Black Stories in a White Narrative

By Julissa Juarez

Sign protesting gentrification of cities. (Photo: Richmond Pulse)

Storytelling has always been a means by which minorities, specifically Black minorities, have kept their culture and history alive even while under constant attack. The Black community, specifically the ones from Atlantic City, have had to see their community erased from history both metaphorically and literally. Storytelling gives a voice to marginalized groups of people; it gives a chance to share and pass on knowledge, usually within their own community. Black and brown voices are usually drowned out in the White America narrative, as it is taught both in and out of the classrooms. By narrating and sharing their own stories, the Black community can more accurately depict their own experiences and history. Storytelling is an outlet of knowledge that is not given as much credit as it deserves. Aside from being informative, storytelling depicts history more vibrantly than any textbook ever could and keeps the reader more engaged. This exactly what “Our Side: The other Atlantic City” strives to do: raise the voice Black native residents, while providing a pleasurable viewing experience for the audience.

The Black Atlantic City community has endured both segregation and integration; both inflicting damage onto the Black community one way or another. With segregation, white America made it clear that they did not want anything Black to flourish. They pushed aside the Black community, yet this not what squeezed the life out of Black businesses in Atlantic City. Integration was the blow to the self-sustaining Black community. The “Black dollar” could now travel to white supermarket, in theory, but that same dollar was not going to find its way back to a Black grocery store or a Black hair salon. This physically wiped out the flourishing Black community in Atlantic City. Native, Black Atlantic City residents recalled in the documentary all the Black businesses they could go to- be it for eggs, shoes, or paper. Now these once iconic places only exist in thought and residents keep their fond memories of these places alive through their storytelling. The new generation can only hear about how glamorous Kentucky Avenue was on Saturday nights through storytelling because a history textbook would never show that side.

With corporations, chain restaurants and businesses moving in, only a few markets have survived integration. This includes morgues, barber shops, and hairdressers. However, due to the rise in chain funeral homes, Black-owned funeral homes have fallen. This is due to the fact that funerals are one of the most expensive costs; comparable to a home or car, so more people are opting for  alternatives like cremating.  Integration made it so white-owned businesses would prevail because “Black-owned companies, which are less likely to get loans, and comprise only about 7 percent of U.S. small businesses” (Stanley, 2016).  With the income inequality, Black business-owners already start short compared to their white counterparts.

Minority narratives do not have space within white academia; the only space for them is within the stories passed on from generation to the next. One can physically erase Black history by destroying local monuments, but the thing that keeps Black history alive is the art of storytelling. There is more truthfulness and power in a story when it comes through the mouth of someone who has experienced it themselves. Storytelling is what keeps these businesses alive in memory like Wash’s Seafood which served the community for decades, but with almost no effort at all, these businesses were wiped away and only the stories live on.