I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world


Leave a comment

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the dangers of the ‘single story’

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an absolutely brilliant and talented woman. Her novels are among my all time favourites and from the few video interviews and speeches I’ve heard her give, she seems to be a deeply insightful, engaging, bold and entertaining woman. I would love to meet her!

This talk about the ‘dangers of the single story’ is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. I think I tend a bit towards exaggeration and describe lots of things as ‘amazing’ and ‘thought-provoking’, but this speech truly is. I also think it provides an interesting perspective on ‘Otherness’ although Ms Adichie doesn’t comment on this concept directly. But she gives many examples from her own life experience, both of her own judgements of Others and the way others have judged her in turn, based on the ‘single story’. She draws on her own experience of the stories told about the poor, about Africans, about Americans, about immigrants – the over-generalized, narrow and often prejudicial narratives we tell about other people and other groups – to show the way in which these stories absolutely fail to capture reality and how these stories can cause harm, misunderstanding and rob others of their dignity.

This type of ‘single story telling’ is something we all do. We have all, at one time or another, been guilty of telling the single story and consequently of denying the dignity of our fellow humans. But if we can acknowledge the truth –  that there are in reality, many many stories – then there is hope of restoring that dignity.

It is certainly worth listening to the entire talk. I’ve shared a few ideas from the speech below, but it was a challenge picking out individual bits when all of the talk was so good. Please take the time to listen to the entire thing! You won’t be disappointed!

‘That is how to create a single story – show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.’

‘It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.Power is the ability, not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.’

‘The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity.’

‘Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also be used to repair that broken dignity.’

‘When we reject the single story, when we realise that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.’

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Set the people free!

As it turns out, 16 March was Open Borders DayAlex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution sums up the point of this day nicely:

‘[Open Borders Day is] a day to celebrate the right to emigrate and the right to immigrate; to peacefully move from place to place. It is a day worth celebrating everywhere both for what has been done already and for the tremendous gains in human welfare that can but are yet to be achieved. It is also a day to reflect on the moral inconsistency that says “No one can be denied equal employment opportunity because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group, or accent” and yet at the same time places heavily armed guards at the border to capture, imprison, turn back and sometimes kill immigrants.’

I’m obviously a bit behind in commenting here, but better late than never!

The issue of immigration is a big one for me, partially for personal reasons, but for much larger ethical and moral reasons as well. I myself am someone NOT living in my country of birth, which I suppose makes me an immigrant. I don’t often think of myself that way though, probably in large part because a) I am white, b) I am a US citizen, and c) I have a university education – in other words, I come from a very privileged background. I don’t fit the ‘immigrant stereotype’. I didn’t leave my home country to escape poor living conditions or lack of economic opportunity. And because I am white, educated and American, I get preferential treatment when it comes to living and working abroad, although there are still limitations regarding my rights to live and work where I choose.

However, most people on the planet who would like to live and work in a country other than the one they were born in face far greater challenges that I can even imagine. They want to better their lives, earn a decent living, provide for their families, give their children the opportunity to gain an education and a better standard of living. They want to escape poverty, economic stagnation and hopelessness. They want to contribute to society. They want stability, safety, to have adequate food, water and shelter. They want to be treated like people, to be respected as humans, to make choices about their own lives.

I’ve done a bit of browsing around the Open Borders website and I am so impressed with this informative and well-balanced project. The site addresses a huge number of different objections people voice against immigration and the concept of open borders, where, in theory, people would have a much greater degree of freedom to migrate than in the current world order. They look at a wide variety of arguments for and against open borders – political, ethical, theoretical, economic, etc. – and discuss in a very detailed and nuanced way the real-world implications of free movement of people. If you are looking for fact-based and balanced information and discussion of immigration issues, this looks like a great place to start.

I highly recommend exploring this site. There is so much to think about here!

As part of my on-going reflections on Otherness, I look forward to returning to the themes and ideas explored in Open Borders. More coming soon…