Our lives are composed of stories, hundreds of impressions, moments and experiences that shape the way we think. With so many stories, it is not surprising that misunderstandings can occur when an individual or even a culture or country is thought of as one version of bias. Chimamanda Ngozi, a novelist from eastern Nigeria, describes a single story as “to base people on one thing, shown over and over again, and that one thing is what they become.” With bias being so normalized in today’s society, there are many dangers to having a single story. Single stories create separations between cultures and humanity, cause misunderstandings about individuals, and create uneducated judgments.
The Danger in a Single Story, a TED talk performed by Chimamanda Ngozi, was a powerful speech. Chimamanda described her experiences with single stories and bias, and how they affected her life. Humans are very impressionable, and can easily be accepting of an idea that they don’t fully understand or know more information about. Children are even more vulnerable and affected by stories and bias. When Chimamanda was young, she read many British books. These British books were filled with concepts that were foreign to Chimamanda and her life in Nigeria. The characters were pale, ate apples, talked about the weather and Chimamanda embraced the concepts of western literature. Because western literature were the only types of stories available to her at the time, they gave Chimamanda the impression as she was growing up that literature could not consist of cultures like her own. With that, she was faced with a single story of literature. Chimamanda described the harsh realities of western thought and the misunderstandings that a single story can give about a person or country. I agree with the way the speaker described her ideas about bias and perspective, and how they influence societies. The talk begs to question what life would be like if single stories were rejected, and people would have to base their impressions on many stories to create their personal opinions.
When bias is created about cultures or countries, it creates a separation between cultures and humanity. It then is no longer as easy to recognize humans as being equal. As Chimamanda said in her talk, “It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult.” Chimamanda is describing the types of impressions that divide humans with bias. Take for example the ideas that are associated with Africa; poverty, illness, and famine. Often when the media describes Africa, they describe it with a single story of disaster, of catastrophe. It becomes very difficult to then see the continent as so much more than that bias. It becomes difficult to then see the beauty and succus that countries and people in Africa have strived to contain. In my experience in Morocco, I found myself trapped in my bias and impression of the country. I created a box of what I had seen or heard from the media, and I let that control my impression of the country before I even arrived in the city of Tanger. It is very easy to fall into that way of thinking, but it has negative consequences. Morocco has been portrayed by the media to be a dangerous country, with problems with women’s rights, economic troubles, and overall a chaotic society. Before traveling there, I wasn’t able to imagine the kind people I was bound to meet or the beautiful landscapes or towns I would be lucky enough to see. I had a single story of Morocco, and it affected the way that I viewed the country until I created my own experience, my own story of my impression of the country.
Stories of individuals are also types of bias that can negatively affect the way a person is viewed, and It can also create misunderstandings. In the TED talk, Chimamanda describes the feeling of pity was also a type of emotion the speaker encountered in many of the experiences she had with people. She found herself feeling pity for Fide, her family’s new houseboy, when her mother explained how much poverty Fide and his family were in. Poverty became the only impression Chimamanda had of Fide. Chimamanda described in her talk that single stories draw lines between individuals, and create differences rather than similarities. I often create impressions of people I don’t know that well, based upon what I’ve heard or seen from other people. This type of judgment takes away from the actual qualities of the person and can create misunderstandings or confusion. I believe that it is the best way to make an impression of a person is by ignoring the bias or impressions that other people or the media have about this person, and take the time to really base your story of the person from your own experiences. Ideas should be balanced, and there is no reason to create impressions completely based upon other people’s impressions of an individual.
When people use bias and impressions based on personal opinions, they are choosing to accept an uneducated state of being. Personal opinions may come from experience or research, but they are often biased and do not leave room for individuals to consider whether or not to accept these ideas. The Cambridge definition of bias is, “The action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment”. This definition explains that by allowing personal opinions to influence your judgment, it is unfair to the individual. Impressions should be neutral, with little influence of other media’s bias, and it should be taken into consideration that stereotypes make our experiences one-dimensional. I believe that it is impossible to truly understand a person without knowing their stories or experiences, without stepping into their shoes. By being open-minded and educated, you will be able to accept a person or culture based upon your own experiences, and putting aside the surrounding tensions from others.
In today’s world, bias and impressions from the media seem unavoidable, but by accepting judgment based on other people’s personal opinions, it is difficult to separate your own individual thought about a person, place or culture. As Chimamanda Ngozi described in her talk, stories are built from experiences, and every story deserved to be taken into consideration before an opinion about a person or thing is made. Separating cultures and humanity, creating misunderstandings about individuals, and accepting uneducated judgments are all consequences of single stories. It is important to take a moment to think before basing an impression of someone simply from one single story because life is composed of many overlapping stories that can change or affect the lives of others for the better.