TED Talks are really hit or miss for me, but Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie knocked it out of the park with her TED Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story." In her thought-provoking, moving and often humorous talk, she warns of the negative consequences that can arise from the influential power one-dimensional representations of a people, place, or experience can have. “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity,” she explains.
Consuming stories that depict a single perspective of a situation that is far more complex can often create unconscious and dangerous misconceptions. She brings up Africa as an example, frequently portrayed in British/American media as a beautiful landscape full of exotic animals but also destitute, violent people living in absolute poverty, unable to fend for or govern themselves. "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,” she says. Each individual life is made up of a complex web of stories, so by reducing people to only one story, you are taking away their humanity.
"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,” she says.
One aspect that makes her words so powerful is that she does not wag her finger at those who have bought into any single story. In fact, she finds this to be an experience that is universal. She allows herself to be vulnerable by opening up and admitting she too has fallen for the simplicity of the single story. The single story that robs people of their dignity. She gives two examples: having been raised in an upper-middle class family, she could not see the family that cleaned her childhood house or later in life, Mexican immigrants as anything but poverty-stricken people, with no other layers or complexity to who they are.
She encourages others to seek out alternative sources and stories, to branch out beyond the mass media... something everyone could benefit from doing. Only then can you gain a broader understanding of the matter at hand. Towards the end of her speech she leaves the audience with an uplifting message: "when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” I highly recommend investing the 20 minutes or so it will take to watch this video... you might find it entertaining and educational. I did.
See more of Chimamanda's Adichie's work on her website: www.chimamanda.com