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The Danger of a Single Story

miaashley's picture

I try to think that I am open minded, liberal and a thoughtful individual. However, I have also many times been the reproducer, the victim, the oblivious consumer and the creator of a single story. When thinking about the stories I was told and those that I repeat, I know how easy it was when I was younger to believe the words I heard and take them for fact. It was not until much later that I realized I had to learn the language and culture of questioning what I heard people say to me. I think even how people learn to believe and trust is so deeply contextualized in the many intersections of their identity that influence how they view power, authority and respect.  I think in some communities/societies questioning stories and people is a strength and a quality that gives you agency and power. However, in other communities and families cultura, age or gender can have bearing on how you communicate the ability to question.

 I know that I cling to single stories. I hold onto them tightly as if doubting them is challenging me to confront buried contradictions and hypocrisies of many of my own beliefs. I wonder what is more difficult, to create a single story or to dismantle and destroy the single story perspective?

 It is nearly impossible to have lived experiences that cover the span of social issues that exist, thus it is no surprise how reliant individuals are on the media they consume, the books they read, the images they see and the experiences they witness as an outsider sitting on a bus, standing on a line at the grocery store or watching sitcoms about comedic fictional lives. I wonder how much we look for the single story we once heard and took as fact that even though multiple stories might be being told at the same time we are immune and blind to them because we are continuously searching for the same story we have already heard. I think that many stories are constantly being told, performed and crying out for attention all around us and even at the same time. it is harder to grasp and be aware of all those stories and it is easier to simply filter out the story that most resembles one we have already accepted as fact. I think it took me many years and confrontations with my own thoughts and other people to realize I disagreed with many of the stories I stored and reproduced to others.

 I wonder when is the idea of a single story considered dangerous and when is it okay. Is it the consequences of a single story where people act with hate or anger or where people direct care or sensitivity? To what extent does having a dangerous single story at least provoke a conversation and a single story of empathy convolute or mask a story of pity? While I think it is extremely valuable to think about the danger of a single story, I do also value the uniqueness that single stories have in capturing the narrative of a person’s individual experience that deserves recognition on its own. I think what needs to be cautioned in addition to the stories that are told is how people perceive them. We need to be conscious of ourselves as reproducers just as much we are consumers. 


alesnick's picture

experience and reproduction

I appreciate this reflection of the complex processes of experience, representation, and reproduction.  To add to the complexity, happens when we consider experience to include our experience of representation and reproduction?!  Your point that personal experience can never span human experience is a helpful take-off point.  Also helpful is your question about how to use/take up single stories . . . not as end/limit but as entry point?  Do you think of a specific story to flesh this out?