January 31, 2018
Two Pagers: Beginnings
The “Danger of a Single Story” is a twenty minute lecture given by author Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie. Her inspirational presentation explores the dangers of a narrow-mind. She believes that a “single story creates stereotypes, and the problems with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Within the first five minutes, Adichie recounts the British stories that influenced in a multitude of ways. She remembers creating stories about girls having blonde hair, bright blue eyes and drinking ginger beer. She reveals to the audience that children are particularly vulnerable to single stories. However, as she matures as a writer she has begun to embrace African literature. Books that encourage her African identity.
Throughout her speech, Adichie eloquently connects her personal stories of Nigeria and the United States. Her American roommates often treat her with a single story. A story where she grew up in the poorest country in the world where only farms exist and where people are terrorized by the wild animals. According to Adichie, the “well-meaning pity” felt like a cage. Too often do we view Africa as a “country of catastrophe.” Her background proves that these assumption were false. She was exposed to academia at a very young age. She grew up “on a university campus in eastern Nigeria”. Her father was a professor and her mother was an administrator. She didn’t come from a poor, desolate land but instead a “conventional, middle class Nigerian family.”
Adichie’s speech was not supposed to scold the audience for their ignorance but explain that society has entered an era filled with misunderstandings and limited perspectives. She views stereotypes as single stories, “the ability not to just tell story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” But she also adds that she too is guilty of the single story. When she visited Mexico, the political climate regarding immigration became tense. She realizes that media has called Mexicans synonyms to immigrants. She was so influenced by media, to the point where the only thing in her mind was immigrant. Her story’s purpose has two distinct levels. The first is that a single story can prevent a person from creating genuine relationships with an individual. The second involves the imbalance of power. There are many stories about culture that dominate society, so stereotypes that target a particular minority will continue to disempower them. Adichie’s story provides a word of caution. A reminder that we, as humans, have the responsibility to listen and understand others’ stories.
Adichie’s speech made me realize that I was subjected to someone else’s “single story” as well. I remembered visiting California as tourist. Going to typical tourist sites like Disneyland, zoos and parks. I was told to be careful when eating in restaurants for I, a Chinese, have been given bad reputation as a tourist. Waitresses were shocked when I knew how to use a fork and knife properly, spoke English without an accent or behaved accordingly in loud areas. I felt offended when people thought of me as uncivilized. For the first time, I was being stereotyped. People saw me through a single story. I felt oppressed and disempowered by society. However, I decided to prove them wrong. I continued to use cutlery properly, to speak English and to never make a scene because I am a Chinese and not uncivilized.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The danger of a single story.” TED: Ideas worth spreading, 2009, www.ted.com/talkschimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story/transcript.