The Danger of a Single Story: Threat of Stereotypes

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The TED Talk by Nigerian journalist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi was a rather powerful talk. ‘The Danger of a Single Story mainly talks about the negative consequences of individuals having only one stereotypical viewpoint of another country or culture and based on their own perceptions, thereby attaching stereotypical identities to others.

Adichi breaks down her powerful title by explaining what “danger” she is referring to, and what she is trying to say is that sticking to this single story or idea will lead to negative outcomes and unfair prejudice which we do in fact see in the world today.

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In other words, this “danger” has done nothing but created an even bigger gap of disconnection and lack of understanding or acceptance between different cultures, which in turn defines and adds to the whole stereotyping image.Those assumptions came with her when Chimamanda moved to America for education.

Her roommate asked her common stereotypical questions about Africa, in which she described her roommate by saying, “ Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe”. This again speaks of the danger of classifying individuals based on the assumptions we developed in our mind.

At the beginning of the video, Chimamanda explains why she started reading African book. When she was younger, she would mainly read American and British books. By reading these books she also had a stereotypical story of what kind of lives Americans and British people lead.

This made her realize that by doing so she was allowing herself to learn about other peoples stories instead of learning about her own. This brings to awareness the importance of people finding their own identity

Later on, Chimamanda went on to clarify that often, even inside our own society, we are stereotyping those around us. She describes the tale of her parents working with domestic aid, in which they described them as poor. She describes how them being poor was their single story, that because of her parents description of them all she saw them as was poor. When her family went to visit them she explained how she was shocked to see that they had “beautifully patterned basket”. She did not know that they could do anything besides be poor. This precisely demonstrates how poverty was their single story.

We have all been gone through this before. We have all been given a label that made us also be looked at as a single story by others and vice versa. I have personally been subjected to this a few times. Whenever I tend to travel abroad, the second people learn that my family and I live are living in the gulf region, the first thing they automatically assume or relate to is money. They assume that everyone living in the gulf region or more precisely living in Dubai, is automatically rich. Its also pretty much the same when it comes to identifying as an Arab, and more precisely as an Arab women. Oppression is the single story of Arab women.

“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”. Chimamanda shows us here that it is very important to be culturally aware before exposing to yourself to different cultures and people. Stereotyping is directly correlated to close mindedness.

Finally she preaches about the importance of understanding and implementing cultural awareness, which is something that we must take into consideration while going on with our everyday life.

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