TED Talks Every Book Blogger Should Watch: On Adichie & The Danger of a Single Story


I love TED Talks. There's a lot learn in about this world and TED talks are a wonderful venue to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. I was pondering one of the talks recently and I had a bit of an aha moment. Wouldn't it be interesting to find out what other book bloggers thought about them too? This is my initial offering. Watch and ponder along with me.




In this engaging and sometimes hilarious talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shares The Danger of a Single Story and her realization that stereotyping tells only a partial story of the the truth. There are many, many stories out there that are begging to be told.

My takeaways 

I have yet to read any of Adichie's books (Americanah is calling my name!) but it's wonderful to think that authors like Adichie are championing authors and readers who want diversity in their writing/reading fare.

Chimamanda Adichie (CA) at 4:50: "What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals."

I can relate to Adichie's experience. Interestingly, having migrated to Canada, I still get a lot of raised eyebrows when they hear me speaking English without an accent (The Philippine educational system is an American legacy and majority of classes are taught in English). Many people will assume that I am a refugee or come from a poverty stricken family. Or when I started job hunting, it was assumed that I aspired to join the ranks of Filipinos who are domestic helpers or are in health care (I am none of these but admire those who decide to take the route; we decided to immigrate and left  a middle-income existence back in the Philippines).

Not to be judgmental or to take away from the many whose circumstances are such, it's easier to accept and even easier to simply just perpetuate stereotypes. It's what's in media all the time. Personally, I find it takes time (and patience) to explain things to people, and even harder to challenge the stereotypes that are lodged in people's minds.

When I am reading, I find my own stereotypes constantly challenged. It can be tough sometimes, but it's definitely enlightening to see other worldviews and get a better picture of the world.

CA at 8:20: "But I must quickly add that I too am just as guilty in the question of the single story. A few years ago, I visited Mexico from the U.S. The political climate in the U.S. at the time was tense, and there were debates going on about immigration. And, as often happens in America, immigration became synonymous with Mexicans. There were endless stories of Mexicans as people who were fleecing the healthcare system, sneaking across the border, being arrested at the border, that sort of thing. " 

That's what I have in mind when someone says "Mexico." I've been guilty too.

I think I am pretty open minded, but need to open myself even more! I'm consciously trying to get more  diversity into my own reading. I have a soft spot for immigrant stories and am reading books set in different countries or written by a person of colour.

CA at 9:30: "It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power."

It's a reality that majority of the easily available books are written in Northern America. Even the books that are out for review are mainly put out by publishing houses in the US and Canada.

I have a confession: I've read more "white" stories than Filipino stories. Growing up, I knew Doctor Seuss better than Lola Basyang. I've tried to read more Filipino-penned books but getting copies is challenging. I've had to stock up when I travel halfway across the globe for a visit.

And yet another confession: I've read more (a hell more!) book written in English than in Filipino. I find that sad.

Adichie is already challenging authors to write their stories. But unless we as readers consciously seek out a diversity of stories, we'll conveniently default to what's readily available. There are reading challenges tailored specifically to address the lack of diversity in reading. Here are some which I hope you check out:

Around the World in Books Challenge 2015
Diversiverse
Travel the World in Books Challenge


CA at 13:44: I've always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. 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.

The underlining is mine and I can't say yes any louder than this!

How about you: what did you like most about this talk? What are your takeaways?


(I am not affiliated in any way with TED Talks. Photo for header: unsplash, TED logo from ted.com

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall