Revisiting “The Danger of a Single Story” for #UnboundEq

I rewatched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” this morning.

(Ms. Adichie’s awesome webpage is here: https://www.chimamanda.com/)

I had watched this TED talk previously because it is, indeed, one of my sister Christy’s favorite TED talks of all time. Christy believes in the power of stories, and it is part of our family dynamic that anyone can rewrite the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives. Stories are fluid and while they usually have some number of facts involved, our affect regarding the story can definitely change. Christy’s writing her dissertation on storytelling in the workplace and how that affects employee PsyCap (taken from ResearchGate):

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 8.37.51 AM

But what struck me this time about this TED talk was not the power of the single story to dehumanize and disrespect others (which I meditated on the first time I watched it), but my response to her roommate in college and how I would have never had the same response.

I grew up in El Paso, TX (at least until I moved the summer before 9th grade). I was born on a U.S. military base in Landstuhl, Germany, but had horrible asthma and my dad requested a transfer to the driest climate possible. While there, he served as the commander of the Allied Student Battalion, which operated in conjunction with the Air Defense Missile School on base. Students from all over the world were welcomed to the School and, at least while my father was commander, honored for their contribution to the school. Different cultures were celebrated and I grew up in a house that was known for its hospitality, considering we had parties to celebrate the students in the Battalion at least once a month.

I can remember sitting quietly and listening to a dark-skinned Nigerian student and his wife tell stories about their homeland at one of these celebratory parties. I was about 5 ish years old. It was riveting because they were such good storytellers and I remember thinking something to the effect of, “yep, they’re just like me”.  Which, of course, they weren’t. But as a 5 year old, I think that association was vital in seeing the commonality between humans even in the midst of different homelands, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, etc.

That commonality is something I’ve had to relearn in the midst of understanding white privilege and what it means in the USA. Considering I grew up not only with the experience of the Allied Student Battalion but also in El Paso – a place where whites are definitely the minority, the white privilege lesson was a very difficult and horrifying lesson to learn. But it’s one I keep learning and for which I continue to understand new and deeper levels.

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