This week I was moved by the TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘The danger of a single story’. Adichie suggests that we as humans are extremely impressionable, often clinging to singular perceptions, making us blind to other possibilities. She uses anecdotes from her childhood, providing examples of times in her life when she or other people have been limited by only considering ‘a single story’.
Immediately after hearing Adichie’s speech, I drew comparisons with Evelyn Alsultany’s article (2013), which states that, “In just the first weeks and months after 9/11, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and other organisations documented hundreds of violent incidents experienced by Arab and Muslim Americans and people mistaken for Arabs and Muslims, including several murders.” This demonstrates the mindset that US citizens had of Arabs immediately following the September 11 attacks.
Whilst there is part of me that sympathises with the immense hurt that Americans were feeling at the time, mourning is no justification for murder or crimes of hate.
Referring back to Adichie’s TED talk, she reflects, “The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete; they make one story become the only story”.
This is exactly what some Americans at the time, were guilty of. Immediately after 9/11 and even in the decade following (Alsultany, 2013), Americans clung to a single story when perceiving Arabs. This was one of terror and riddled with hate. The example headline from the Daily News on September 12, 2001 gives us insight into how betrayed and angry the country was feeling at the time, going as far to declare war on an entire race for the actions of a minority – more shocking headlines can be found here.
Adichie recounts a visit to Mexico during a time of US media debate about the state of immigration, especially legalities surrounding Mexicans illegally immigrating, essentially stealing the jobs of US citizens. Having heard this argument and not much else, Adichie recounts her feelings when seeing Mexicans in a marketplace smiling and laughing. “I remember first feeling slight surprise and then I was overwhelmed with shame. I realised that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind – the abject immigrant. I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and could not have been more ashamed of myself.”
It is with the abandonment of the ‘single story’ state of mind and gaining acceptance towards others, Adichie suggests, that we can “regain a type of paradise”. Whether or not paradise is involved, in abandoning the constant flurry of one-sided media arguments, we can learn to absorb a person or event in its entirety, and not just accept a “single story”.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009) ‘The Danger of a Single Story’, TED Accessed at:http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
Alsultany, Evelyn. (2013). ‘Arabs and Muslims in the Media after 9/11: Representational Strategies for a “Postrace” Era’. American Quarterly, Vol. 65 No. 1. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ame rican_quarterly/v065/65.1.alsulta ny.html. Accessed 30 January 2014.
Huffington Post (2011) ‘9/11 Newspaper Front Pages From the Day After the Attacks’, Huffington Post. Accessed at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/09/september-11-newspaper-front-pages_n_940867.html#s343465&title=New_York_Daily&zoom=huge