The following was written by Becky Celestina, League Intern
Though you may not know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by name, you may know her by voice; Beyoncé, in her popular song “***Flawless,” sampled a talk on feminism that Adichie gave. The feminist principles that Adichie discusses as well as her influence as a writer makes her a woman worth talking about this Women’s History Month.
Adichie was born in Nigeria, and moved to the United States when she was 19. She is an acclaimed short story and novel writer and has won a variety of awards for her writing. She has also given two TED talks, one about the concept of the “single story” and one on the importance of being a feminist.
In Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of a “single story,” she states that the idea of a “single story” flattens groups of people and values certain narratives over others. This concept of one story or one version of a story is a something we see all the time in movies, television shows, books, etc.
As a storyteller, Adichie defines this concept in relation to our predispositions about other people, specifically, saying that it, “[shows] people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” She says that:
“How they [stories] are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told are really dependent on power. Power is the ability to not just tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person”
Power dictates what stories we hear to the point that we expect people from other countries to fit the stories we hear about them. The reality, however, is that people cannot be compacted into such rigid and small boxes. Adichie calls for more diverse stories to be published as well as for more diverse voices to tell their stories. She says that the single story, “creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” We need to hear many stories to avoid these incomplete stereotypes.
I admit, I found out about Adichie from Beyoncé’s song — I was struck by what Adichie spoke about in the sample (which came from her talk on why everyone should be feminists) and after watching both of her TED talks in full, I knew Adichie had an interesting perspective on feminism, gender roles and the value of diverse storytellers.
As someone coming from a media background, I’m constantly looking at films and television shows with a critical lens and after watching Adichie’s talk on the single story I started to see how problematic the single story is in practice. I would see it in television shows that rely on stereotypes of specific groups of people and in movies that never show anyone other than cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white people. I saw the single story in action.
The single story takes away what makes someone’s culture so valuable and interesting. Adichie writes about her life as an African and as a feminist; she’s telling another story, her own story.
I wanted to include Adichie in a blog post for Women’s History Month because she’s encouraging people to tell their own stories and take control of their identity. Adichie writes honestly and candidly, not feeling hesitant because her stories don’t conform to what people say “African literature” should conform to.
I am passionate about Adichie’s call for the expansion of the single story because, looking at my own life and experience with stories, I realize if I did not actively seek out diverse stories, I would never hear them. These stories fill in cultural gaps and help me to see people as real living beings with important lives, even if I’ve never met them.
So whether you diversify your exposure to stories through TED talks or Beyoncé songs, realize that every new story you hear broadens your sense of your own world. Adichie wants people to tell their own stories, and I think she’s pretty “flawless” for that.