Ever since speech became an indispensable instrument of human interaction, its use has been given considerable importance. Speech, whether written, spoken, or digital, allows the transmission of semantic constructions and meanings embedded by the author. This property also manifests the main danger of speech, namely its overly persuasive influence. When an individual or an entire community broadcasts thoughts, they can become firmly entrenched in the minds of information consumers, and in the absence of additional points of view, form a lopsided picture of perception. To put it another way, a single-story creates dangerous stereotypes that oppress human dignity and distort objective reality. This was the message of the story of the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, told on the TED. The essence of this essay boils down to a discussion of the critical thesis of that story, namely the danger of a single story.
The first point to clarify is what is meant by the term single story. It is any information that is conveyed that has not been processed through critical thinking. Almost any information can be called single since non-academic storytellers rarely turn to explore additional, alternative views. The beliefs that parents pass on to their children, the unsupported data taught by schools, and even the political speeches of officials tend to reflect only one world, one opinion, and one concept. This assertion reveals an essential feature of speech, specifically the desire to persuade, not necessarily explicitly (Ghasani & Sofwan, 2017). The bearer of information seeks to transfer some of his knowledge and values (which he has previously received) to another person, thereby disseminating a single story. Notably, the cultural contribution to such stories is maximized because stereotypes and archetypes are often postulated in folk tales, books, and songs.
This was also true of Adichie, who recounts the single story’s problems throughout her life. The writer’s Nigerian background imposes a particular cultural burden on her experience, especially on non-African residents. Adichie claims that many of the people she encountered outside of Nigeria were surprised by the woman’s lifestyle. Contrary to their expectations, she could handle modern cuisine, read, and even speak fluent English. The initial expectations were the products of a single cultural-historical story in which “Africa was a place of… people,… waiting to be saved by a… white foreigner” (Adichie, 2009, 06:14). Then, what the writer encounters throughout her life is a stereotyping of African (it must be African because for the Western community Africa is a country) people.
Moreover, it does not matter who precisely the object of transmission is, as shown in the story. Adichie noticed stereotypes from her roommate at an American university, from her parents, her professor, and even from large American companies such as Virgin. A lack of formed critical thinking coupled with low awareness and excessive self-centeredness on one’s own culture became reasons for the disrespectful treatment and conditional segregation toward Adichie and all Nigerian people (Franco et al., 2017). However, such people can hardly be blamed for this since the reasons for the single-story lie beyond the specific human consciousness: it is a nationwide, cultural, civilizational attitude. Thus, Adichie tells us, she has also been the bearer of a single story on several occasions, when she perceived the Fide’s family as inferior only, or when she viewed Mexicans only through the lens of unscrupulous immigration, as the U.S. media reported it (FitzGerald & Skrentny, 2021). However, unlike others, Adichie understood the categorical and superficiality of her judgments, and therefore, it can be postulated that critical thinking has decisive weight against a single story.
In conclusion, it must be emphasized that the phenomenon of a single story is dangerous and threatening to cultural diversity and human dignity. Because of ignorance and underdevelopment of critical thinking, individuals and entire communities become subject to stereotypes and social attitudes. Such stereotypes do not always correctly reflect the real agenda, resulting in interpersonal and international relations problems. The story told by Adichie was an excellent example of negative single stories carried by different people.
Adichie, C. N. (2009). The dangers of a single story [Video]. TED. Web.
FitzGerald, D. S., & Skrentny, J. D. (2021). Immigrant California: Understanding the past, present, and future of US policy. Stanford University Press.
Franco, A. R., Costa, P. S., Butler, H. A., & Almeida, L. S. (2017). Assessment of undergraduates’ real-world outcomes of critical thinking in everyday situations. Psychological Reports, 120(4), 707-720.
Ghasani, B. I., & Sofwan, A. (2017). Appraisal and speech structure of contestants’ speeches in speech contest of ESA WEEK competition. English Education Journal, 7(2), 152-159.