The Danger of a Single Story

Posted February 6, 2011 from Philippines

Last Friday,in my Gender, Culture, and Development in Africa class I came to know another female writer whose books I have yet to read. Her name is Chimamanda Adichie. In the video that we watched, she talked about how a single story about Africa (poor, starving, shoeless, homeless) was dangerous. In the same way that when she was growing up and started reading all British and American stories, she thought of writer her own stories where her characters were all white and blue-eyed. She said, 'If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, 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.'

Her words reverberated in me. How many times have I been asked where I learned my English from, as it seems 'very good,' or comments like 'we saw a documentary on Filipinos on BBC living in cemeteries' when I was in London, or suprised when I know their literature, ''You read Federico Garcia Lorca?" here in Spain.

I, too, had single story in my head before living in the UK or in Spain. But the more I get to know the people, the more I see things from different angles and the more I appreciate diversity. I have less judgment. I can only agree with Chimamanda when she said, 'The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.'

For WorldPulse friends who have not watched her video, let me share it to you:

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  • Tina Garforth
    Feb 12, 2011
    Feb 12, 2011

    Dear Katea, How great it is to hear from you again! How has your experience living in Europe been for you? You are so right when you say that the single story robs people of their dignity. I see this over and over again and it is so important for us all to keep spreading our wings and sharing our stories from all corners of the world so we can see a much larger perspective than just one persons or even worse one communities' world view. I am so tired, like you it seems of seeing images and reading stories that perpetuate this notion of a dying Africa (or indeed a dying desperate any other nation or community) waiting to be rescued by the privileged well meaning white man. There is so much more to the African continent and indeed the white community too than this... not everyone in Africa is in dire need of help and not every white person in America or Europe is privileged. Inf act sometimes it can be just as much the other way round and the assumptions and judgments can hurt both parties, but no-one wants to see that. Of course there will always be people in dire need of assistance and if we are able to share our resources to lift another one up then we absolutely should do. But I am beginning to wonder more and more if it wouldn't be better for us to concentrate more of our resources on giving our tools, our support and our partnership so that others can lift themselves up instead? I suppose the trick for all of us will be in learning just when we can and should give our aid and just when we should give our partnership instead as we go forward together as an increasingly interwoven global community. Much love and best wishes Tina

  • katea
    Feb 12, 2011
    Feb 12, 2011

    My dear friend Tina, Like you, I am also so delighted to hear from you again. I should at least devout one day a week on WorldPulse to just read and write here.

    I am having a great time living/studying in Europe. Although, it is not always smooth and I had major adjustments in the past. But, now, I feel Europe and I have come to a meeting point of friendship.

    I feel that the first best resource that we could share in order to help others who are in need is to listen to their story. What do they need and how they want that need to be met? It is important that the tools that we give them are the real tools that they need in order to progress. A farmer needs a farm but then it is too much for him to keep it? He will borrow money from the bank but the bank (through interagencies/ intergovernment) gives him interest that the only thing he can produce is just enough to pay for his debts. What about his own food and for his family? The money that he borrowed surely let him start up but he could not sustain. Then he has to sell his farm, then there's nothing left of him. Of course, IMF/ World Bank and even INGOs who give micro-credits would say, 'we have given him capital but he just does not know how to manage it.'

    I agree with you when you said, sometimes, it's alliance that we need. Sometimes, White West should also accept the expertise of people from the 'third world'.

    I've seen how global crisis affected the UK and also here in Spain. But the news are just internal. Latin Americans or Filipinos don't know that even middle-class people queue in line to get free food; that here in Granada 60% of young people have no work; or that I see a lot of homeless people sleep outside the bank for shelter at night.

    Poverty and hunger are real threats no matter where you come from: north or south, first world or third world. Violence against women and or children happen everywhere. And those multi-billion companies are paying less to those people who are coloured. INGOs must respond to this. UN must do its work and tell a different story. But capitalism is such as soft spot. Capitalism is the deus ex machina in a single story, and always, it only likes a 'formula story'.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this.

    love, Kate