In this blog post I will be discussing Miss Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “TED Talk” entitled “The Danger of a Single Story” (scroll to the end of this article to watch her TED Talk). The consequences of the “Single Story” will be addressed using Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump’s political campaign rhetoric. Lastly I will be drawing comparisons using Black centered movies that are embraced by predominantly White film academies.
The inspiration for this blog came from the “TED Talk” I viewed by Miss Adichie. She brought to life feelings and emotions I have as a young African American woman in the United States. Miss Adichie narrated a beautiful expression of sincere ignorance between the two worlds of a well off Nigerian family and a poor Nigerian family.
In her story she refers to the poor Nigerian boy working in her home. The young Nigerian boy assisted Miss Adichie’s mother with the housework. In exchange for his work he was paid in money, leftover food for him and his family, and with hand me downs. Miss Adichie’s mother would often utilize the young Nigerian boys poverty as a tool to make her feel grateful for what she has. Although the poor Nigerian boy showed gifted abilities, Adichie had become conditioned to only viewing the young boy as a source of pity. She literally could no longer see him or his family as anything other than poor.
Years later she left Nigeria and went to college in the United States. Once her American roommate found out she was African she projected the very same stereotypes that Miss Adichie had for the poor Nigerian boy that worked for her family.
Allow me if I may to give you a bulleted list of the ignorant pre conceived notions Miss Adichie’s American college roommate had of her:
- She was shocked by how well she spoke English
- She assumed Miss Adichie only listened to “Tribal” music
- She was surprised that Miss Adichie could use a stove
Miss Adichie’s American college roommate felt sorry without even getting to know her. Once she was aware of her African identity she applied her “Single Story” of Africa to Miss Adichie. That single story consisted of only Africans in catastrophe, living in extreme poverty, dying of starvation or disease and living in war torn villages.The only way her roommate could respond to this was through patronizing well meaning pity. The idea of connecting with her as human equals was gone, she could only see Miss Adichie as the embodiment of her “Single Story”. Just as Miss Adichie only saw the poor Nigerian boy as her “Single Story”.
Later in her “TED Talk” she describes a meeting with a professor regarding her novel. The professor’s main critique regarding the novel was that it was not “authentically African”. The professor told her the characters were too much like him, a well educated middle class man. He saw a problem with the characters driving cars and not starving, this to him as an American man was not “authentically african”.
In this “TED Talk” she acknowledges the importance of power and control in creating the “Single Story”. Power and control of how this narrative reaches the masses is crucial to developing this single story.
Recently Donald Trump has made some more interesting comments about the Black community, or “The Blacks” as he calls them. He has been referring to Black people for decades as people who are living in “Hell”. He defines this hell as the inner cities that are riddled with drugs and crime.
These stories that he has conjured up sound more like the setting of a 70’s Blaxploitation film. Now that is not saying that there are not any Black communities that deal with high rates of crime and drug use. However that has more to do with the purposeful introduction of crack in Black neighborhoods, Guns, Liquor stores, the “War on Drugs” and systemic poverty.
Comments like these without context contribute to harmful stereotypes and tired tropes of the Black community. It is narrated as if we are psychologically prone to commit crimes and be addicted to drugs. This is actually a consequence of systemic trauma that has been inflicted on our community.
This brings me to wonder, what is the “Single Story” of the African American/Black community?
Black cinema has made great advancements inspiring and uplifting our own community. Black movies also have the power to educate the masses on the complexity of the Black experience in the United States. However the movies that have been embraced, not only by mainstream audiences, but by prestigiously white film academies are those that only focus on our tragedies.
One movie that I will use as an example is Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. This small budgeted, independent film directed by Lee Daniels and heavily endorsed by Oprah Winfrey was nominated for 6 Academy Awards. It is the story of a teenage black girl who is dealing with poverty, HIV, an abusive mother, sexual assault, fat shaming, two children and being illiterate all centered in New York City in the late 80’s. This movie is basically the saddest thing ever put on screen. The intent was to show trauma on the big screen in order to start a dialogue of issues that need to be addressed, by examining the intersections of this young woman’s existence.
Unfortunately movies like these that are used as a tool for affirming our sometimes painful existence; they are taken and applied to the “Single Story” for the black community, family, and individual. The stories that reflect and sometimes mirror the lives of real people are gawked at by mainstream media. My problem is not with the story itself rather how white mainstream media only takes these types of stories and they then dictate what is the authentic Black experience. Films like these can force White audiences to acknowledge the violence and realities against Black people. However these movies do not provide the full story of how those characters ended up in that position and thus absolve those in positions of privilege from having to take accountability.
In conclusion, the common thread that is quite profound and indisputable is power. Who ever is in power has the authority to dictate the single story. Miss Adichie’s experiences with her American counterparts subjected her to the “Single Story”. Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump utilized his “single story” of the Black community on his campaign trail. Finally, the “single story” is being celebrated by white mainstream media as portraying the “authentic Black” experience.
It does not matter what your ethnicity is. You have been programmed to see individuals through “Single Stories”, and you must actively work to break that mindset.
Below is the TED Talk for “The Danger of a Single Story”. (with Closed Caption capability)