May. 15th, 2014

In the Ted talk given by Chimamanda Adichie, "The danger of a Single Story", and Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail", they speak of how the stories we tell have the power to oppress or empower. Chimamanda Adichie begins her talk by reflecting on her first experience of how stories influence our world view. As a child growing up in Nigeria, she read British children's books that spoke of white British children who ate apples, drank ginger beer and had snow, none of which reflected her experiences in Nigeria. This left Chimamanda to believe that Nigerian's were not involved in the world of literature, a story she learnt to be untrue as she got older. The next story That Chimamanda speaks of the story of her family's house boy, Fedai; As a child, Chimamanda continuously heard of how Fedai and his family were very poor, and because "all [she] ever heard about them was how poor they were [it] became impossible for [her] to think about them as anything but poor". Through meeting Fedai's family she learnt how having a single story of people was not only incomplete, but has the ability to "rob people of their dignity". In Martin Lurther-King's letter he speaks of the single story in terms of the experience of African Americans, and how the "southland [has] been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue", showing that when a story is being told from only one side it most often is oppressing the side that is not being heard. When speaking of the southern segregation laws he shows the single story of segregation in how "the segragator [is given] a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority".
Both Adichie's Ted Talk and Martin Luther King's letter demonstrate how our stories have the ability to flatten peoples experience and oppress, or see people as dynamic and empower them. King speaks of African Americans being reminded "of [their] birthright of freedom", which subsequently empowered them to change their story. This also demonstrates that when people stop believing their own stories of oppression, new stories begin to emerge.

Question - Can you think of stories in your own life that oppress yourself or others? How can you change those stories to be stories that provide empowerment?



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