Sometime ago I read the transcript for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story. You can watch or read it here. Adichie is a Nigerian author who talks about her experiences of reading Western and Nigerian literature, and how those helped to shape her as a writer.
Are you familiar with many African countries’s stories? I’m not. That’s partly why I was intrigued by Adichie’s talk. We have a wealth of Western literature at our fingertips. It’s what I grew up on. Eastern and African tales, not so much. As writers and human beings, I believe we owe it to our fellow human beings to gain a better perspective from other narratives. The danger of a single story is that we often pick the one that sounds most like us, that reassures our own beliefs, that reinforces our often little viewing window on the world.
Now, I’m not Nigerian. I’m not from Africa (of course, we all began there…that’s another blog post). I’m not from a country that suffered prolonged Colonialism, genocides, or other man-created tragedies, ones that all but eradicated the narratives of my nation or people. (Well, not my Caucasian narratives, anyway.) So it’s with some hesitation that I say I can relate, a little, to Adichie’s feeling of not belonging as she read stories of blond-haired children. It took me years to find a character that seemed to face the insecurities, doubts, and fears that I knew. When I finally found someone with which to say, “Aha! You too?”, the relief was real.
You don’t need me to tell you that we read stories to know we aren’t alone. There are other ways we can seek out different narratives, too, and we owe it to those around us as well as ourselves. With our wealth of available information, let’s not forget to use it well.