Revisiting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Exceptional TED Talk
Ayanna DeVaughn – Social Media Specialist
We’re celebrating the phenomenal author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 40th birthday by revisiting her globally recognized 2009 TED talk, “The danger of a single story,” and examining its significance.
During the talk, Adichie tells the story of how she was able to find her most authentic cultural voice. She discusses her earliest days as a writer, and how the stories she told did not reflect her own life experiences in Nigeria, but rather were based off of what she would read, stories primarily focused on the European experience.
“What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.”
Everything changed when Adichie discovered African stories. And although she admittedly enjoyed American and British books, this newfound discovery of African literature did one of two things: It showed that girls like Adichie, “girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails,” could also exist in literature. And two, it saved her from believing that there was only a certain type of story that could be told.
Adichie then reflects on her college experience in America, and how preconceived ideas on what it means to be African led to frequent misunderstandings between her and her college roommate, who viewed Africa as a single story.
“In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”
She begins to understand her roommate’s response to her as an African, noting that it was caused by the Western world telling a single African story, one of catastrophe. The same way that Adichie, too, thought that Western literature was a single story as a child.
“So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become … All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. 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.”
Let Adichie’s words resonate. Our stories matter deeply, from all points around the globe. Too often, single stories have been used to minimize an entire culture, to degrade others, and to manipulate. It is up to us to ensure that the powerful stories are heard, viewed, and written. We are capable of minimizing these single stories in order to learn and explore the true greatness that each culture possesses.