Recently, I came across a Ted Talk entitled, “The danger of a single story” by the Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She spoke about her journey with literature as a child, and how literature made a deep impact on her thinking and viewpoint of the world. Growing up in Nigeria, Chimamanda read story books that had characters with blond hair and blue eyes. The characters in such books would drink ginger beer and talk about the weather, so she too believed that the only characters in books were American. The belief that literature only contained stories from a single perspective is what influenced her younger self into writing about boys and girls with blond hair drinking tea and conversing about the weather. Though she could not connect or relate to the characters she wrote about, her point of view was narrowed by the single story shared in literature.
This Ted Talk propelled me into reflecting on my own writing journey. As a kid, I too enjoyed creating stories about made-up characters and would actively participate in creative writing class at school. I looked at the story that I wrote as a 10-year-old and was surprised that I too had been in the same position as Chimamanda. All the characters I wrote about had fair skin, blue eyes, and American names. Mind you, I lived in a community that was predominantly South Asian and all my friends were South Asian as well, so how did I end up perceiving the world through a single story?
From the books I read, to the actors on TV, the media had successfully instilled in me the ability to only experience the world through a single perspective. Growing up watching television, I never questioned why there were no girls with dark skin like me or characters who had Asian names. I simply accepted the fact that the only stories that TV shows tell are of those who are Caucasian. Books and tv shows that lacked representation and diversity made the younger me feel as though she was lacking something and created a constant comparison between my life and that of fictional characters.
As we progress into the future, where people from different backgrounds work together, society must realize the dangers of a single story. A single story creates stereotypes about different cultures. The film industry is a good example of how race-based casting has a significant impact on how people of a certain origin are viewed. South Asians are typically cast as the nerdy, anti-social friend who is deemed as unattractive. Raj Koothrappali from The Big Bang Theory was exactly that. Throughout all 12 seasons, Raj maintains his ‘nerdy’ persona and his inability to successfully maintain a relationship with a girl. Raj was also consistently the butt of their jokes, with many of the jokes questioning his sexuality. Another example is Ravi from the tv show Jessie. Ravi was also laughed at for his ‘nerdy’ personality and was deemed as the unattractive sibling of the bunch. Media’s many attempts to desexualize Asian men showcases how this single story creates a stereotype in people’s minds. People of color get placed into a box, limiting the expansion of their character and their ability to tell their story.
Change is happening in society. Slowly but surely, the media has become more about diversity. Characters of color who have real struggles and a personality are being represented in tv shows, literature and in the news. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians, Never Have I Ever debunk the stereotypes surrounding people of color. Books like ‘The Hate You Give’, and ‘The Color Purple’ bring to light a different perspective than what is overdone in popular media culture. Everyone has a story to tell, and representation is the first way to broaden our perspective. Understanding that we have been conditioned to view not only people of different races, but ourselves as well, through a single perspective, can help you look at others and yourself without the narrow pinhole of a single story.