Common Memory

I don’t know what your neighborhood looks like, but I live in a highly diverse, mostly Black community on the Northside of Minneapolis. More than eight different languages are spoken here, and even more cultures and traditions are celebrated. I have found that I have a deep affection for the beauty in our vast differences.

Differences make us unique, add vibrant depth to our humanity, and they make living here dynamic and beautiful. However, when we use those differences to “other” one another, or to weaponize power and access, problems arise. When we focus on our differences, we foster fear and division.

When we build our history on “othering” people, communities will have different experiences and understandings of how the world works.  

I learned the phrase “common memory” from Mark Charles who brought it forward from the following quote:

“Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.” - Georges Erasmus, Dene Elder 

I believe this founding principle is key to how communities and neighborhoods find healing and progress together. For all people. 

I think too often it is easy to operate out of a “well, if I don’t experience life this way, it must not be real” type of mentality. When the truth is, even within our own households, we don’t experience the same circumstances the same way. 

I don’t think that we all must experience life the same way, but we ought to genuinely believe others when they tell us that life operates differently for them. In order to move forward it’s helpful to begin from the same place. 

Mark Charles is writer, advocate, and thought leader within the Native American community and Christian faith.

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