Our Single Story of Africa…. and Other “Countries”

It’s a simple thought, but for some reason surprisingly difficult to remember: Other people and places around the world are diverse and complex, just like we are.

We all live in a “bubble” to some extent, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just reality. I know a lot more about what happens in my own house than my neighbor’s, and I know more about my neighborhood, my city, my country… because I experience it every day. But the vast complexity of what happens outside of my bubble is usually summed up in little snapshots that do not tell the full story.

In this TED talk, novelist Chimamanda Adichie explains how she was confronted with the “single story” of Africa commonly understood by Americans (when you think about the continent* of Africa, what images come to mind?). Interestingly, she also recalls her own “single stories” she has unknowingly held about other groups of people.

How can we empower others to tell their own stories? Maybe we can become better listeners (and more active listeners, since these stories are not widely broadcasted) to hear the stories told by others in their own words.

*P.S. I am not immune to this thinking. While editing this post, I discovered that I had actually used the phrase “country of Africa” here without even thinking about it. The point is that we shouldn’t feel bad about this kind of stuff, but by identifying it hopefully we can be more effective in our attempts to make the world better.

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