The Significance of Storytelling and Identity as Examined Through “Our Side: The other Atlantic City”

 

By Meghan Casper

Some may argue that being “colorblind” in terms of race in our society is ideal, claiming that it eliminates the possibility of racism because we will all be totally equal. This logic, however, is very flawed and can end up being a form of racism itself. The colorblind mentality is far from ideal, since it erases the individualism of people of color. Stating that one “doesn’t see” race, and therefore, views everyone as the same, minimizes the struggles, traditions, and essentially lack of privilege one has when they are not white. This takes away the stories and cultures of one’s race and defaults everyone to “white.” It allows people to ignore the systematic effects of racism so they don’t have to confront their own privilege in society. The issue of denying stories from certain groups of people, African Americans especially, is a theme that is brought up and displayed in the documentary “Our Side: The other Atlantic City.”

In this film, the importance of storytelling is expressed and without it, the citizens of Atlantic City would never have their voice heard. Storytelling is the backbone of African American history. If no one told their stories, issues of racism and discrimination would go unnoticed. If we claimed everyone in our society as exactly the same, it would erase the fact that the color of our skin affects absolutely every aspect of our lives. Though race is a social construction, this does not stop it from controlling our opportunities in this country.

The African American Heritage Museum in Atlantic City tells many of these stories visually. It not only offers the history of African American people around the country, but also tells many stories of those who live in Atlantic City itself. The museum’s thousands of artifacts and treasures each tell their own individual story about the Black experience in the United States. Places like this serve to remind people of the importance of storytelling, especially to marginalized people.

So, why exactly does racial identity matter? It can be explained very well by the idea of “Double Consciousness,” presented by W.E.B. Dubois. This idea states basically, that no one can have a single identity, but rather we are made up of multiple. Each identity that we express has an effect on our lives- we can’t pick and choose which ones we want to deal with at any given time, they all coexist together. Black individuals in this country have to constantly be aware of their “Blackness” and their “Americanness.” These things will always control their lives. White Americans never have to be aware of their “whiteness,” it is not essential for survival. Therefore, if we as a society see everyone as colorless, this issue will not go away because of the structure of our society.

The documentary “Our Side: The other Atlantic City” highlights this topic of colorblindness well without outright stating it. The film centers around the story of Atlantic City, but not how we initially see it. The main idea of the film is to present the city as it is seen, not by tourists, but by the residents. Atlantic City holds a ton of Black history that is otherwise covered up by its flashy casino reputation. It highlights the stories of those who were raised there, and it’s far from the passing tourist attraction the rest of the world may see it as.

These stories are very important to share and they raise awareness of the state of the city. If we never allowed these stories to be told, the city would eventually be torn apart by the casino fad and the residents would be forgotten. The mentality of colorblindness can lead to this result; erasing the individualism of the city and its residents, and it can be detrimental to the preservation of the rich amounts of Black history it holds. Stories are important to tell, not only for those who get to relive them, but for those who can listen and learn from them. Stories allow for everyone to express all of their identities and be proud of them.