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Overlooked

Good Morning. A new section in The New York Times features the novelist Charlotte Bronte, the poet Sylvia Plath, the transgender activist Marsha P Johnson and Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.

The section is called Overlooked and most of its subjects are women or people of colour because – as the paper says – it overlooked them when they died.  Now it is correcting the record.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary next week of the murder of Martin Luther King, another famous title, National Geographic, has gone through its archives and confessed that for decades its coverage was racist.

‘To rise above our past we must acknowledge it,’ writes the editor, who notes that she is the first woman and first Jewish person to edit the magazine since it was founded in 1888.

The phrase ‘rewriting history’ is often used in a pejorative sense but sometimes history was written down wrong in the first place… by the victors as the saying goes.

In our own everyday histories, most of us are guilty of overlooking people who are not like us.

Some people are over heard – literally, we hear too much from them – at the expense of others we can’t hear. Or choose not to hear. We are the poorer for not knowing their stories.

When I worked on newspapers, journalists sometimes disappeared for weeks at a time – only to suddenly reappear with the front page scoop.  They had left the big city, or left the UK, in order to listen to communities whose stories could not be heard from behind a desk.

With the rise and rise of social media and its clanging echo chambers, it’s harder to witness the lives of the overlooked, more difficult to tune in to the under-heard.

But social change often arrives unbidden from the edges and the margins, while all the focus is on the centres of power and influence.

Today is a liminal day for Christians – an in-between day sometimes called Empty Saturday.

It’s the day when the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth were registering the shock of his death. The end of everything they had hoped in.

It looked like the still small voice of history had been shouted down once again.

But at sunrise on the Sunday, it was a group of three unsung women, overlooked people, who visited the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed.

Salome, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, found the stone at the tomb’s entrance rolled away. Over time – decades, then centuries – their story came to rewrite history.

News travels slowly from the edges to the centre.  Sometimes resurrection is a slow dawning. But we may need to still ourselves in order to hear it.

‘Another world is not only possible,’ writes the novelist Arundhati Roy. ‘She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’

(BBC R4 Thought For The Day, Saturday March 31, 2018)