Monday, 22 February 2010

The Danger of a single story

Image of African Princess from here

I came across this interesting video on CNN containing a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a well known Nigerian writer, at a seminar sometime ago. I urge you to listen to her speech here , I thought it was a good speech and very enlightening . There are number of things that she said that got to me.

She talked about how when she was growing up she read mostly English and American books and how that affected the way she thought and saw things. I related a lot to what she was saying.
I have always been a bit of a book worm. Growing up I loved reading and read most of the books I could get my hands on. Like Chimamanda most of the books I had access to were English and American ones. I read the Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton books, Grims Fairy Tales, Hans Anderson Fairy Tales etc. Looking back I now realize that this in a way robbed me of something. I am not saying that it was bad reading these books because they helped mold me into an ambitious person who even  today hungers for more out of life but had I been exposed to more African themed books the way I saw life in general then would have been more balanced. My imaginations were full of long haired princesses like Rapunzel and gallant princes who lived in castles and rode horses and never kinky haired princes and princesses yet still even boys and girls living the life I lived in Africa. In a way I feel that I never really got to appreciate that the kind of life I lived, though different, was as good or maybe even better in some respects than that portrayed in the books I read. Yes, my world did not have the white Christmases I read about or associate Christmas with turkey dinners or have big houses with toy filled nurseries like the one Amelia Jane one of Enid Blyton's character's lived in etc but it still had a lot to offer and I was blessed. Those many holidays we went to our rural home and we would go into the forests to search for wild fruits and fire wood, go swimming in the rivers, help with herding the cattle and sit under the cool shadows of mango or guava trees eating their fruits in the hot African sun - those were special adventures on their own - unique and different. Its just that I took them for granted when I should not have. God made a diverse world, with different people who have different life styles - that is the beauty of it all. Imagine a world where all the people would have been the same, doing the same things wouldn't that have been boring? 

Another thing that Chimamanda talked about was the way that some people in the 'developed nations' view Africa.She gave an example of an American room mate who was shocked that she even knew Mariah Carey. I tell you this lady is hilarious she also told of how after someone read one of her books told her that it was sad that most African men were abusers and she responded saying that she had recently read a book about an American Psycho man and it was a sad that American men were psychos.
I have met people who seemed to walk on eggshells around me because they were afraid of offending me or sounding too boastful 'considering the life I had lived in Africa'. I have had people ask me if it was safe moving about because of the wild animals or if it was difficult growing up without much. Some people assume being from Africa automatically means I grew up without having enough and this happens to be a wrong assumption. I do not 100% blame people who think like this though, the media portrays Africa as a backward place associated with hunger, poverty and disease. Rarely does the media tell how beautiful it is or portray the good things about the continent.

No doubt one sided stories are dangerous. Listening to this lady's speech reminded me how important it is not to make judgments or reach conclusions based on single story/event/happening. There is usually more to discover and know than what meets the eye. Let us desire to have wisdom and insight (for it is a good thing) so that we do not  fall into the trap of  making conclusions on a single story. (Proverbs 4:5 - Get wisdom and get insight).

4 comments:

  1. Saw the video to a couple of months back and i have listened to it countless times. A single story is very dangerous.

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  2. Thanks for your comment NBB. Welcome to my blog!

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  3. I agree with you Shona. It is very vital to know all sides of the story to avoid bias and prejudice. I am also like you in a way in that I grew up watching Hollywood movies and reading American and/or English stories. To me this was the life I wanted and even till now. I even think in English...lol!

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  4. I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I totally agree with your post. Growing up reading classic English novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre really skewed the way I viewed fairytales. When I have kids I will introduce them to a wide variety of authors so they have a broader worldview than I did!

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