This semester I am taking two anthropology classes. One is "Concepts and Methods of Biological Anthropology", and the other is "Special Topics on Global Africa". So far, the Global Africa course is one of my favorite classes I have ever taken. The professor, Peter Little, is passionate about his personal work in Africa and the course content is interesting and comprehensive.
This week, my professor showed a TED talk in class by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called "The Dangers of A Single Story." It was filmed in 2009 and is one of these most viewed TED talks out there. I had never seen it. Adichie talks about the problems that arise out of a lack of exposure to multiple viewpoints and how Africa as a continent has only ever been portrayed in one very negative light. She inspired me to think about all the things I may view from a "one story" perspective and how no one is immune from falling prey to "one story" portrayals.
Growing up in Hong Kong, London, and Dallas, I like to think I am open-minded towards different cultures because I have been raised in three very different ones. Yet despite this, I am still "impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story." I always found it interesting to be around Americans talking about England or "Britain," as they generalize it, and I was equally intrigued by the way English people think about Americans like the people they saw on Disney channel growing up. Hong Kong was a multicultural melting pot and I don't ever remember hearing "one story" there but then again I was very young. But in Dallas and in London? I was always afraid to speak up if I ever heard someone speaking from their very ignorant view of the other country.
Before we moved to Dallas, I got asked the question all the time: are you going to live on a ranch and ride horses to school? Of course, I have friends in Texas who have ranches and horses but they are typically vacation or weekend homes and horses are not their mode of transportation to school. In Dallas, I was always asked "do they do this in England?" or "how do they say this in England?" If there was ever anything related to Great Britain brought up in class, everyone would turn to me. While this never bothered me too much, it was clear that the American perspective of England was different to the way I viewed England, as a previous resident and citizen of the United Kingdom.
Adichie says "show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become." I couldn't agree with her more. Us humans are naturally gullible. We like to fit in and often we dislike confrontation. We accept what we are told as children and as we grow older these ideas cement themselves in our mind. Yes, we shape, mold, and question our own beliefs and views of the world but our socialization in our youth has a large impact. We are continually shown one thing by media, literature, and politicians about so many cultures around the world that those narratives slowly become truth in our minds.
We are all comprised of many stories. While my life involves the stories of different countries, influencers, and cultures, other people may have stories from interests, family heritage, or their hometown. There is no "one story" of the United States even though news, literature, and social media may say otherwise. There is no "one story" of the United Kingdom even though history, media platforms, and stereotypes may disagree. There is no "one story" of any race, nationality, or population despite it being so easy to think that there is.
Chimamanda Adichie spoke in 2009 about a danger I think we all need to be reminded of now more than ever. This year, the political climate around the world is tense and the issues of race, immigration, and identity are topics of global discussion. Watching this video in my Anthropology class reminded me that there is never "one story," and that we should seek to understand one another's multiple stories so we can escape "the dangers of a single story."