Too many "single stories" out there

I thought I was the only one who could not sit through the completion of Adichie's TED talk, "Danger of a Single Story." Honestly, I think my self-declared fast from Facebook was largely spurned by the inundation of my mailbox and Newsfeed with links to this talk.

First let me admit that I literally swallowed Half a Yellow Sun after dinner one night, and nearly felt somewhat depressed when I started inching towards the final pages of the novel because I so desired the book to go on, and on, and on. To say that Adichie is an amazing storyteller, would be quite the understatement. I have not yet had the chance to pick up her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck (Christmas gift, anyone?).

Yes, call me a hater, but I felt that at least the first few minutes that I did happen to slug through were somewhat tiresome. Literally, it was the "single story" that I have heard countless numbers of Nigerian, Ghanaian, Jamaican immigrants tell over again, but this time, more eloquently and on a more public stage...

Young person fetishizes the West...person grows up and travels to this West...person becomes increasingly jaded with the West and its apparent love affair with itself (to the ignorance of other non-Western countries)...person becomes more aware of the beauty and diversity of his/her African identity (primarily through Western outlets which were hitherto thought of as inaccessible in home country)...person shuns western dress and takes interest in rocking dashikis and African headwraps...

And true, as someone has mentioned to me in the past, Adichie's loudest critics happen to be men - see here and here - which was why I was initially hesitant to bring attention to yet another male who just doesn't get our collective love affair with Adichie. Beyond calling attention to the fact that several Nigerian stories were well-established around the time of Adichie's birth, Nnorum Azuonye also points out the apparent contradiction behind Adichie's talk...

The jaundice in The Danger of a Single Story is that Ms Adichie was in fact perpetuating stereotypes. Anyone who does not know better who watches that presentation would conclude that all Westerners refer to Africa as a country. We know this is not true. There is a lot of it going on, but it is not standard by any stretch of the imagination. Never mind that Africans, especially Nigerians are guilty of insinuating that Africa is a country. Many times in the United Kingdom, you ask a Nigerian where he comes from. Afraid of admitting to being a Nigerian and being consigned to the heap of criminals...he would say he comes from Africa. He would only admit the Nigerian connection if the person asking knows Africa is a continent and questions further, ‘what part of Africa do you come from?’ Interestingly, some would respond to this more specific question with a neither here nor there answer; ‘my Dad originally comes from Lagos, and my mother is from Benin.’ If pushed further, he will say, ‘Make it Lagos. I come from Lagos.’
Azuonye forgot to add that yes, while some Westerners find Africa as the bastion of poverty and disease, several of our compatriots have also made careers off of such saving some nebulous creature called Africa. I would suggest taking a peek at the essay yourself...and if Azuonye also sounds tiresome, by all means, change the page in search of yet another single story.

H/T Aloofar for the link


  1. sokari said...:

    Interesting because I too started to fall asleep on this talk but posted it anyway. The point about the stereotype African was also the point of the stereotypical American or European - both are not the single story!. Believe me some people think Europe is a country! lol or even America (not the US and Canada)

    So many people are full of hot air to be frank - you tell them you are a Nigerian and they say it is not possible. Why on earth would anyone want to be a Nigerian if they were something else? Please tell me? I mean am I the first person or rather the only individual of mixed parentage in Nigeria that this should be so shocking & unbelievable - talk about single stories. Is Nigeria a single story in itself?

    Well let me stop before this rant gets to much. Great piece

  1. Anengiyefa said...:

    I read Azuonye's essay and I disagreed with almost everything he said. Aloofar left the link on my blog as well and I think I aptly responded by setting out what I think about this.

    True, Adichie has spoken about herself, but the idea I think is for each of us to take the concept and relate it to own selves individually.

    There seems to be such a need to express negativity in the face of something that is so glaringly true. And I don't understand why this is..

  1. Omosi T said...:

    Totally agree with Anengiyefa. I have seen the talk used on some websites that have nothing to do with nationality, race or how Nigerians and/or Africans are perceived.

  1. Uzezi said...:

    i didnt fall asleep. I actually enjoyed the talk

  1. Omo Oba said...:

    Point well taken, Nneoma but I must say Adichie's speech still wows me. I think people will always have sth critical to say about us no matter how on point we are on sth, while others will choose to stand out and be critical of us because everyone else is applauding us.

