6.6: “The Danger of a Single Story” -- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Page ID
“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower and humanize. I have 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.”
While the previous authors in this section created multiplicity within single texts through the use of metaphor, Adichie can be viewed as extending this work by addressing multiplicity on the level of stories, people, places, etc. In Adichie’s TED Talk, she says that “single stories” create and reinforce stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren’t true, but rather that they’re incomplete. To recognize one another’s full humanity, multiple stories are necessary. We aren’t defined by the worst thing we’ve ever done, nor are we defined by the best. We cannot be reduced to one experience or characteristic. Instead, we are complex people, comprised of many stories that play a role in shaping our identity.
We encourage you to generate some thoughts in response to the questions below before listening to Adichie’s speech. These questions will help you activate relevant background knowledge and set a purpose for listening.
1.What is a stereotype and how does it get perpetuated? (See “Stereotype” Activity).
2. In which ways do you think stories are powerful? What impact can they have?
3.Make a prediction: How do you think that single stories might limit people’s humanity and dignity?
The link below provides access to Adichie’s speech. Just as you would annotate a written text as you read, you should also take notes as you listen to her speech. Try to observe any challenges and advantages of engaging an auditory text and observe similarities and differences in your approach to note taking. This awareness might offer you reading strategies for engaging multiple types of texts.
After listening to Adichie’s speech, take some time to reflect on the questions and quotes below.
1.Summarize the main message that you took from Adichie’s speech.
2.Our students have often reported that the main message of Adichie’s speech is “to not judge a book by its cover.” However, this does not accurately capture the author’s main point. How does your interpretation of Adichie’s main message differ from this cliche?
3.Towards the end of Adichie’s talk, she says, “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.” How did you interpret this statement? How do you think that rejection of a single story could help us regain paradise?
4. Based on what you learned from listening to Adichie’s speech, how do you think that single stories might limit people’s humanity and dignity? Can you think of any single stories that you have?
5.Adichie says that “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” Even if a stereotype or a single story is “true” or accurate, why is it still damaging?