Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of a single story

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

There are many stories we have dangerously bought into. “So 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.” Chimamanda describes the single story of African authenticity as well as her own unfortunate single story of Mexicans and the immigrant situation in the United States.

One of the unfortunate circumstances, we would add, is the danger of the single story that we Africans believe. Believing that we are not as good, not as talented, not as educated, not as fortunate, not as innovative and unable to move past our political demise. To the point of creating stereotypes that what is produced outside Kenya is better than what is locally produced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states “the consequence of the single story is that it robs people of their dignity. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

“The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem of the stereotype is not that it is untrue but that it is incomplete.”

Armed with this stereotype of our own comes the problem of lacking in national pride. We unfortunately, as Kenyans, do not support our own fashion as much as we should and strive to show that what has been acquired overseas is far better. Our dangerous single story is that fashion created in Kenya is substandard compared to what is made overseas. Fearing and shunning from supporting our own in that regard is damaging and rather sad.

“When we reject the single story, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Where people are willing to spend thousands on foreign goods, approaching a Kenyan designer to ask for a discount because there is no reason for it to be so costly is a testament to unbelief in ourselves. Designers, photographers and other fashion industry professionals are producing amazing products tailored to reflect our society and talent and the greatest hurdle they must overcome, wrongfully so, is proving to us Kenyans that it is locally made and of good quality.

Are we suffering from that dangerous single story and how can this change? The answer is not very clear but we believe that when people choose to recognize the talent within our own borders and selectively choose to believe and invest in it, the results will be surprising.

What are your thoughts?

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