Week One: A Single Story Hurts

I am a white female of the upper middle class. I am a student, an intellectual, a friend, a daughter, and a girlfriend. I am a thinker and a problem-solver. I am a learner and a teacher, always seeking to learn something new or teach others about a topic of my interest. I am a future educator.

I do not have a single story, but rather, I am made up of many stories, moments, and experiences, both good and bad. All of these stories shape me into the human being that I am today.

The wonderful scholar and author Chimamanda Adichie shares the same belief that people are comprised of more than just one moment, instance, or story in her TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” She shares how impressionable and vulnerable a story can leave a person and how this can shape his or her beliefs or perceptions of another. This is one of the major issues with the single story. The single story leads to stereotypes, she shares, and these stereotypes cause a sense of incompleteness and unjustness toward a person, an event, or a place. It allows for the single story to become the only story, the definitive story to define a person or a place. The idea and presence of a single story is everywhere around us. Media paints a single story of individuals from different towns, countries, or continents. These single stories are shoved in our faces repeatedly, causing some to fall prey to it and believe in the single story of one person, place, or thing. I would be lying if I said I had not once fallen prey to the single story. There have been times where I have believed what I was told about someone or something or even a place, just from a story; that story skewed my view of that person or place, when, in reality, I had no knowledge about the many other aspects of that person or place. Adichie’s TED Talk is eye opening and inspiring in that it reminds us that there is so much more to individuals and places than just one story or moment. She reminds us to be open-minded and curious individuals and to help others do the same.

The single story is nothing new. Although a brilliant individual, Adichie did not create the concept of the single story. Instead, the single story is interwoven in history and in texts. Growing up in an upper middle class, white, suburban school district, I learned all of the single stories that history textbooks could offer. Young and naïve, I was vulnerable to the text and the story it told about Columbus and other explorers, about colonialism, about war. Christopher Columbus’ account “On The Discovery of America” in Postcolonialisms shares a single story, only told from the viewpoint of the colonizer. He shares about his meeting of the indigenous peoples, but the reader never gains an understanding of the true accounts of the indigenous peoples. By Columbus’ accounts, the reader comes to understand that while the indigenous people were at first “timid and full of fear” at his arrival, they eventually welcomed him and his ideals. His account, if read by a naive reader, would show that Colombus was innocent and good for what he did in inhabiting other lands. His single story paints him almost as a savior to these people, helping them with their trades and beliefs. Yet, he describes how he easily seized the land from the natives. However, many people do not realize that this single story is not the only story, and it is certainly not the best story to describe the happenings of Christopher Columbus and the effects that his possessions and seizures had on indigenous peoples. Again, the danger of the single story, of Columbus’ accounts of his actions, do not represent the complete history of the events.

For a while, I have believed the single story of colonialism and post-colonialism. I never considered the fact that once the colonized peoples were granted political freedom that they were not actually free until a little later in my education, around middle school to high school age. At that time, I began learning more about others, not just about the colonizers, like I was taught in elementary school, but about the colonized individuals whose voices were silenced by the single story of the colonizer. After many years of reading, learning, researching, and questioning, the meaning of post-colonialism has changed for me. I now connect colonialism and post-colonialism to imperialism and neo-colonialism or neo-imperialism. After learning about each concept in Post-Colonial Studies, I have gained new insight and perhaps another story. The United States, known as an “emerging superpower” has direct influence over other countries through economics and culture. It is argued in Post-Colonial Studies, “The United States, whose expansionist policy past and present, constitutes a new form of imperialism” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin 146). It is no secret that the United States holds immense power and influence over many other countries. As a modern day American citizen, I am aware of the power of the United States and how influential they can be in many different situations. Reading about these concepts has helped me bridge connections between colonialism and imperialism to modern day society.

The expansion of postcolonial studies is critical in the world today, as argued in the introduction of Postcolonialisms. Postcolonial studies seek out the other stories that have been snuffed out by the single story that haunts history, amongst other things. There is not one true meaning of postcolonial studies, as depicted through Desai and Nair, but instead, it has come to mean many things. The introduction of Postcolonialisms states, “ The central questions of coloniality, power, and knowledge have…been increasingly cast in a comparative framework, raising…more questions about the historical parameters of colonialism, the relevance of regionalisms in an increasingly interconnected world, and the possibility of a post-colonial politics that speaks at once to local goals at well as to universal human rights” (Desai and Nair 1). The recent surge in postcolonial studies helps discover more about the past, and importantly, more about the present and the future. It requires us to sit and reflect as to what is going on in the nation, who is in control, and who is being cast as the “other”, much like during the times of colonization in the 1900s. I have come to realize and understand the importance of post-colonialism studies in the understanding of America today. Post-colonial studies seek to educate those who only know the single story and it challenges those who have a sense of “blind patriotism” and believe in only the good of our nation’s history. This can help depict the importance of learning and listening to all aspects of a group of people, individuals, a nation, or a country before creating stereotypes and making assumptions about who these people are. Just as Adichie shares, the single story has the ability to hurt and break dignity. But the power of story, if one listens to every story with an open-mind, can also “repair dignity.” As a future educator, I cannot fall prey to the single story. It is my duty to be open and accepting, patient and kind, and willing to listen to every story before passing any judgments. Through my experiences in the classroom, I have seen stereotyping occur first hand, and it happens far too often. Students and peers quickly fall prey to believing the single story, thus initiating stereotypes and making an “us and them” or “othered” situation. It is crazy that I am able to tie this into the similarities of colonialism and the act of othering. I enjoy being able to make these connections, and it comes to show how much history affects the current day and how the single story continues to hurt, not just those who were colonized, but all people.



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