The danger of a single story

Chimamanda Adichie makes several important points in this talk, but here are a few excerpts that really struck me:

  • “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.”
  • “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state,and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”
  • “All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience, and to overlook the many other stories that formed 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.”

I think this is a conversation we need to have, as many times as it takes, until it becomes more than a thoughtful sentiment. As a journalist, I find it frustrating to know that people and places will always be more complex than my representations of them … but if I can someday become skilled enough to represent nuance itself, then at least I complicate the single story.

As for the speaker herself, it’s worth highlighting that Chimamanda is a well-spoken, humble and brilliant women who has the unique gift of capturing so much in so few words. In many ways, I consider her a kindred spirit (if I may be so bold) when it comes to her worldview. One of my favourite examples is her answer to the question, “how would you like to be remembered?”

She answered: “As a person who tried to be honest and who tried to be kind—and who often realized the difficulty of being both at the same time.”

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3 thoughts on “The danger of a single story

  1. I truly enjoyed this excerpt. So, there is always two sides to a story, humm
    We are all so guilty of stereotypical thoughts of others.
    We hear the world is shrinking, but is our views evolving the same way?…

  2. Pingback: I don’t, and I will never, know enough | The Fab Files

  3. My thought is that if journalists would personally “live” their stories, they would be less likely to “stereotype” nations about which they know nothing, especially in view of their ignorance of the real situation. When they report blasphemous impressions especially of countries with which they are not familiar, it becomes only hearsay instead of professionality. Unfortunately readers of such publications read this fallacy and believe it, even spread the word when they don´t have any idea of reality.

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