The single story.
It was the holiday season. The sun had set and evening calm descended upon the neighbourhood. The campus boys in the compound behind weren’t playing obnoxiously loud music. There hadn’t been any football matches during the day either; football matches that often sent their ball flying into our compound which, depending on the mood of our dogs, were licked, deflated or ignored.
My mum and elder sister were the only ones in the house with me. We were at the dinning table, probably one of those days when mum had just gotten back and we were gisting while she ate her dinner. It was a slow evening so I hadn’t told Emil to switch on the generator yet.
The soft glow from the solar-powered lamp illuminated the white walls.
The subject of our conversation must’ve flowed around perspectives for I ran upstairs to fetch my mini-laptop.
I remember setting it down on the table and clicking on Chimamanda’s Ted talk – “The danger of the single story.” – for both of them to watch.
I remember the pride that soared in my heart as Chimamanda’s steady and knowing voice filled the silence in the house.
Chimamanda’s talk on the single story is acclaimed one of the most-widely watched ted talks on youtube with 3.7 million views.
What was she saying in that talk?
How do I summarise that brilliance into a few lines here? I’d rather quote excerpts and urge you to watch the video here:
“I come from a conventional middle-class Nigerian family, and so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight, we got a new houseboy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. And when I didn’t finish my dinner, my mother would say, finish your food, don’t you know people like Fide’s family have nothing? So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.
But one Saturday, we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket, made of dyed raffia, that his brother had made. I was startled. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.”
She also tells of her previous single story opinion of Mexicans.
Also, her roommates disposition to her when she was 19 and new in the U.S.
“If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, then I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves, and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I as a child had seen Fide’s family“
”…all of these stories make me who I am but to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and overlook the many other stories that form me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story”
Why am I bringing this up?
It’s easy for anyone on my campus fellowship who knows me as a spirit-filled sister to think all that there is to me is something fellowship-related once I’m through with classes. It’s easy for them to think I have no opinion on politics or assume I don’t read novels. assumptions.
It’s easy for someone to view the president of my fellowship as spiritkoko and not know that he likes football, a whole lot at that, or that the P.R.O of the fellowship has a sister who models in the U.S. I’m just painting a picture. We have lives, full lives. Those lives are often viewed through the lenses of sister and brother sososo, that’s okay once your lenses admit that generally, everyone is an human being and Jesus is happy about that.
Not the single story of ”I only see X in fellowship, and X is a student, therefore brother X is made up of classes and fellowship time”.
Single story. The danger of this single story is that brother X starts to live an insecure and people-conscious life.
“…The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story”
Essentially, you must know everyone is a person and persons are subject to idiosyncrasies and a full world of ideas and passions. That your prayer secretary may be nursing the ambition to be the next governor of Oyo state(and it might not make him any less spiritual than if he’d been hoping to be the next missionary). Everyone is a person and Jesus loves them like that, Jesus planted a huge number of those passions in their hearts and Jesus is happy to see them bloom. Jesus doesn’t think they should only pray in fellowship. Jesus supports your vice-president going to the gym.
I believe when you accept it about yourself, you’re able to accept it about others too. Then you’ll stop feeling quite ashamed when someone you’ve mentored spiritually discovers you do something other than study and pray. I was self-conscious for a while until God helped me out of it.
Or worse still, you’ll stop feeling ashamed when someone knows a member of your family isn’t born again. I mean, what? Shame?
Dear friend, live, breathe, bloom, blossom. You’re more than one perspective. The single story is just that, – single.
Tell your own story. Be your own person. Own your story.
”so that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing over and over again, and that is what they become”.
What do you think? Care to share?
Freedom and light,
Wow. Weldone Debby!
Thank you! ??
I was (or still is, maybe) a victim of single-story. I was trying to let people know that I enjoy football, politics, hanging out and social talks. They found it hard to see me that way. I felt trapped.
Well, I started coming out myself. Engaging people in social talks, playing football, joining in political discussions. I think it really changed the way they saw me.
If you have a single story, you can cure it by showing people what other things you can do. Most times, u cannot blame people too much because people judge by what they see.
Have you listened to that talk? She made it apparent that there’s a need to tell your own story. Which is what you’ve put in other words as “showing others what you can do”.
I agree people judge by what they see but one thing I’m advocating for is giving people allowance. Space. Accepting in your heart that a person is more than one stereotype. Space so they don’t feel trapped.
Great post! I may not be a fan of Adichie but I really enjoyed and learnt from that Ted Talk. We all have little biases that defines us but I still feel weird when people think one’s life revolves around academics or fellowship; asking questions like ‘so you play chess or so you like programming?’???
Thank you for bringing the matter to forefront again.???
?? so you play chess? So you like programming?
I enjoyed reading your post. I remember the first time I watched that TED talk and I loved it for a lot of reasons. The first being I was in NY then and I could tell there were a lot of stereotypes about Africans that Americans held which made me upset.
Anyway, as you relate it to individuals, the single story narrative can be detrimental especially when we use it on ourselves. I’ve just started to learn to open myself up from one narrative of being a career women to expanding my life and creating a balance.
The truth is everyone is multi dimensional so we can’t define others and ourselves by only what we have seen or heard.
Well said Isioma. Well said. I think it’s terribly limiting when also applied to individuals and we tend to do that a lot based on the circles we’re in.
? to expanding your life and creating a balance.
I really loved her TED talk too. As soon as I saw the title of the post,I knew it must have something to do with Adichie’s ted talk. I agree that people need to understand that there is another side to every story and that we need to tell our side of the story. Most of the times that effort is worth it. But sometimes people only see what they want to see, so our stories won’t matter much to them.
I’m yet to see anyone who’s watched the talk and hasn’t appreciated it.☺
I tend to disagree with the idea of our stories not mattering much to them. I think it startles people sometimes that you’re objective enough to see it for what it is and address it as a single story rather than get sucked into the label. That leads to a respect of a sort, however begrudgingly given. My opinion -people eventually label you as you label yourself.
But like you stated, sometimes, people only see what they want to see. Sometimes. I’d say take one stubborn person in a hundred people.
I appreciate your contribution.
I love watching Ted talks. It is so inspiring to relate to some of the stories and the way some of them overcame their fears and challenges
Yessssss. Same here.
It baffles me when people say they do not know what Ted talks are.
Many of those ideas inspire, true to the tag line.
Thank you Simi!
Debby, You don’t cease to amaze me. Keep it Up. PS: Next time tell Us the name of this your fellowship and it’s location jhor
I always feel trapped many times when I mention the name of that OUR fellowship too.
Been a while. Ow have u been?
Hiiiiiiii. Thanks so much for the compliment.
I wrote this based on my general perception of what happens in many circles. I could only bring it closer home using my perspective and my closest-knit circle – my fellowship. Like I wrote though, I was painting a picture. The reference to president, P.R.O and vice-president are fictional.
I’m doing good. Better everyday, I guess. Yourself?
This is so true. Especially in the church, we tend to only see people as church people as if there is nothing more to life. I am a lawyer, blogger, makeup artist and all round awesome human lol. I will watch Chimamanda’s speech asap.
Lol yes! Sike for the win.
That’s the aim -All-round development. Thanks for commenting. ?