Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recounts her own experience growing up with “single stories” – in other words believing there is one truth, instead of many truths. The daughter of college educated parents, she grew up reading American and European novels. The result? When she started writing her own stories, they featured characters with white skin and blue eyes who ate apples and played in the snow. Adichie didn’t know her own story was a valid one to tell.
In the United States, Adichie encounters people who have their own “single stories” when it comes to life on the African continent. How does she know how to speak English so well? One student, after having read one of Adichie’s novels, expresses sadness that African fathers are so abusive to their children. Adichie retorts that she just finished reading “American Psycho” and isn’t it a shame all young men are mass murderers?
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete…The consequence of the single story is this – it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.
Adichie argues eloquently for the importance of having a diversity of stories, and for readers to never assume that the story they read is the “single story.”