The danger of a single story

Jay is the only African in his classroom. Regardless of his background, this made him automatically representative of all Africans. His family left South Africa only a few years ago but Jay’s life hasn’t changed much since then. He goes to school, plays soccer in the afternoon, helps at home, studies, and spends time with his friends. The more surprised he is when one day his teacher asks him about the food crisis in Africa. Jay doesn’t know what to say because, fortunately, his family never lacked food. So Jay tells the truth and doesn’t only surprise his teacher but even makes her blush.

What Jay didn’t know was that his teacher mainly had one picture in mind. A single story of Africa. Unfortunately, a one-sided perception is more common than thought. We daily consume the media and its stories that shape our perception of the world. These narratives, however, don’t always show the whole picture. They don’t portray but rather construct a certain reality.

In her TED-Talk, the story-teller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares her own experience as an African in the United States. Her journey is marked by surprise, astonishment, and stereotypes, starting with her roommate who assumed she didn’t know how to use a stove, to her professor who complained that her story failed to be “authentically African”. Adichie’s own story was constantly reduced to a single story, namely to the one featured in the media. At the same time, the storyteller admits how her own perception has been misguided by popular images, and how her experiences proved her wrong.

What’s most striking, however, is that stories reflect power relations. They are told from a certain perspective, in a certain manner, and about a certain subject. The media present these stories as relevant to think about and thus, affect the current discourse. But often, these stories create stereotypes, and “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete”, as Adichie says. The single story is dangerous, which is why it is crucial that we are aware of it, combat it with many stories and most of all, our own experiences.

Photo credits: Pixabay

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