The Danger of a Single Story

This is a wonderful post from The Squeaky Robot about the danger of single narratives:

Such is the danger of the single story. A single story, as eloquently illustrated by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, pigeonholes the world to the scope of one individual. It’s a narrative that compresses a diverse group into one single stereotype, one plot with no room for subplots or alternate story lines: Africans are poor, starving, and wholly isolated from everything “Western” (Adichie mentions how her American roommate was surprised to hear that there were Britney Spears fans in Nigeria), Middle Easterners are violent Muslims, and the Swiss are wealthy pacifists.  These are the stories we repetitively hear. As such, the way we perceive the world becomes inaccurate and oversimplified. This has serious real-world implications that present physical threats to our well being, like invasive TSA screenings,Russian skinheads targeting anyone who looks foreign, and unjust racial profiling in major cities. Just as venomous is the abstract, spiritual harm. Single stories hijack possibilities of realistic images and expectations: while traveling through China, a girl asked me why all American girls are rich, beautiful, tall, and skinny. Little girls in Nepal, Argentina, Romania, Peru, Mongolia, and Spain had similar questions, all the while expressing a collective desire to be white, blonde, and blue-eyed.

These stories also present an existential danger. We become sheltered by a self-fashioned bubble of cognitive dissonance and ignorance, one that saves us from a world that is complex and difficult to understand but also endlessly diverse, forever intriguing, and unimaginably colorful. Adichie warns about the dangers of the single 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.” As with any kind of story, incompleteness is unsavory. And yet we live, often obediently, by unfinished yet close-ended narratives.

A wise conclusion here:

Single stories are not real. Single stories do not allow gray areas in a world where black and white do not exist, either. Where does that leave us? It leaves us in a world where little girls wish they were American for no good reason. It leaves us in a world where kids have to think twice before they wear a hoodie down any urban street, and anyone wearing a turban is considered to be nursing explosives in their shoes.

I recommend reading the whole thing. I’ve now subscribed to the blog as well.

One thought on “The Danger of a Single Story

  1. I read the full article. Indeed, people are too complex to fit into one narrative, which is why I always try to meet people as individuals. Sure, their culture informs them, but it informs them in different ways, and everyone’s way of life is different, even in the same neighborhood, let alone the same country.

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