What does it mean to have, to demand, the right to narrate? Usually associated with Edward Said and the Palestinian experience, this concept ultimately speaks to a widespread feeling among those who are racialized, those who are gendered, those who are displaced. It reflects a more generalised need to reclaim something that feels stolen.
In this episode, I sat down with Laura Vidal, a Paris-based Venezuelan writer and researcher. Laura recently wrote an essay in Spanish entitled “¿Quién tiene derecho a contar nuestras historias?” (“Who has the right to narrate our stories?”) With our respective experiences as former regional editors for Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa respectively for Global Voices, as well as our mutual engagement on this question throughout the years, Laura and I explore the interrelated topics of identity, displacement, trauma – and the right to narrate.
Why do those who are displaced regularly get deprived of the right to narrate their own experiences? What is ‘Venezuelan-splaining’? Is it a form of gaslighting to downplay the experiences of those who are seen as having ‘made it’, by which I mean those who now live in relatively ‘stable’ cities/countries? How do those who are displaced deal with survivor’s guilt?
How do Venezuelans disillusioned with Chavismo navigate accusations of being ‘elitist’ thrown at them by non-Venezuelans? That latter point is especially interesting to me because Laura mentioned that it’s a common attitude among Arabs she’s met. They would regularly dismiss Chavez’s authoritarianism as long as he called himself ‘Pro-Palestine’. This is eerily similar to what I’ve been complaining about for years, with so many ‘pro-Palestine’ Assadists using the Syrian regime’s rhetorical support for the Palestinian cause as a carte blanche to excuse crimes against humanity.
Laura and I are good friends so don’t be surprised if the tone of conversation is informal.