Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “The Danger of the Single Story” Ted Talk, 2009

TED.Com, the community devoted to spreading worthwhile  Ideas. Their mission is to engage in “welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” This is Big Talk, can a short talk of 18 mins or less be powerful? I have just watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted talk “The Danger of the Single Story”. It was listed by an insightful lecturer of mine in the context of Participatory Action Research.   Adichie’s Ted Talk was powerful and also beautifully told. But as I enjoyed this Ted Talk so much, I thought I would write on what struck me about Adichie’s talk.

 

Adichie is a wonderful human narrator with a human story. When she tells us her story of Fide “So the year I turned eight, we got a new houseboy.  His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner, my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.”  Adichie explains that misunderstandings and limited perspectives are universal.

She admits openly that “I, too, am just as guilty in the question of the single story” when she tells us her first days in Guadalajara, “I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind: the abject immigrant.” The power of her talk lies in the fact that she speaks from the heart, using storytelling examples from her own personal life.  We are all guilty of perpetuating stereotypes, or creating a single story whether it is intentional or not.

Image from web page The Danger of a Single Story, writing essays about our lives. L Christensen
Image from web page “The danger of a Single Story, Writing Essays about our lives”. L Christensen

There is more to us, to people and place than just one story. Linda Christensen, director of the Oregon Writing Project at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon has taken up Adichie’s call to action, “When we reject the single story, then we realise, that there is never a single story about a place. We regain a kind of paradise.” Through the artful use of Adichie’s Talk and the writings of Brent Staples (author of “Just Walk on By -Black Men and Public Spaces.”, originally published in Ms. magazine in 1986), Christensen seeks to empower her students and therefore has developed a curriculum addressing their needs. In “THE DANGER OF A SINGLE STORY: Writing essays about our lives” Christensen outlines her use of Adichie and Brent as models for her students she prepares them to approach narratives critically. “Adichie’s and Staples’ work become models for students learning to write a personal essay, using vignettes (small stories) from their lives as evidence.”(Christensen) The students learn to reconsider perspectives and therefore get the big picture by using personal stories to create essays and move beyond their single stories. She concludes that while “this writing assignment is not enough to save our children…we must use the tools we have: stories and history to teach students that the only way change happens is when people come together and act.”(Christensen)

The narrative in Adichie’s Ted Talk is not a new one. A single story or narrow focus can distort our perception of the world around us.  I have been telling my daughter since she was a little girl, to always step back and look at the full picture, “there is more than one side to everything!” I have read her stories going to bed at night such as Jon Scieszk’s book, “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!” This story like many other great children’s books has a moral to the tale. Jon Scieszk’s book teaches children to look at the other side of the story. The truth is only revealed in many stories.


While Adichie’s message in the Ted Talk is not a new one, it is a message that should continue to be told. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gets the message across in a very powerful way. She highlights the power of storytelling within the presentation itself.

It has been a timely reminder for me to look at the Vignettes making up my life. It is a Ted Talk that should be recommended for all students to study, even students of my mature years need reminding of “The Danger of the Single Story”. Single stories can be intellectually limiting, in study and research we need to reconsider perspectives. We all need reminding to open ourselves up and broaden our scope of stories about other people and other cultures.

 

 

References: 

Annotated Video TRanscript: B3_TG_AT7_0.Pdf. http://ngl.cengage.com/21centuryreading/resources/sites/default/files/B3_TG_AT7_0.pdf. Accessed 2 Dec. 2017.

BrentStaples.Pdf. http://web.uncg.edu/dcl/courses/sociology101/content/episode7/PDF/BrentStaples.pdf. Accessed 2 Dec. 2017.

Christensen, Linda. “From Rethinking Schools: The Danger of a Single Story.” Rethinking Schools Publishers, https://www.rethinkingschools.org/articles/the-danger-of-a-single-story-writing-essays-about-our-lives. Accessed 2 Dec. 2017.

Scieszka, Jon, and Lane Smith. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. , 1989

Web References:

Ted Talk Direct Video Link: 

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, YouTube.

Ted Talk website.