“Single stories create stereotypes”, insists Adichie Chimamanda. A single is story is a case where one similar story is retold severally concerning an unfamiliar place or character. The main dangers associated with the single stories are the creation of half-truths, stereotypical perspectives, and biased thoughts about a place, a person, or an issue. Single stories are responsible for the stereotypes created on issues, for instance, single stories about continents such as Australia and Africa make the Americans believe that the places experience backwardness and animals respectively. “The balance of stories” as Chinua Achebe refers to it, is the direct opposite of the single stories. In contrast with the single stories, Achebe says that, the balance of stories allow authors to tell their own stories in their own perspectives, and open the readers’ minds in having open-minded thoughts on a particular story.
Single Stories create sweep real issues under the carpet and ignore the factors that should actually tell the underlying factors in an issue. Single stories are detrimental to perception and make the audiences stereotypical about a certain issue. The representation of facts should be balanced to offer the readers with an open-minded perspective to analyze the factors addressed in the real or fictional character. The balance of stories is important, especially in addressing issues of the minority. The main aims of the single stories is aspersive and dispossession of the African intellect, values, and beliefs. Adichie Chimamanda believes that these very stories are instrumental in turning their intent and resolve to empowering and humanizing Africans.
One argument that is evident from Adichie Chimamanda’s TED talk is the reluctance of the Africans to counter the one-sided single stories that define the African continent and instead contented with settling with the simple definition of the selves. The hindrance to go into depths to seek the actual self-worth and the identity is inconvenient to many literary scholars in Africa. The need to be in line with the expectation of the foreign critics makes many literary icons in the African American feel at ease criticizing their roots, the African culture, literature, and even develop alien proses in their literary works.
There is a number of films produced focusing on Africa. The biased misrepresentation of facts by the films that is easily seen by an amateurish critical eye reveals the modern single stories about the continent. For instance, Kony2012, and “Machine Gun Preacher” (2011) are both single stories according to a personal perspective. The portrayal of the continent as monstrous, violent and a primitive place is misplaced. Such representation of Africa only perpetuates the use of conflicts, uncouth, and uncivil means in resolving the internal African problems. While speaking on the single stories, Adichie admits that she grew up engrossed in foreign literature. She admits having her first literary works featuring white characters and their lifestyles. This was not until he came across Chinua Achebe’s literary work, Things Fall Apart that she realized the authenticity, culturally rich, and literary talent exhibited by the African literary icon.
In Africa for instance, it is evident that African authors have been on the forefront in whirling their very own narratives, and at the same time provides healthy criticisms and interpretation of the foreign literary works. Historically, the hieroglyphics provided a description of Egypt in antiquity to the contemporary. Furthermore, it is evident what Negritude employed in opposition to the colonial annexation of Africa. This works got a warm reception in the francophone fraternity, in Africa, and abroad. Fast-forward to Solomana Kante’s adamant rejection and dissent of the Roman alphabets and introduced the N’Ko writings in 1949. This attempt was in line with the West African Mande ethnic community tonalities and became widely instrumental in the translation of various scholarly, literary, and sacred texts. The classical Shakespearean writings were not out of the wave of “literary autonomy” that swept across Africa. For instance, the former Tanzanian president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, correctly translated The Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar into the regional lingua franca, Swahili.
Similar attempts to have African Americans literary works display freedom from stereotypical inclinations in description of situation, whether real or fictional, relies on the eradication of misleading, erroneous, stereotypical, simplifying, and harsh narratives that inform the prevalent impression about the African Americans; literary, artistic, and journalistic to the outside world. The single stories meant for a particular audience might be deficient in knowledge, structure, and spirit while addressing certain issues with bias. For instance, the pioneer western historians perpetuated the stereotypes that resulted in the single stories about both the African continent and African American literature. In relation to biased imaginations, the African continent has been on the spotlight for all the wrong reasons ignoring the abundance in scenic beauty, the people’s hospitality, agricultural rich lands, and natural resources endowed continent among other positives in the continent.
Ntozake Shange’s “My Father Is a Retired Magician” poem talks about single stories about the superstitious characteristics of blacks and how they are viewed in the western world. The poem goes, “my daddy retired from magic & took up another trade cuz this friend of mine, from the, 3rd grade asked to be made white, on the spot, what cd any self-respectin colored American, magician, do wit such a outlandish request/ cept, put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah, thingamajigs away cuz” (Shange line 7-14). This is reference to how people view her black father. She persists that her father abandoned the superstitious lifestyle and that he is no longer a magician contrary to what people believe.
It is reported that Jefferson himself owned approximately three hundred slaves in his plantation. This he justified by saying that he grew up in a society that embraced slavery as a norm. There are single stories that the western literary icons, media, and pop culture uphold in the depiction of Thomas Jefferson as a great American ever lived but ignore the negative sides making the world have a one-sided perspective and half-truths about Jefferson. Frederick argues that, “Mr. Severe was rightly named: he was a cruel man. I have seen him whip a woman, causing the blood to run half an hour at the time; and this, too, in the midst of her crying children, pleading for their mother’s release. He seemed to take pleasure in manifesting his fiendish barbarity. Added to his” (Douglas 12).
Marlon Riggs’ “Ethnic Notions” (1987) addresses the periods through the American history. The Emmy Award winning documentary focuses on the single stories that focus on the deeply rooted stereotypical beliefs that facilitate anti-blacks racist inclinations. Through this documentary and the images portrayed therein, the public begins to know the realities and subsequently have an understanding the evolution of racial identities and consciousness in the United States. The narrator, Esther Rolle begins by shedding light on the devastations and origins of the more than a century and a half racial bigotry that blinded America. This is one analysis of single stories experienced in the United States about blacks whose dangers clearly manifested.
Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die” addresses the atrocities faced by the African Americans during the anti-racism struggles. He says that, “O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, and for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What though before us lies the open grave? (McKay line 9-12). This is a form of a single story; it depicts the whites as “common enemies” to the blacks in the United States. McKay resorts to such one-sided stories to make the African Americans rise up against the white majority in the US during the racism era.
Maya Angelou criticizes single stories published to tarnish her reputation. These single stories as she refers to them in her poem “Still I Rise”. The single stories that she says she does not care about are about her personality, physical appearance, achievements, and character. She says that, “You may write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise (Angelou line 1-4). The persona describes the single stories about her as twisted lies that do not affect her personality.
Back to Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, it is evident that the opposition of the book in the United Kingdom and United States after publishing was from the beliefs that Douglass provided an unbiased representation of the agony, inhumanity, and the atrocities from slavery. Douglass firsthand information about the horrors of slavery, especially in Baltimore makes everyone wonder why the western literature and related works display the slavery in America as a convenience. In the book, Douglass claimed that the atrocities were unacceptable. He says that, “If a slave was convicted of any high misdemeanor, became unmanageable, or evinced a determination to run away, he was brought immediately here, severely whipped, put on board the sloop, carried to Baltimore, and sold to Austin Woolfolk, or some other slave-trader, as a warning to the slaves remaining” (Douglass, 11).
This is the fact of what took place in the plantations of Baltimore, North and South Carolina, Dakota, and all the other slavery prevalent areas in the Americas. The racial schism witnessed more than five decades after abolition is always the worst historical injustices having taken place in the United States. Single stories, the ones no American journalists, literature scholars, and historians wish to conclusively address risk ignoring, denial, objecting, and even twisting in some cases. Frederick Douglass tells us that our ancestors, the fathers of the America, and the national pioneers were far much more inhuman, committed the worst racial injustices than the 20th century much publicized racism in the United States. “At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment..” (Douglas 16). The single stories have highlighted the racism in the 20th century as the worst without tracing the roots of this evil to Thomas Jefferson’s years, the years when slavery inspired racism through the inhuman handling of the slaves.
Sterling Brown’s “Negro Character as Seen by White Authors addresses the single stories, perceptions, and biased analysis of the Black literature. According to him, there exist three kinds of African Americans, The colored person, the nigger, and the Negro as Roark Bradford defines them. There are single stories about black authors who are believed to be sociological and ethnological extremists. White authors view the black character in their literary works as crude, illiterate, uncivil, and always the villain. He says that, “All of this, he believes, gives him license to step forth as an interpreter and repeat stereotypes time-hallowed in the south”. This beliefs and stereotypes stick on the whites’ minds.
Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” talks about his origins, his black roots, and belonging as the major themes of the poem throughout the short stanzas, the persona addresses “Rivers” from Mississippi to The Nile, from Congo to Euphrates. He says that, “I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young / I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled it me to sleep”. This symbolizes the origins of man. Biblically, these origins are traced to the banks of River Euphrates where the biblical Garden of Eden was. Despite the single stories about the racial affiliation that make others superior and others inferior, all trace their roots to Euphrates before spreading to the Congo and Mississippi.
Kate Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby short story focuses on how racial bigotry affects a person’s perception about a partner to the point of betraying love. The single stories are dangerous to a marital relationship across the races. In many cases as Chopin’s story highlights, divorce, suicide, and murder exist. For instance, “He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him; and felt, somehow, that he was paying Him back in kind when he stabbed thus into his wife’s soul. Moreover, he no longer loved her, because of the unconscious injury she had brought upon his home and his name” (Chopin 6). This depicts what single stories about race lead to.
Richard Wright’s The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch addresses the factors of single stories and stereotypes about Negroes in the US. At the beginning of the sketch, Richard Wright says that, “My first lesson in how to live as a Negro came when I was quite small. We were living in Arkansas” (Wright 1). It was difficult to live normally in Arkansas where racism was prevalent. This was mainly due to the stereotypes that existed about blacks. He continues to say that, “There is but one place where a black boy who knows no trade can get a job. And that’s where the houses and faces are white, where the trees, lawns, and hedges are green” (Wright 1). This symbolizes the stereotypes that blacks had to serve the white or could not work anywhere.
For instance, the colonial period depiction by the western historians portrayed bias of the highest order. The evident justification of the colonial conquest derived support from the brilliant authors and historians who depicted Africans as brutes, crude, and uncivilized folks who badly needed civilization –colonization. Currently, according to Adichie, the continued western imperialism in Africa is neo-colonization. Historians ignore and vehemently deny this by saying that, Africa is still ungovernable while the corrupt leaders and totalitarian regimes still exist.
In conclusion, a single is story is a case where one similar story is retold severally concerning an unfamiliar place or character. The main dangers associated with the single stories are the creation of half-truths, stereotypical perspectives, and biased thoughts about a place, a person, or an issue. Single stories are detrimental to perception and make the audiences stereotypical about a certain issue.
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.1994
Chimamanda, Adichie: The danger of a single story, Ted.com, July, 2009
Chopin, Kate. “Desiree’s Baby.” 1893. 8 Apr. 2003.
Douglass, Frederick, 1817?-1895, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library < >