The Danger of a Single Story




What are some of the things that Chimamanda Adichie says about the concept of 'a single story'?

Last week we defined 'default' as "something that is set up and recommended for you."
Is there any similarity between the idea of a single story, and the idea of a default?


Chimamanda Adichie also talks about 'pity'. She felt pity for the family of the house boy, because of the single story of poverty, or lack. Her roommate felt pity for her, because of the single story of Africa as catastrophe. She says, "Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity."

How do you define pity?
Is there a difference between pity, sympathy and compassion?
Does 'pity' have room for dignity on the part of the pitied person?


What is authenticity?
Her professor compared the story she wrote to the single story he knew about Africa, and pronounced her story 'inauthentic'.
A single story is not enough, but even with multiple stories, how does one get to authenticity?
Who gets to define what is authentic? For example, who gets to say what is authentically Taiwanese? Authentically USAian?


Talking about the power implicit in stories, Chimamanda Adichie said:
"It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. ... Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of [power relations]: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.
Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person."

Do you have any experience of a person with power over you (a parent, teacher, boss, government official, immigration or police officer) defining your story for you, or telling you who you are without regard for your own opinion?
How did you feel at the time? How did you feel about it later?

"It would never have occurred to me ... that he was somehow representative of all Americans. This is not because I am a better person than that student, but because of America's cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America. ... I did not have a single story of America."

What is your emotional response to this comment?

Do you think that having economic and political power is necessary to get your culture understood? To have people understand you as human beings?


What is a stereotype?
Have you ever experienced being stereotyped by someone?
What was your feeling about it?

Do you agree with what Chimamanda Adichie says?
"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."


In her talk, Chimamanda Adichie says,
"I've always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. 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.

So what if before my Mexican trip I had followed the immigration debate from both sides, the U.S. and the Mexican? What if my mother had told us that Fide's family was poor and hardworking? What if we had an African television network that broadcast diverse African stories all over the world? What the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe calls "a balance of stories."

When do you have enough knowledge to say about something, "Oh, I know what that is!"

What is the difference between 'a working knowledge of' and 'expertise on'?

When is it offensive to say, "Oh, I know what you are!"
Does it take away from someone's dignity to define who they are without their input?

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