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Longer, analytical article.  The danger of a single story

Summary & Comment: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian storyteller and writer of the acclaimed novels ‘Purple Hibiscus’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, tells a tale of ‘the danger of a single story’. Watch and listen. DN

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Date Written: 11 February 2010
Primary Category: Africas Image: Contemporary Issues Document Origin: Pambazuka News 469
Secondary Category: -none- Source URL: http://www.pambazuka.org
Key Words: single story, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

African Charter Article #9: Every individual shall have the right to receive information and express their opinions. (Click for full text...)

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The danger of a single story


In this powerful, short talk, Adichie takes us on a journey of her own experiences of the single story. Describing how her first writings at the age of seven were full of white, blue-eyed characters, who ‘drank ginger beer… and talked about the weather’, Adichie shows that these only reflected the literature that she knew: Foreign, British children’s books. She ‘did not know that people like [her] could exist in literature’.

Adichie goes further to tell of how she herself had been constructed by her American roommate out of a single story: ‘she had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position towards me as an African was a kind of patronising, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa, a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way… no possibility of a connection as human equals’. Yet Adichie also admits that she has not just been a victim, but has herself bought into the single story.

When visiting Mexico for the first time, she was surprised and then ‘ashamed’ to realise that Mexicans were not the ‘abject immigrants’ that the US media had depicted. The single story, Adichie argues, is easy to create: You ‘show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.’ And she holds that power and stories are interlinked: ‘Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person.’

Yet, while Adichie warns that a single story can be used ‘to dispossess and to malign’, she also argues so that telling many, many different stories – the negative and triumphant – can be ‘empower and humanise’.

Watch 'The danger of a single story'

*Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian writer. Her books Purple Hibiscus, Half of A
  Yellow Sun, and The Thing Around your Neck have won numerous international

*This TED talk was given in July 2009. The TED 2010 line up can be found here.

*Please send comments to:
editor@pambazuka.org or
  comment online at:
  www.pambazuka.org .

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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