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The Video Celebrity of the Danger of a Single Story and Its Meaning and Knowledge Boom to Viewers



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By Patrick Iroegbu

With social media, telling stories be they personal experiences, local issues, national incidents or events have become a way of shaping who we are. So is true with Chimamada Adichie’s video clip celebrity on the danger of a single story speech. This article describes the boom and its significance.

Chimamanda Adichie, born in 1977, is a Nigerian USA educated novelist who gave the popular speech captioned, “The Danger of a Single Story” in 2009. The importance accorded to her speech truly resonates across ages and scholars; and the video underlying it has continued to have her speech going viral in the internet, facebook and into many classrooms and conference halls in the Western, African and Asian academic institutions.

What is the significant point for this? It is because she has uniquely caught our imagination and shortcomings in a well phrased sentence and power of speech in the social media and by offering the purposes of story telling to shape the other and ourselves in different circumstances. How do we tell stories, and how do the stories we tell flow and influence?  For Chimamanda, the core of a story as the embodiment of how we are shaped, made to think and represent, perceived and narrated by another goes with when she said that “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.” Yet the distinguished orator warns that there is a danger of what is contained in the story we tell and how we tell it from a single face, voice and side.

Her seminal speech tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice drawing from instances and experiences from her privileged educated family, domestic servants or helps managed by her family, and her coming to America, discussing with her room mates in the university and appreciating their curiosities of who she was and what brought her to them, including going to Mexico. To understand Chimamanda in the public sphere of speech making, initiating a rousing applause, winning followers and taking the honour home – we need to equally culture our sense of her reprimands of telling stories from a single perspective and thinking that all we have said is the only truth and a way to go. In her words: “If we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding”. Therefore we need to value being critical and allowing the other to be critical about us too.

Another Nigerian writer Chris Abani in his own way of deep personal talks says that “what we know about how to be who we are” comes from stories, including poems and narratives, as well as his own as a writer and public speaker. For Chris Abani, we can surmise that a “story is also a very good way to become aware that we also are different narratives and we should not project our own narrative as the single ‘truth’ out there”. In addition, it is important to understand that narratives are dynamic, they change as we analyse our own past (or somebody else’s) and try to make sense of it, Chris Abani argues.

On December 1, 2011, social commentators such as Mary Munoz wrote of Chimamada Adichie’s video clip of her speech on the danger of a single story thus, “As I sat mesmerized listening to Ms. Adichie, I recalled what inevitably happens to me each time I mention to someone that I used to live in Japan. They almost always say, “Oh, do you speak Chinese”? I can’t begin to express how upset that used to make me. At first, I would say, they speak Japanese in Japan, and Chinese in China. The educator in me would want to rid them of their ignorance. But eventually by realizing that they were happy with their one story….that all Orientals MUST speak Chinese, I now just answer “no, I never learned any Chinese”. It is very hard to talk to people who are limited by their ignorance of the world. I have a very good friend from Nigeria whom I met almost 20 years ago in my congregation, talking to her was such a delight. I have seen her and her husband raise three beautiful boys, and I feel so privileged to know her. How sad that some people miss out on growing because they are happy with their one story. It is a choice they make. For my part I feel like the author N.S. Nye who says, “My mind is always open. I don’t think there’s even a door”. I welcome all stories of all peoples, because behind each story is a connection, and a moment to grow as a human. Which race do I belong to? The human race!

To interpret Mary Munoz just a little, one might say that the side of our story places us into the side of human race we think we are and belong to. But when we are truly open like a seasoned scholar in a multicultural and interdisciplinary plenary session, there are no barriers to learning what others have to say and the way they have to tell their story. A story told is knowledge and experience shared. Like Chris Abani would say, “all stories we hear around us from speakers, narrators, presidential addresses and speeches, books, journals, newsletters, the theatres, movies, TVs, newspapers, magazines, internet websites, facebook, blogs, classrooms, churches, schools, market places, shopping centres, garages, name it are, indeed, the stories that shape us and tell us how much we know of things and our world”. Stories capture us as we capture stories to learn, share and compete for ideas, resources, wealth, personality and identity.

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Every society has story tellers. Africans are more of story tellers than writers of stories. In other words, a story makes the African and authenticates the African. We must tell stories to be Africans. Not telling stories limits the much the other will know of us. Thanks to social media of our time, we can tell stories and publish our stories as we know them and think them. Let nothing stop us from telling our stories about ourselves, our villages, our countries and our continents, including our families. It is here Chimamanda Adichie excelled by drawing from events that shaped her life as a child, as a student and as a writer and public speaker today. Often times, we belittle those who tell stories, call them names and even poke fun of them. In local societies, namely the Igbo of Nigeria, we have story tellers, folklorists as revered entertainers and singers. Wisdom is borne by telling a story of an issue as it happened. Through story telling things are revealed – esoteric and material, and life is therefore lived, character is framed and a society is shaped. Who tells a story if it is he or she? If it is he alone, it is his story and if it is she it is her story. His Story forms what is called HIS-TORY. That is how the Europeans, missionaries and explorers of their time told stories that formed the histories, their stories, and their histories of the other or rather HISTORIES of Africa or colonized peoples of the world. Telling a story adds up to making histories, our stories, knowledge systems.

