break the generational cycles of poverty, we can help give those who follow us a better chance at telling and triumphing over their own stories.

What's your story?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and freelance magazine editor who also hosts the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Visit her website at FinishedPages.com.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Nomally, you look fabulous in your photo. This time? You look a bit pale. ;) Maybe get out in the sun more often?

I think so many who have priledge don't realize some of the many ways it rears its head. I used to go to an outdoor mall as a teen. I'd roll my pants up and wade in the outdoor fountains. I asked a dear friend (who's black, and grew up in St. Louis like me) if she had done the same thing.

"A black kid... Wading in the fountain with all those security guards wandering around? No."

I had just wanted to know if we'd had a similar experience... and realized how different our circumstances were.

Great, thought-provoking post.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Renee, I appreciated the fact that you were so transparent in this post. Like you, my story has many layers that I finally am no longer afraid to tell. I continue to own it because it makes me who I am and I am so glad you own yours also.

Nicole Pyles said...

I love your story Renee. And embracing our own stories helps us tell them, I think. Like you, I didn't come from a family with a lot of money, and my own family and family history has its share of some major issues and struggles. And the thing is, I often realize it's my own story and everything that goes with it that shapes my stories and my creative ideas. And when we can embrace our story, I think it sets us free. Wonderful post!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Lots to think about in your share here, Renee, and maybe that's what's so incredibly important, for us to see that everyone has their own complex story.

I'm glad you're owning yours and moving forward; you're not just an accomplished writer but a remarkable woman!

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Here's the cute thing. The year I wore that costume, a bunch of kids that came to our house thought I was a character from the movie "Coco." Have you seen it? It made me proud that so many kids were aware of "The Day of the Dead" and a few even told me my costume was beautiful! But yes, it took awhile to get that white make-up off, LOL. The reason this whole topic came up is because my daughter is worried about checking the Hispanic box under ethnicity for her College Board tests. I finally had to tell her that while yes, she may live a more privileged life than some of her peers, I'm still trying to crawl out from under the hardships I had to overcome because of my heritage. I don't come from a long line of white collar professionals and college graduates and therefore that isn't her legacy, yet but she has the opportunity to change it.

Jeanine--Thank you. I can tell by your posts that you do have so many layers you are peeling back and I'm glad you are using your voice for good, inspiration and for change!

Nicole--Thank you for sharing our connection. Even now, when I share some of these things on social media, I have friends from high school that are surprised. They saw what I looked like on the outside (put together, clean, in trendy clothes because I bought them with money from my jobs or my mom's work at a retail store) and don't realize the chaos that was going on inside. I hate that it took me until my 40s to come to terms with this part of myself, but at least it's better than never, right? You are right in that I do think we can share a unique perspective in our stories from having grown up the way we did.

Cathy--Thank you for reading and understanding, Cathy.The more we share these stories the better connections we can make with others.

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