The danger of a single story
Acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke at a Ted conference last year:
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."
Fabiola Carletti is a Toronto Star radio room reporter and graduate student at the UBC School of Journalism. She recently graduated summa cum laude from York University, having earned an honours double major in Professional Writing and Communication Studies. Her digital footprints are all over the internet, but you can learn more about her by reading her blog, or chasing her around on twitter.