Another commentary provided by Yana Maquieira on Dec. 23, 2011runs as follows: “it is so true that the ubiquitous plague of a single story is affecting us everyday and yet most of us do not even recognise its existence. Perhaps it’s because it is much easier to categorise others into several groups, label them, dispense our sympathy, donation, condemnation, blame whatever we see appropriate and then move on, than to deal with human complexity. Adichie’s talk about this complicated issue is persuasive, engaging, moving and even funny!

Yet a different contributor said this on Dec. 21, 2011: ‘Chimamanda’s talk is perhaps the best eye opener ever, from this idea we can proceed to lateral thinking, critical thinking, multiple perspectives and I use it a lot in teacher training, with great success. It is also a very good way to become aware that we also are different narratives and we should not project our own narrative as the ‘truth’. It is important to understand that narratives are dynamic, they change as we analyse our own past (or somebody else’s) and try to make sense of it. It really is brilliant and so are her books such as Half of a Yellow Sun published in 2006!

Edmond Tindwende Compaore’s reply on September 29, 2011 to the video clip sums up the importance of perception of the speech on a single story and the other thus: “I am very impressed by her talk. She highlighted in a correct way what makes people think that they are different from others. The example of Africa is quite the best one. Indeed, lots of people have bad views of Africa, or an incomplete view I will say. The view of poverty, war, disease …They forget about this Africa as a place of opportunities, businesses, and of entrepreneurships. The fixed point of view prevents people to understand and know the other. That is why indeed people think that they are different. In so doing, people narrow themselves, and therefore become naive and turn others into curiosities. (Words in italics are mine – P. Iroegbu).

On October 17, 2011, Jocelyn Chow appreciated the video clip by stating this, “Being a student majoring in Intercultural Communication, I have been constantly reflecting upon the ways to reduce cultural misunderstandings, prejudices, and biases that are faced when people from various cultural backgrounds meet each other. To be, it should be a common wish of human beings, since we co-exist in this planet and we need to establish a harmonious relationship with each other. This summer, I joined a group of interns to work for an NGO as a volunteer in a children’s centre. Even though before that I had learnt quite a lot about intercultural communication issues and concerns from my textbooks and from our lectures. I have to admit, that was the first time when I had a real life contact with those too-familiar terms like cultural misunderstandings, prejudices, biases…stereotyping (just like this speaker has demonstrated in her talk)…Like one of my Egyptian teammates who shared with us her story, that once when she was present at an international conference, one of the peers from Europe asked her, “How did you come to Europe?” She replied, “By air, of course.” That boy was surprised, exclaiming “What? And then adding “I didn’t know that Egypt has airplanes…I thought you all ride camels…” She was speechless at that moment. And after she had shared with us this funny story, she started to ask us about the impressions on her country. That is, stories we have of her country. I was also challenged to think a lot about my country…and I was surprised to find that my friends from other countries did have many stories of misconceptions about us, and from that moment on, I have been thinking hard about how to help people better understand each other. Textbooks have always been teaching us to put ourselves in others’ shoes, to truly identify with each other. But the point is, if we have never met a person from another specific country, and if we could only get our knowledge from the media, especially the media that are intensely controlled by the ruling party…how could people really know about each other? What stories can best shape us as a people if we cannot add our own local and national stories? I sincerely hope that everyone of us can have more compassion and love and take story telling serious.

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All of the above insights following Chimamanda Adichie’s celebrated American psyche and speech on the danger of a single story mean that every social media writer and commentator can help to produce and sell stories to bridge cultural and people gaps in intercultural communication values, semantics and variables. No individual story can hide today. The other side will be heard too. A better society built on human rights, opportunities, securities and empowerments through story telling has become the mathematical integer of our time. Tell your local and national stories and in that way contribute and make the world such a better informed and educated place to cross-breed knowledge and, indeed, recapture our cultures, identities and voices. According to Chimamanda Adichie, the stories we tell and that are told about us make us who we are.

………………………… Endtnotes:

Information as described in 2008 MacArthur Foundation Fellows

Chimamanda Adichie is a young writer who illuminates the complexities of human experience in works inspired by events in her native Nigeria. Adichie explores the intersection of the personal and the public by placing the intimate details of the lives of her characters within the larger social and political forces in contemporary Nigeria. Dividing her time over the last decade between the United States and Nigeria, she is widely appreciated for her stark yet balanced depiction of events in the post-colonial era. In her most recent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Adichie unflinchingly portrays the horror and destruction of the civil war following the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Using multiple narrative voices, a precise movement back and forth in time, and prose that is at once witty and empathetic, she immerses the reader in the psyches of her characters, whose loyalties to each other and their ideals are tested as their world gradually falls apart. In humanizing the Biafran tragedy, Adichie’s novel has enriched conversation about the war within Nigeria while also offering insight into the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict. A writer of great promise, Adichie’s powerful rendering of the Nigerian experience is enlightening audiences both in her homeland and around the world.

Chimamanda Adichie received a B.A. (2001) from Eastern Connecticut State University, an M.A. (2003) from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.A. (2008) from Yale University. Her additional works include the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) and short stories that have appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, Granta, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

…………………….. Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story | Video on TED … ► 18:49► 18:49 http://www.ted.com/…/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of…7 Oct. 2009 – 19 min Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if … http://www.halfofayellowsun.com http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chimamanda-Adichie/77498713718 http://www.ted.com/ Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic… Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/chimamandangoziadichie Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book and Half of a Yellow Sun, which…

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