Blogs by Hilary Hopkins

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April 29, 2013 / “The Danger of a Single Story”

Not my thought, but that of the Nigerian writer of extraordinary books who is named Chimamanda Adichie. 

In a TED talk (which you can view on YouTube), she warns us about this danger.  She grew up, in Nigeria, in a household with professional parents and lots of books.   They drove cars, and had running water, you know.

When she came to the United States to attend college, her new roommate had but a single Africa story.  “Oh!” exclaimed the roomie.  “You speak such good English!  Where did you learn it?”

Well, it’s the official language of my country…

“Oh!  OK!  Well, I can’t wait to hear some of your great tribal music.  Would you play some now?”

The roomie was taken aback by the Mariah Carey tape. 

A single story about Africa, says Adichie, a story of catastrophe and privation.

She herself had a single story to tell, too, in this talk.  Her family had hired a new houseboy.  He is very poor, and his family is very poor too, explained her mother.  We’ll send the family some food and clothing we don’t need. 

Then one afternoon she and her mother went to visit the houseboy in his village.  An elegant and gorgeous woven basket was seen in their home.

“Where did you get that basket?”  young Chimamanda asked the houseboy. 

“My mother made it,” he explained.

Oh, thought Chimamanda, but I thought they were poor.  Oh, I guess poor people can make things, just like me.  Maybe even better than me. 

A new story for her, a new story about poverty.

So be alert to the danger of the single story, about anyone, any place.  Go and see places, and see for yourself the multitude of stories.

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