Have I ever mentioned that I love stories? Well I do. And once upon a time, over at TED, Chimamanda Adichie gave a talk called “The danger of a single story.” I watched it recently because of this post on Hands Wide Open. And I LOVED it.
She talks about how books/stories she read stirred her imagination and opened up new worlds for her but they also made her think that people like her (a young girl in Nigeria) could not exist in literature until she discovered African writers and… “It saved me from having a single story of what books are.”
What is this single story business she speaks of?
So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.
A single story makes us think that EVERYONE in Africa is poor and has AIDS. A single story makes us think that everyone in America lives like the characters on Desperate Housewives. A single story makes us think that all they eat in China is rice.
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 become the only story.
There are a lot of people in Africa who are poor and many who have AIDS, but there are many who are not poor and many who do not have AIDS. There might be a few people in America who live like the Desperate Housewives characters, but not many – I hope. They eat a lot of rice in China, but they also eat a lot of noodles and meat and vegetables and seafood and dumplings…
I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person.The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
I like that a lot! It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s one of the most overwhelming things about leaving This Place (in 18 days) and going back to America. How can I accurately share the story of my friends and of this life here? How can I avoid giving you a single story that just furthers one stereotype or another? And will you want to listen? And will I want to talk?
Anyway… for now, you should watch the video: