Sunday 25 October 2009

The Danger of the Single Story.....

OK so this post is another ode to the greatness that is Adichie. Chimamanda, if you ever come across this blog, please know that I am not a crazy obsessed fan. I have not read your books over and over and do not argue about which minute little detail shows you ingenuity with S.B, and I have not watched this talk 5 really, I am not a stalker!

The delivary of this speech is so gracious and she articulates herself with such poise that her message comes across perfectly. I love the way she does not try any kind of phone sturvs which is so easy to do when you are confronted by foreigners, she speaks effortlessly like a true Nigerian.

The danger of a single story she says, is not that it is inacurate but that it is incomplete. She starts with the story of her houseboy Fide, who as a child she had labelled as being poor and nothing else. Upon discovering that his family were talented weavemakers, she seems shocked that they could be something so much more than the tag "poverty". This is a single story. And this is something that we all do in someway or the other. Stereotypes are usually formed for a reason, but they represent just a part of that people and when we forget this, then we have a problem.

Although she focuses on the danger of a single story globally, I think it is just as relevant in Nigeria because of our diversity. In Nigeria for example, we say that Yorubas are loud and party-lovers, Igbos are greedy and traders and hausa people are lazy and uneducated. Now this may be true to some extent but it is incomplete. .

I live in the North, and I am usually shocked by the ignorance of Southerners and Lagosians about life in the North. People have asked me the strangest questions like isnt there sharia there? are there any clubs or bars? how can you live there if you cannot speak hausa? so you guys have dstv in the north? i didnt know kaduna had an international airport? isnt everyone there a muslim? i didnt know hausa people were rich too? They are surprised to find that Northerners have more distinct tribes than any other reigion of Nigeria, and the Fulanis, Gwari, Boko, Ataka and Barke tribes to name a few are not hausa.

This is the single story of the north. It is only when you come abroad that we all claim to be Nigerians. Once you are in Nigeria, we all identify with sub-cultural and religious groups and reigions and have a single story of all the other reigions. I have been blessed to know both the North and the South-western parts of Nigeria well, but upon coming to the U.K I have had the chance to meet alot of people from the South-south and Eastern part of Nigeria. I then realised that I also had a single story for them as well. I thought it was just divided into Igbos and non Igbos, who were insignificant tribes, but I was soo mistaken. I now have friends who are Urobos, Delta-Igbos, Calabar, Edo, Andoni, Ibibio, Ijaw, Igbira to name a few and are just as proud as any majority tribe. My single story was that everyone from that reigion was igbo, and therefore a trader, loves money, loved rituals, were catholic and usually uneducated.(I must add that Nollywood playes a BIG part in forming these steryotypes).

It sounds terrible now, but alot of Nigerians still think like this. You see as much as Nigerians travel all over the world, we do not explore our own country. I am ashamed to say I have only been to 6 states out of a possible 36(kaduna, Lagos, Jos, Kano, Ibadan, Kwara). But the majority of city Nigerians have only been to 2, their village and Lagos/Abuja/Port-Harcourt. I must say that Lagosians are paticularly terrible with this, as they feel like life begins and ends in Lagos.

But a number of my northern classmates had also never left the north and had a single story of Lagos/the south of being a crime ridden, immoral, traffic jammed jungle (which is not far from the truth lol). They also see the south-south as a place over-flowing with oil, oil-money, kidnappers, and shell workers.

You see Chimamanda brings to light the fact that you cannot engage properly with a person or a place without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The single story robbs people of their dignity because it focuses on how we are different as opposed to how we are similar. According to Achebe we need a "balance of stories".

A typical example is to think of the first 3 words you think of when you think of Iraq. For most people in the western world, and average Nigerians, it is War, Oil and Islam. But have we ever stopped to think about the millions of Iraqis that are just living their lives, waking up in the morning to go to work, or the market or kids going to school. We have a single story of Iraq gotten from CNN. The first time I went to America when I was 13, I was schocked to find that not all the black people were wearing chains, rapping or playing basketball with 5 baby mamas. I had a single story of black america gotten from MTV.

I have a friend who studied in Russia, and I was shocked to hear the stories he had about the everyday Russians. Yes they are some racists and nazis but mostly they are nice and respectful people. I had a single story of Russia gotten from their History.

She concludes that when we reject the single story and realise that there is never one, we regain a kind of paradise. Think about it!


Miss B


  1. yeah,i gotta give it to you..that's another angle to view this whole 'danger of a single story'...
    it just brought to mind how worried my mom was when my sis and i were posted to the North for NYSC..and not even North properly so-called, Niger state..there i learnt abt the Nupe, Gwari and other group who would vehemently state that they are not Hausa..

    Great post!!

  2. Thank God!!!
    Someone is finally acknowledging that Nigerians only act as 'one' when abroad. Back home everyone has to fall into three categories, (Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba)ignoring the fact that we have over 200 languages.
    I've lived in Lagos, Kaduna, Minna and Abuja and asked stupid questions everywhere. Is it true that girls walk around in underwear in Lagos? Can boys and girls sit in the same cinema in Kaduna? Where is Minna? Everybody in Abuja has money (posed as a fact, not a question.)

    *rolls eyes* don't get me started....

    I've seen the TED talk, more than once. I loved it. I love her. Chimamanda, if you're reading this, I'm a crazy obsessed fan.

  3. Wonderful write-up, I guess charity begins at home. Such is naija

  4. Thats exactly what i mean histreasure, dat fear of the unknown is the danger and thanks!
    @ ha005 trust me the questions get more and more ridiculous.....and we all know u r obsessed!
    @ myne thanks jare, hw far with ur stories, do dey start 4rm d back cause am lost?xxx

  5. I watched this twice on the same day. Very true. I used to blog about the stereotyping of Northerners being one myself. Even fellow bloggers used to drive me nuts ('like how is it possible to be from the North, speak hausa and not be hausa?' I was like dude, Im from one of the 200 other ethnicities.)

    The single story does damage. From blog, youtube, and forum comments, Nigerians have terrible 'single story' based judgements that I wonder why we complain when foreigners stereotype and bundle us into the negative 'Africa.'

    Charity does begin at home. As long as I look down at 'lagos' girls, I cannot be angry if Josh thinks I have AIDs and live on a tree.

    Biko, how far with cash or credit?

  6. Omg I love this so much. That video... my life story! This post... you completely hit the nail on the head!

    I love it even more that the majority of her audience is white, although Nigerians need to hear this message more than those people do.

    Patronizing, well-meaning pity... So derogatory and demeaning, yet we are all guilty of exhibiting this at some point in our lives.

  7. I have listened to this before and I love the way she speaks!Such a beautiful and inspirational young lady!

  8. There's always a different angle to every story..nice post and thanks for sharing.

  9. Can you believe that it was my father who seldom browses that gave me the link to that TED talk of Chimamanda? He loves it soooo much. And my husband and I have fallen for it too. It is sooo true.
    I love how you have also applied it to Nigeria and Nigerians. We need to explore ourselves, and promote ourselves.
    I give you five stars for this one!