Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer of novels began her TED Talk by telling her initial perception of her share of the Single Story she had while growing up. She cited how vulnerable and impressionable we are in the face of the story particularly as children. When she was a child, all of the books she read were books with foreign characters; so that made her convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things in which she could not personally identify.
All these changed when she got to discover the existence of some few African books written by Chinua Achebe, Camara Laye, etc, which were not actually easy to find. That then gave her a mental shift in her perception of literature. She realized that people like her could also exist in literature. She then began writing about things she recognized.
Yes! She loved those American and British books which did steered her mind, opened up new worlds for her, but the unintended consequence was – she never knew people like her could exist in literature. So, the discovery of African writers saved her having a Single Story of what books was to her.
She went further to cite her experience with her American roommate in the United States who had a Single Story of Africans; Her American roommate had:
– a Single Story of catastrophe;
– a Single Story with no possibility of African been similar to her in anyway, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human-equals.
Her American roommate default position towards her as an African was a kind of patronizing well-meaning pity such that, she had even felt sorry for her before seeing her;
With time, Chimamanda actually came to embrace her identity as African. She came to understand her American roommate response to her. She soon realized that if she had not grown up in Nigeria,
She too would have thoughts that African is a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and aids, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be save by a kind white foreigners.
She also believed that this story of African comes from western literature; that her American roommates must have through-out her life seen and heard different versions of the Single Story (about Africa).
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.
It is impossible to talk about the Single Story without talking about #POWER – to be greater than another. Stories are defined by the principles of POWER; The four(4) question to ask then are : –
1. How were are told?
2. Who told them?
3. When they are told?
4. How many stories are told?
These are really dependent on power.
Power is the ability not just to tell the stories of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person. To dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, secondly.
The Single story create stereotype and the problem of stereotype is not that they are untrue; but they are incomplete. They make one’s story becomes the only story.
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:
1. It robs people of dignity;
2. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity, difficult;
3. It emphasizes how we are different, not how we are similar;
Stories matters; Stories has been used to dispossess and to malign; but Stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. It can break the dignity of a 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!