A Rant on Single Stories
About a week ago, my class commenced by watching a ted talk video of Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”. She happens to be one of the most inspiring writers whose work I have always had the pleasure of indulging my frontal lobe. When I watched this video, I felt myself remembering and reliving my childhood. It was like she was telling my story, except for that Mariah Carey album lol. Although, I have had experience in a similar situation where people would ask me if I understood the African artist who featured on Beyoncé’s song, “Grown Woman”. I didn’t, but when I researched the artist, I found out that he, Ismael Kouyate, is an artist from Guinea. Well Guinea, is not exactly Nigeria, where I happen to hail from, but at least they got the continent right... right?
Well, whenever people would ask me if I understood or could translate what the artist was saying, I told them that it’s not my language. I didn’t really catch offense because, people have not really gotten to know that Africa has at least three thousand distinct ethnic groups. Some individuals are not even aware of what an ethnic group is, talk less of expecting them to know the difference between one African and the other.
It is not really possible for every African to speak the same language, which that brings me back to “The Danger of a Single Story”. Chimamanda talked about the time when she visited Mexico and the shock she received when she realized that her perception of them is not exactly accurate. Seeing them as regular people living regular lives WAS the shocker.
To be honest we are all guilty of some “Single Story”, whether it’d be having one perception of a certain group of people, or an ENTIRE continent. We’re all guilty in some way, shape, or form.
“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.”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Like Chimamanda, I grew up reading European and American novels. Luckily for me, I also read African books. I had more than a single story about my culture and the cultures abroad. I watched American movies and I watched African movies. It was when I moved to the United States that I was shocked by how little people knew about Africa and Africans. Just like Chimamanda, I had not identified myself as an African until I came to America. One thing I had to learn to identify myself as, but had trouble with, was identifying myself as black. I didn’t get why I had to identify myself as a color and if you read my poem, “Why I Check Other”, you may have an idea of what I mean.
You may have heard an African complaining about how people from other cultures ask stupid questions about Africa, which makes it very frustrating since Africa is not one culture. What most of us have come to realize is that a lot of us in America have that single story about Africa. The “every 60 seconds, a minute passes by” commercials, the sick kid looking for food, the fact that when I tell some people that I came to America at a young age, they automatically assume I am a refugee or that when I was in middle school, my classmates thought that I was an orphan brought to America to be adopted. I am not saying poverty does not exist in Africa, that every African speaks English or that we don’t have refugees from Africa. I am saying that these are one of the only single stories about Africa. We’re considered the ones who don’t speak English, and the ones who are waiting to be saved. It was when I moved to America that I found out that Africans play poker with monkeys and live in houses made out of wood. When I speak to some of my African American friends about going to Africa and seeing what it really is, some complain about catching a disease, being eaten by a lion, not knowing which country to go to (which is understandable), the hot weather and not having food. When they say that, I can’t help but marvel at such imagination. If this was the case in Africa, we wouldn’t have more than a billion people living there right now.
“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.”
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Questioning things that need answers:
If you are active on social media, you may have come across this meme:
Is it that the only way to get to Africa is by boat because there are no airports in any of the 57 countries? Or is this an allusion to how the ancestors may have gotten to America?
Odabọ (bye for now),