Christian Long

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

In TED Talks on May 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Extra credit reflection by SYLVIA A.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Chimamanda Adichie:  The Danger of a Single Story

What an inspiring talk. I must say this is probably my favorite TED talk of all. It really exemplifies the benefit of powerful story-telling, done so gracefully by Ms. Adichie. Just her eloquence with words made her talk enjoyable, let alone her actual content.

I think everyone can identify with what Adichie is trying to address in her talk-the single story. The single story is something that differentiates us from what we believe to be beneath us, or different from us. These stereotypes usually have a negative connotation and can diminish the dignity of the person or people being judged. Adichie’s spectrum of examples of how this plagues so many different aspects of our lives really puts this almost ambiguous concept into perspective.

As she talked about her childhood experience with books and reading it was evident how impressionable we are as children. Our first encounter with something whether it be literature, sports or a specific person is so vital to our future understanding of that thing. That becomes our stepping stone, our foundation, and from there we build our own opinions and thoughts on a subject. So yes, I’m sure Ms. Adichie wrote charming books as a child but they were never completely authentic. This is because they always had that primary influence of only British/American stories featuring white characters living a lifestyle totally foreign to her.

Another point she makes is that when this happens you become unable to identify with that one thing, once it is given a single story. Take her roommate in college; she could sympathize with her new Nigerian friend, but never could she connect on a deeper level as equals. There would always be that barrier, not based on race as most would jump to a conclusion and assume. The barrier would be present because what one believes to be true is not the same as the other’s idea, so when these two beliefs are in conflict there is no common ground to stand on. This then prevents a bridge of commonality from being formed and with that the chance of changing that single story dies as well.

I’m also glad she brought up the question of who creates the single story. The ones with power are always the ones who control what story is being told. Once these stories are created they begin to define a culture and as she said, its not that stereotypes are untrue, but that they are incomplete. By not knowing the full extent of something we generalize, assume, and judge. Our minds become blinded forever by these single stories. They manifest themselves within foreign cultures and in minds that are either too afraid or ignorant to find out the other side of a story.

Its easy to create a single story is easy and to break it is even harder. So maybe our focus shouldn’t be to destroy these single stories, but to add to them, develop them and let them flourish into the full story they truly contain. Once we can do this our own understanding of the world will be more complete and with this, as Adichie ends with, comes peace.

  1. This is one of my favorite talks. Your review of what makes her presentation so strong is spot on.

    An element I took for her talk was that often times we see ourselves in the context of a single story that someone else has written about us. We need to break free from that role and write our own script, our own story and live it fully by adding new chapters every day.

    Very thoughtful writing – great job.

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