Moving Past the Single Story

by The Dalai Mama on June 21, 2014

in Education, Race/Racism

cross-posted here

I have been thinking about this powerful talk for almost a week now. It has made me even more critical of how we as a society perpetuate the “single-story.” It makes me notice when a story presented doesn’t mesh with the “single-story” that has been developed and accepted as the norm in our society.

This idea has me beginning to understand how important it is that we see and develop diverging stories of each other.  This video sums up the incubation of racism and long-held (mostly harmful) stereotypes.  These single-stories allow us to believe that we know someone based on the stories we have of them.  I can see the problem right there.  The assumptions that the “stories” we have of a generalized group of people, make up the parts of each individual.  That is not the case.

I began developing a simplistic view of this as we brought our Ethiopian born children home and I my black students were confused as to how my children would lean to be black.  Even my black students had begun to develop a single-story of their own about “blackness.”  This was a not a single-story they developed on their own, but one they began internalizing at an early age based not on their own experiences, but on the narrative the media and society had developed (100s of years in the making).

This video illustrates how single-stories perpetuate

As Adichie so eloquently states, we must engage with as many stories as possible, before we can begin to develop an understanding that groups/people cannot be defined by a single story.  It makes me think back to the uproar over the Cherrios commercial with the bi-racial family.  If we really dig down deep, people were upset because the narrative of the commercial doesn’t support the single-story they had developed of family, black men, white women, etc.

So many of the issues that people have with “others” are that the stories they hold of them are singular and they often lack exposure to real examples.  Look at GOP members (who had a history of opposing gay marriage or being gay in general) change their view once they were able to develop a deep story of a group of people–this often happened when someone close to them was revealed as gay.  Exposure can allow our the stories we have of others to develop and change.  This only happens when the exposure doesn’t support the single-story.

We must be willing to seek out new stories and to challenge the single-stories that often make us comfortable.  As a teacher of literature (or of any subject), I have the power to expose my students (who live relatively isolated lives) to the stories of those who are different.  To stories that engage my students in new ways and to ask new questions about our preconceived notions.

As a parent, I must do the same.  I must teach my children that there are may stories of the people in Ethiopia (their birth country) and beyond.  We have to start exposing ourselves to those who are different to ensure that we move past the “single-story” mentality.  It is so important for our future.  It is so important if we every want to begin having real conversations about racism.

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