The Danger of a Single Story

This summer, I had the immense honor of meeting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who’s article for the Guardian is featured in my last post).  She talked a lot about her journey toward writing and becoming a writer: from writing about people with blonde hair and blue eyes playing in the snow and eating mangos to writing about about Nigerians playing in the sand and eating mangoes. All-in-all, it was a great hour+ spent.

When I first read her book, “Purple Hibiscus,” I fell in love. Here was a story about Nigeria and Nigerians that was cliche, that didn’t proliferate the horrible Western ideals of Africans. It was modern, unlike the books written by Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka (both who I also admire) which are rooted more in historical Nigeria. Her other books, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” and the most recent, “The Thing Around Your Neck,” are equally as great.

In the clip below (which is from one of the TED talks), Adichie repeats a lot of the things she mentioned in the talk when I heard her speak. Her point is this: without a variety of stories, with only a single type of story, the world is deprived of the truth. The single story of Africa must be changed — it’s stuck in Africans as poor, backwards; Africa as a place of negatives. Newer African authors, like Chimamanda Adichie, are becoming more prominent in the Western world and are changing this single story.

And I’m thankful for that.

The clip is engaging, funny, and informative. But most especially, for me as an aspiring writing, it’s eye-opening.

It’s about 19 mins long, so if you don’t have time to listen to it all, here’s some “soundbites”:

“Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become. … Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. … Start the story with the failure of the African states and not with the colonial creation of the African states, and you have an entirely different story. … The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story the only story.  … But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it’s very important, it is justas important to talk about them. I’ve always felt that it’s impossible to engage properly with a place or person without engaging with all the stories of that place or that person. The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity… it emphasizes how we are different, rather than how we are similar. … Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. … When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Chimamada Ngozi Adichie, quoted from a TED Talk
(filmed July 2009, posted October 2009)

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~ by bishola on October 7, 2009.

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