Counter-storytelling is a major tenant of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and is used to elevate minority voices, perspectives, and experiences. This method allows minority narratives to rise up and challenge the traditional narratives that shape our society. In this previous post, you can find a general introduction to Critical Race Theory and Counter-storytelling.
To demonstrate the importance of counter-storytelling I will use an example of this method by Sonya M. Alemán titled A Critical Race Counterstory: Chicana/o Subectiviteis vs. Journalism Obectivties. In this text, Alemán highlights the counterstory of Isabel Nuñez as she recalls her experience as a Chicana student studying in a white dominated field (3). Specifically, this counterstory details how Journalism’s dependence on objective truth silences the voices of minoritized individuals. By using counter-storytelling, Alemán creates a space for Nuñez to uplift her Chicana voice, inserting her subjective experience into the dominant narrative of objective journalism. Rather than speaking from observation or statistics, she speaks from her internal wisdom and knowledge of her culture and community. Let’s take a look at the importance of counterstory in Alemán’s text.
First, by engaging with counter-storytelling, Alemán and Nuñez create a different type of knowledge. Instead of publishing a traditional academic paper that utilizes observations, statistics, and references from dominant culture perspectives, she brings forward a narrative that is deeply personal. Through her counterstory, Nuñez builds a critique from her wisdom as a Chicana student and scholar, not as a dominant culture researcher looking in on a minority community. Instead of theorizing about a problem, she gives first-hand accounts of her interaction with this problem and her necessity for a solution. Alemán writes a small introduction, discussion, and conclusion while leaving the majority of the narrative to be told by Nuñez. Her counterstory is thus placed on the same playing field as the dominant culture research and literature that populates academia. This exposes individuals to a different form of narrative and way of knowing. It also makes her text much more accessible and relatable to other Chicanx individuals, students, scholars, and communities. This is the power of counter-storytelling.
Second, this text illustrates the deep necessity for more counterstories and non-traditional forms of research and narrative. Throughout her counterstory, Nuñez speaks of objectivity itself being a dominant culture narrative. She illustrates how, within Journalism, valuing objectivity silences and dismisses minority voices. Nuñez starts her counterstory by recalling the first writing assignment that she turned in for her Journalism class. This assignment revolved around students who participated in a march about immigration reform. In her assignment she interviewed MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) members and other participating students. She also interviewed a professor who spoke against immigration reform “to balance out the piece” and cited two official reports (1). In her own words, this created the following problem:
“Because she had to write using inverted pyramid style—with the most
important facts or source at the beginning of her article—the professor’s
comments and statistics outranked the MEChA students, who ended
up in the last paragraph of her piece (1).
With this example, Nuñez shows the reader how the methods taught in her journalism class made it so that privileged and elite voices were prioritized over Chicanx voices, even on an issue that pertained to Chicanx lives. In this way, the dominant culture perspective is framed as the most important while community and individual subjectivities are pushed to the bottom. This point is recounted several times through the counterstory. Nuñez highlights how this issue deeply affects the Chicanx student population by sharing the experiences of her everyday life. Through her interactions with peers, professors, and scholarship, the reader is able to have a glimpse into the realities of Nuñez and her community.
This counterstory shows us how much value there is in the nuances and details of a narrative. The same narrative would not hold nearly as much complexity and depth if it had been observed, reported on, or researched through a dominant culture perspective. The resulting text would have imposed dominant culture norms and analysis of the events. Instead, this counterstory gives power to the voice and narrative that is held within individuals themselves. Nuñez builds a critique of a major issue by sharing the experiences, realities, and narratives of her everyday life. This text is much more relatable, powerful, and impactful since it speaks to and from the core of the issue.
(1) Alemán, Sonya M. “A Critical Race Counterstory: Chicana/o Subjectivities vs. Journalism Objectivity.” Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education 16, no. 1 (September 22, 2017). https://doi.org/10.31390/taboo.16.1.08.