The Danger of A Single Story: It Is Often Incomplete & Leads to Stereotyping


That the Nigerian writer and storyteller, Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, has shown special skills in her chosen career of storytelling through writing of bestseller novels is a well-known matter of fact. But that a relatively young lady would routinely craft and convey very thoughtful prose that one would ordinarily expect from only mature, seasoned and experienced authors remains an intriguing aspect of Ngozi Adichie the author whose earlier book written about the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War titled “Half of A Yellow Sun” was the basis for making a movie of the same title. Whether she is discussing the sociocultural practice  of her Igbo ethnic nationality or addressing the complex political nuances of the new world order or globalization, the level of insight that Ngozi packs into her thoughts and the eloquence in her elocution portray her as someone endowed with wisdom far beyond her chronological age.

This YouTube video recording was made from a public lecture titled the “Danger of a Single Story” by Ngozi Adichie. It is one of those insightful and erudite presentations by this highly skilled communicator while, at same  time, discussing common human foibles such as prejudice, discrimination, segregation and all sorts of segregation predicated on stereotyping. From the author’s perspective, a single story usually emanates from a fixed narrative that is often assertive, repetitive and uncompromising. The single story is akin to a set of products manufactured from only a single mold or template. She used her own personal experiences as illustrations; from the books she had read as a child growing up in post-colonial Nigeria to her casual interactions with her fellow students while studying in the United States of America, Chimamanda grew up understanding that being exposed to a single story about anything, especially fellow human beings, constrains one to tunnel vision. Whoever are captivated and possessed by the single-story potion are condemned to live with incomplete facts and stereotyped anecdotes.

The single-story narrative is particularly of unique concern to the Black African in a global community that is thoroughly indoctrinated with the Eurocentric worldview. Black and African, in popular parlance, are presumed to be dirty and inferior to whoever hear these expressions. Over the centuries of European enslavement of Black Africans and subsequent colonization of the African continent, the rationalization and justification of these inhumane treatment of the Black African were based on the imaginary dogma that Africans, somehow, must be subhuman and thus not naturally endowed with the attributes required for civilized existence as seen through the lenses of White Europeans. For sake of simplicity, being African and having dark skin pigmentation are supposed to complement each other. Whoever have become indoctrinated with the single story about the sub-humanity of the African tend to instantly regard whoever have dark skin pigmentation as innately incapable of civilized existence or even the capacity to learn at same level as other races of our Homo Sapiens species.

The lecture, with has all the attributes of a church sermon, cautions about the dangers of a single story which she notes to be innately incomplete and predicated on stereotype. Those exposed to a single story potion have the choice to not only reject such a burden and constraint, but also to seek one’s own freedom and self-redemption through the acquisition of a complete and fuller narrative that is not mired in stereotypes based on lies or half truths. Knowledge has a redemptive force that enables one to overcome the dangers of a single story. On a societal, national and global levels, a more peaceful, saner, tolerant and harmonious human existence shall not be denied anyone or group based on uninformed acts by fellow humans who have been brainwashed or exclusively spoon-fed with a single-story narrative about life and our place within it as social humans.

We all can learn a thing or two from this nice lecture eloquently delivered by the brilliant and charming Chimamanda. She makes one proud to know that she is one of us; doesn’t she?