The danger of a single story
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Amidst all the craziness of the election and our country’s divide over politics and ethics alike, somewhere between angry Facebook posts and debates during class, I’ve found peace with a TED talk that goes a little further into America’s root problem: our closed-mindedness. With new proposals of banning Muslims from entering the U.S., propaganda against the Middle East and promises to cut off trade from foreign countries, I see a repetitive theme.
In the TED talk presented by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The danger of a single story,” Adichie goes in depth of a sort of roadblock she’s been facing all of her life. Adichie comes from Enugu, Nigeria, but went to university in the United States. Upon arriving on campus, Adichie met her roommate, shocked at Adichie’s knowledge of modern-day electronics, such as a stove or an oven. She even asked to listen to her “tribal music.” Throughout her travels in the U.S., Adichie experienced this blind ignorance repeatedly, wondering just what Americans were being taught about Africa. Being on the other side of the spectrum, I can attest that I was raised believing every African child was skin and bones, barely living off of dirty water and dry desert scraps. I can’t help but wonder, is America so self-centered that we could be this closed- off from other countries?
When we risk the danger of a single story, we risk generalization, we risk stereotyping, we risk understanding. With the force of the election well upon us, I see this more than I ever have. During a discussion in her AP Literature class, ironically after watching this TED talk, a friend recalled one student claiming that “there’s literally nothing in the Middle East.” Has our modern-day America really been raised to believe that places in the Middle East are only bomb-ridden war zones? A part of me wants to scream and shake sense into students my age who still believe these long-told fables that stereotype every continent and country that isn’t the great U.S.A., but another part of me knows this is not their fault. This is the fault of our parents that shelter their children from cultural knowledge; this is the fault of our educational system that fails to discuss these foreign places more in depth; this is the fault of our new president-elect that convinces his army of followers that all Muslims are terrorists.
My sophomore year, I took a trip to France that changed my life. I stepped onto the plane less than two weeks after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, in which terrorists gunned down a newspaper headquarters in Paris. As I arrived in the Paris airport, a sign displayed three pictures: one of Obama, one of a white woman, and one of a woman wearing a Hijab. Underneath was written, “We are all the same.” This gentle reminder made all the difference. We travelled back to Paris less than a week after this, I walked the streets less than a block away from where the shootings occurred. The streets littered were with flowers and signs in mourning of those who were killed. Another thing I saw that surprised me, however, was the signs that encouraged Parisians not to blame the Muslim community, but instead to support them. When I spoke to my French family about this, they claimed that they weren’t angry at the Muslim community; they didn’t even blame them. This reaction paled in comparison to our reaction of the Boston bombings just two years prior, when the entire country panicked in fear of any Muslim-American passing by. We saw only a single story.
My point is this: please, please do not let this election sway your perspective of other cultures in a negative way because our president-elect sets this example. Go out, refuse the idea of a closed-minded America, and choose to see more than a single story.