    But I believe that there are people like Adichie, who wheel power, that need to bring attention to the fact that our stories and the portrayal of African history in the West is incomplete. Her speech should not considered as one of the many others because apparently, it is not enough. If it were enough, then maybe Africa and AIDS will not go together on Dec 1 every year. If it were enough, then maybe we can all be spared the insult of hearing: India, China and Africa over and over again. So heck yea, we very well need daughters (and yea yea, sons) like Adichie who can so eloquently advocate for us.

  1. nneoma said...:

    @ktravula - thanks

    @sokari - yes, this talk was ALL OVER the Nigerian blogosphere and I hesitated to post it because I could it personally did not wow me as much as it did for others. I figured that most of my readers had already seen the video at least twice. No need to beat it to death. I agree whole-heartedly, that there are so many single stories out there of a wide diversity of Nigerian experiences. The story of the experience of mixed race Nigerians has *yet* to be explored.

    @the rest (sorry, you all happened to be saying the same thing...) - Like I said, I did not finished the talk. Quite possibly if I had, I probably would have pledged my undying allegiance to Adichie. The point of my piece (and what Azuonye was alluding to) was that Adichie's story was all too familiar to me - maybe not to her Western audience - but to me, it was "been there done that." For me, I am bit over the same old narrative Adichie represents amongst some Nigerians that finally "discover" their African story once they leave the continent. That was my major qualm about the talk. That and the fact that the same West she castigates as providing her with the "single story" of blue eyes and snowflakes, is the same West that provides her a means to explore her Africanness (creative writing degree at JHU, Masters in African Studies at Yale). the very West that imposes such stories, is the West that I grew up in in which Achebe's Things Fall Apart was mandatory high school reading. To me, the beginning portion of her talk was a turn-off. Is this not the same woman who was brought up in the university town of Nsukka - and yet she claimed to be sheltered from the African literary genius that oozed 4rm her surroundings when Nsukka was at its prime (relatively speaking - compared to now). Sorry, folks, I am not terribly sympathetic. Just a general, very stereotypical observation, I must admit - but middle to upper class Nigeria seems to fetishize western goods when at home and then immediately one hits western shores, a pride for Africanness, hitherto unexplored, suddenly develops. I find that this is somehow the case for Ms Adichie, who as Azuonye pointed out, initially went by Amanda until she became more radicalized in the west and re-adopted the name Chimamanda. Perhaps, if I were born of different circumstances, I too, may have also grown up reading the Babysitter club in order to "belong" instead of Nwapa and Emecheta. To reiterate - I have nothing against Adichie's talk, particularly and I adored her books. I just don't find her path to self-discovery all that exciting or different. As a result I tuned out.

  1. nneoma said...:

    now for specifics....
    @anengiyefa - "There seems to be such a need to express negativity in the face of something that is so glaringly true. And I don't understand why this is.." Like I said, I am a big fan of Adichie and I know my blasphemous rant against the Adichie TED talk may seem like I'm hating. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of her story or experiences, I just don't find her early experiences terribly novel or exciting.

    @Omosi T - I can understand why Adichie's talk would be featured literally everywhere. It is probably a shared experience or one that is found to be interesting amongst both Nigerians non-Nigerians.

    @Uzezi - And so did plenty others...I am not knocking that

    @Omo Oba - (have I mentioned that I miss you lots....anyway). Like I said, I know already that I will be accused of hating on Adichie. I am not critical of Adichie for the sake of being critical of Adichie. My impetus for writing the post was that I found someone else who happened to feel the same way I did about her talk. Notice that I never linked to her talk on my website nor did I help it go viral like literally every Nigerian on the net and their mother. It wasnt that I forgot, it was because I simply tuned out after a while because it was the same narrative I have heard time and time again. it doesn't mean that Adichie is any less amazing, but perhaps, to me, now she seems more human. It is great that people like Adichie who wield power are telling our stories, but I just found it sad that at one point in her life she actively denied our stories in favor of Amanda, blue eyes, and snowflakes. The idea that this story was imposed on her doesn't sync with the reality that she, moreso than other Nigerians, had access to African genius (grew up in a university town with parents as professors). And by all means, if her speech prevents another from another Africa=AIDS day, by all means, she should continue promoting her story. I just find it interesting that the very same West that supposedly imposed its story on her is the same West that provided her with the means to champion the African story. While she claims that the West imposed a single story, her claims promotes the single story about that same West.