Nigerian novelist helps us see the danger in a single story

“. . . [S]how a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over gain, and that is what they become.”

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie is a novelist from Nigeria, and her’s is the profound voice of a “TED Talk” titled“The Danger of a Single Story.” Adichie, in the video,  tells the story of how she found her cultural voice, and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

We need this in America today. We are easily tempted to think we know what life is like for people who are different from ourselves simply because we  know a little. Real life is not so simple

Television news contributes to this because it packages some brief aspect of reality into an even briefer report. The power of the images fools us into thinking we understand more than we do.

For instance, in my years as a journalist I reported from a number of natural disasters. You visit a destroyed area, talk to the people, and try to  convey as much of the reality as possible, but it is never enough. The reality is so overwhelming that images from disasters linger in your mind decades after the disaster. People who read a single story or watch a single television story simply cannot grasp what has happened. The more people expose themselves to varied stories and perspectives, the better they will understand.

But this points to one of the biggest dangers in our American media world today. Niche media package messages for a particular audience; they want to make you feel at home so you will keep coming back. Many in that audience will be tempted to get all of their information from that one comfortable source because it reinforces their preconceptions of reality. When that happens, and it occurs on both the left and the right, ignorance can begin to grow. If you look at something from one perspective, you simply cannot understand that thing well.

Adichie’s thesis about the danger of a single story makes the point in a powerful manner. She uses stories from her life to build her case, and it is a very strong one.

“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.”

Watch the video, and it will be 19 minutes of life well spent. You either, like me, will learn something new, or you will see an old truth illustrated in a compelling manner.

A prayer: Lord, help us to better see the reality of this world and of the people with whom we share it.

3 thoughts on “Nigerian novelist helps us see the danger in a single story

  1. O_OI just leitsned to Chimamanda’s TEDtalk and aside from the fact that I could leitsn to her voice all. day. long was is paradised a word?The only thing more moving than finding the words to say what you really mean is hearing other people you’ve never met say them, too.The story of her roommate make me drop my jaw because it is also a scene in my novel. You know, the one that I wonder about because it may not be the Black story any publisher wants to tell. Because it’s an American story. Anyway. I’m posting that talk everywhere.

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