Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"The Danger of a Single Story"

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer from Nigeria. Last year she gave a talk called "The Danger of a Single Story," about how having a single story about a person or place blinds us to the full reality of that person or place. The story about Africa, as created through Western literature and media, is often about a place of difference, of catastrophe.

With a mix of humour and seriousness, Adichie relates encounters such as that with her American roommate who asked her what her "tribal music" was (Adichie's answer was "Mariah Carey"), and of the professor who told her that her characters weren’t "authentically African" enough. She’s not just pointing fingers, though; Adichie tells of her own blinders when encountering other people.

The single story, says Adichie, is about power: making a single version of someone’s story the definitive story about that person. She explains, "The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult – it emphasises how we are different, rather than how we are similar."

There are catastrophes in Africa, but there are also breakthroughs, human stories, resilience. The key, for Adichie, is to engage with all of the stories of a person or place.

Adichie sums up by saying that "Stories matter; many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity."

Adichie’s work includes the widely praised novels Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus, as well as the book of short stories The Thing Around Your Neck.

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