The danger of the single story

I watched a TED talk tonight by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. In it, she talks about the danger of the single story, recognizing that any person or place is comprised of a plethora of different stories which together make up the sum of their existence.

Three excerpts from her talk really stood out to me:

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.

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.

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 a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Stories have power. Stories have an incredible capacity to create empathy, connection, insight, and compassion. But there is a danger in placing too much emphasis on any one story. As Adichie explains in her talk (and has been my personal experience), Africa is much more than beautiful landscape, failed governments, and starving children, although those things are undoubtable true stories about some of Africa’s realities. But Africa is hope. Africa is resilience. Africa is life and love and community.

Rather than an admonition to discount stories or to shy away from them, rather let us embrace a holistic story, understanding that single stories do not define a person or a place. We are all made up of many different single stories. Let us listen to the single stories for what they are—singular narratives. And let us push to know more, to hear more stories; to discover both our differences and our similarities and to find our common humanity amidst it all.

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One thought on “The danger of the single story

  1. PB says:

    Great talk. I really like what I’m hearing from African intellectuals. That is such a valuable perspective.

    Having a holistic story reminds me of the Bible. It has many diverse stories, but they all come together in one grand narrative of Israel’s God redeeming humans to his glory.

    On another note, instead of forcing me to watch some ad in the beginning like most do, they put the ad at the end. That in itself made made me happy :)

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