Personal Identity: the Danger of a Single Story

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I was born and raised in the still developing, air polluted, birthplace of hip hop: The Bronx. I am an Afro-Latina Queer woman and I have no shame of where I come from; despite it being rough around the edges. The Bronx is honorably raw, and this is a quality that has been woven in the very fabric of my own identity. The level of impact the Bronx has had on fashion, music, other art forms, politics, and culture is undeniable. The people in the Bronx are resilient, but the story that has surrounded my beloved birthplace is one that depicts it as dirty, crime-ridden, where only the worst kind of people live and thrive, for the worst kind of reasons. The Bronx and its people have become synonymous with the lesser because of the single story told about it.

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In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “The Danger of a Single Story” in a storytelling format she conveys the undeniable power stories have and the impression they have on people, as well as the dangers of when a single story becomes the only story of which we identify a place or a group of people with. Her point being “on a micro-level, the danger of a single story is that it prevents people from authentically connecting with people as individuals.” (Brown) “On a macro-level, the issue is really about power: almost by definition, there are many stories about the dominant culture so the single-story threatens to create stereotypes that stick to groups that are already disempowered.” (Brown)

When I get asked where I am from my answer is never welcomed with a positive response. Within the boroughs, it is culture to speak on the Bronx in a way that puts it in a negative light. It gets highlighted for its rat infestations, crime rate, STD rate, and the worst possible living style of people who live there, along with the added imagery of prostitutes and crackheads. The story always starts the same, and it never occurs to anyone that people from The Bronx are capable of being the opposite of the negative stereotypes that are prescribed to us. In the same way that it became impossible for Adichie to her young house boys family as “something but poor” because that is all she ever heard about them, since that is all people hear about The Bronx it has become our single story.

One of the issues I have had with this is not that its untrue but how it is spoken about.

At one point in her speech Adichie goes on to say “start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.” If we started the story with the what could’ve been avoided displacement of 5,000 families, slumlords, and redlining then we would have a far more different story.

This stereotype of The Bronx has been created unfairly, and like many others it “is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” (Adichie) The Bronx has held no power in the creation in the identity it is associated with, and even today has yet to penetrate the mainstream narrative enough to make it a place that is no longer synonymous with the lesser. How the Bronx gained this single story is still a mystery to me, I can only explain its history briefly, and speak my own truth as a testament because I am a product of the environment spoken so badly about, but The Bronx is not the only place that has fallen victim to a single story. 

Other cultures and places around the world are prescribed single stories that are incomplete, and this is mainly because of power. “It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power” (Adichie) because “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person”. (Adichie) These single stories are created by showing ‘a people as one thing, as only one, over and over again’ (Adichie) thus making them what they have become in the eyes of many. The dominant culture and/or group of people is what holds the majority of the power and is inadvertently the author of the single stories of many, and what makes this dangerous is that “the single-story threatens to create stereotypes that stick to groups that are already disempowered”. (Brown)

With that being said Adichie and I share the same feeling, in that “it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person”. Nonetheless one could argue that attempting to address and correct these stories is fruitless because powerless minorities do not write the rules we simple play an unfair game, but in the same way that “stories have been used to dispossess and to malign” (Adichie) stories can repair the broken dignity of a people that have had their dignity taken.

In closing I can only speak for myself when I say all though many have tried, my dignity has yet to be taken from me. I will continue to have no shame in where I come from because “to only insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me.” (Adichie) The single story of The Bronx is incomplete, and one day people will take the time to allow a balance of stories and hear the other half. 

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