The Danger of a Single Story

Hi, my essential question is: How similar and different Canadian students and Kenyan students are in our daily life.

For my essential question, I am planning to make a short film that shows the students’s daily life in Canada and Kenya. For my essential question, I’ve got inspired by a TED talk video “The danger of a single” story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so today I just want to talk about the video and some researches.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian writer who moved to the U.S. for university. She begins her talk with a story of herself, she read mostly American and British storybooks when she was younger, she learned a stereotypical story about what life was like for Americans and Britain. But by continuing to read the books, she was allowing herself to learn the stories of others, not her own’s. So she started reading African books. There she learned that people like her existed in literature and that it was okay. As we all know media is one of the most important parts of how we create and learn these stereotypes in the first place. It is very common in today’s society for individuals to group Africa as a single country with stereotypes these individuals as automatically being poor due to what the media chooses to show about these stories. When Chimamanda moved to America for school, these stereotypes were still following her. She was automatically stereotyped by her roommate who asked her common stereotypical questions of Africa and as she describes her roommate “she had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. 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 to the danger of classing individuals based on the stereotypes that we have formed in our heads. 

 In the video she also says:

“When I learned some years ago, that writers are expected to have had really unhappy childhoods to be successful, I began to think about how I could invent horrible things my parents had done to me. But the truth is that I had a very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family. But I also had a grandfather who died in refugee camps. My cousin Polle died because he could not get adequate healthcare. One of my closest friends, Okolona died in a plane crash because our fire truck did not have water. I grew up under repressive military governments that devalued education so that sometimes my parents were not paid their salaries. as so as a child I saw jam disappear from the breakfast table, then margarine disappeared, then bread became too expensive, then milk became rationed. and most of all a kind of normalized political fear invaded our lives. All of these stories make me who I am. but to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experiences and to overlook many other stories that formed me. The single-story creates stereotypes, and the problems with stereotypes are not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story.” 

In Chimamanda’s video, there are some lessons that we can learn

  1. A shared universal experience -Not to scold the audience for a lack of knowledge,
  2. Storytelling that works to explain storytelling -Speaks to the heart by using storytelling examples.
  3. A broad yet applicable call to action

“When we reject the single story. When we realize that there is never a single story about anyplace. We regain a kind of paradise.” -This is one of the quotes from Chimamanda’s talk and this is the key idea that we all have to remember. To become a global reader, there isn’t only one way; the purpose is simply to open yourself up to stories from all places.

There’s a very interesting story about this video with Annie Brown, she is a high school humanities teacher in Los Angeles. She was very impressed by Chimamanda’s video, so she thought her students seeing her speak would shatter some stereotypes that students hold which oversimplify “Africa” and lump all Africans together. So she gave her students an assignment, a lengthy interview with a person from another country. The students choose one developing nation to investigate in depth. students scheduled, implemented and recorded personal interviews. The goal of the interview was to develop their interpersonal relationships and interview skills, as well as to go beyond the statistics and facts students studied about the country. After this project, she had some “Aha moments” through their reflective essay about their lessons and content learned from the interviewing process. One of the students wrote that Chipotle was not “real” Mexican food and, to her surprise, burritos were an American concoction with roots in California. After this project, she asked students to spend five minutes writing their freedom about the “power of a single story” and students shared that a story teaches a lesson, provides a personal connection, builds respect, or evokes emotions in a way that statistics and cold facts cannot. But after they watched  “The danger of a single Stories,” some of the students were surprised because they were convinced that single stories were very valuable.


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