The Danger Of A Single Story

If a culture is depicted only in one way, over and over, this becomes “reality” in the eyes of the beholder and this is very dangerous. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a Nigerian-born writer who now is living both in her homeland and in the United States. Her novels, poems and short stories are characterized by accuracy, both worldly and geographically. The representation of the society, gender, race and reality never feels wrong.

She just loves to tell stories. That’s the reason why she started writing them since she was just seven. Her early characters were drinking ginger beer and were playing in the snow… Well that could be completely normal if the case was not that she had never seen snow in her life and she had never tasted that drink.

Chimamanda’s characters are fictional but they go through real problems. They are placed in real locations, usually in Nigeria, the country that the heart of their author belongs to. Finally they are found experiencing real social and political events, like those ones that alter a bit the face of the world.

Call me a storyteller

In her recent book Americanah, one can sense her presence in small autobiographic marks. Her hero Ifemelu, a strong-willed Nigerian woman who has left her hometown for USA represents a new generation of immigrants that tore down all the stereotypes about the Africans. She is “raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction.” They aren’t fleeing war or starvation but “the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness.” The novel won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction. It was also included in the New York Times list of Ten Best Books of the Year.

Her collection of awards is endless. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003 and received wide critical acclaim. It was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 2005. Later, the “Half of a Yellow Sun”, a story placed in the middle of Biafran war, was adapted into a movie directed by Biyi Bandele.

Only one is never enough

“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.” That was the main message of her Ted Global Talk “The danger of a single story” at Oxford in 2009, where she explained exactly what the title of her speech stands for. Adichie, by holding a strong understanding about how the worlds works, she is cautious of the fact that if a culture is depicted only in one way, over and over, this becomes “reality” in the eyes of the beholder and this is very dangerous.

She reminisces about a fan who mentioned reading Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and lamenting that all Nigerian women are beaten. She responded by saying that she had read “American Psycho,” and she thought that all white American men are serial killers. She explains that there are so many stories about white men, so many different representations that we all know that white men are not a monolithic entity. But when we have only one single story about another culture of people our impression is narrowed down to this one perspective. They become this one thing.

For her, many different stories is the desirable target. “Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign.” But they 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.”

Women have right to create

She also likes to be called a feminist. Not like the ones people think they see around them. A different one, a happy one. “I am a feminist. And when I looked up that word in the dictionary, this is what it said: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes”.

Adichie’s last book was released in 2014 and comes as a strong statement: “We should all be feminists”. It was aspired by her TEDxEuston talk that shared the same name and was given in 2012. This speech was also sampled for the 2013 song “Flawless” by the American singer Beyoncé.

With gender inequality to be on the rise and women to be still facing discrimination in work salaries even in Western countries, her talk seems that it never gets old. “Today we live in a vastly different world. The person more likely to lead is not the physically stronger person, it is the more creative person, the more intelligent person, the more innovative person, and there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, to be creative, to be innovative. We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gender have not evolved.” 

As she says, she herself is trying to incorporate all the values of being a real happy feminist. Feminism for her plays a self-defining role. It’s a way of living. A way of unlearning many internalized gender-based attitudes. A way of growing up differently the children of the future, the boys and the girls. A way of learning to the women as much as it happens with men that their life belongs to them and them alone.

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