What happens to us when all we read about a country or it’s people is a single story? Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie addresses this question in this TED talk.
Growing up as the daughter of two middle class teachers in a university in Nigeria, Adichie read voraciously. When she began to write her own stories as a child, they were influenced by what she read; novels that had come from Britain and the U.S. Her characters drank ginger beer, talked about the weather, played in the snow, in spite of the fact she had no personal experience of any of those things. She had never been exposed to African books, therefore she assumed the literary world didn’t contain people like her.
When Adichie moved to the States for college, she was confronted with the ‘single story’ written about Africa. Since the earliest days of African exploration by Westerners, a single picture has been painted of the continent. Their traditions have been dismissed as dated, their governments portrayed as corrupt, their peoples shown as a primitive, war- hungry lot. The images we see in the media are of famine stricken regions, poor infrastructure, child labour and heinous war crimes. It’s little wonder then, Adichie concedes, that her roomate in college assumed she couldn’t work a stove or drive a car.
In Adichie’s novel, the husband is an abusive African man. She was once lecturing to a group of university students when one of them commented on how terrible it was that African men were all wife beaters. She returned by saying she’d just read American Psycho, and wasn’t it a pity all young American men were serial killers. Because of the many ways in which America is shown in literature, film and media, we know this isn’t the case.
Adichie advocates telling the second story. What is we hear about the failure of a government rather than the old story of colonisation? What about telling us about the hardworking family, rather than their poverty?
This is a long talk for the message conveyed, however Adichie is an intelligent, engaging speaker and her points flow well together. She delivers a powerful and inspirational message to all those who might seek to put developing countries and their people into a box.