The Danger of a Single Story

When engaging with students about Media Literacy, I (Pooja) often like to begin with novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s powerful TED talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story. Through the use of her own narrative, Adiche speaks about the prevalence of a “single story” or the dominant culture portrayed throughout most school curriculums. Adiche shares the following memory of being taught a single story:

At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: how lovely it was that the sun had come out. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.

Adiche speaks about the impacts the single story has on an individual, on a community, and on society at large. While a young school girl in Nigeria, Adiche recalls only reading authors from the West. Having never encountered the works of an African author or seeing people like her appear in books, she believed she could not (or should not) be a writer.  She asserts that when we receive only one perspective on anything it 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.”adiche

This TED talk sparks lively discussion in the classroom. Students often think back to their early schooling and many recall “single stories” they experienced. As a class, we capture all of these experiences on a large poster. As new text is introduced in the course we often refer back to this “single story” poster and discuss who’s stories are being represented in what we read/hear/see.

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