The Danger of a Single Story

"Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story."
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Author 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preach out of Luke 5:27-32. I love this passage because it reveals what the Kingdom of God really looks like. The Kingdom of God isn't full of (self) righteous, religious people but rather it's a Kingdom full of misfits: tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, idolators, and worse. In this passage Levi, a tax collector, is approached by Jesus and Jesus says to him, "Follow me." 

As I meditated on these verses, I couldn't help but recall a Ted Talk I heard a few months ago given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled The Danger of a Single Story. I highly recommend her talk so check it out after reading this blog. One single story she experienced was when she moved to the United States for the first time and her American roommate asked how she had learned to speak English so well. What her roommate didn't know is that Adichie's dad was a professor, her mother was an administrator, and she herself had grown up in a conventional middle-class where English was the primary language in Nigeria. Her roommate then proceeded ask what her "tribal music" was and was quite disappointed when Adichie produced a tape of Mariah Carey. 

Adichie then shares about how people have a single story about Africa. A land of beautiful landscapes but also a land that is war-torn by violence and in need of AIDs relief. Single stories give one perspective about a place or person and defines who they are, rather than discovering the complexity of that place or person. 

And then I thought about my own experience of the single story. As an Asian American, what are the "single-stories" that are put on me? In the quote above Adichie says that it's not necessarily that stereotypes are untrue, but rather that they are incomplete. But how do these single-stories shape our identity? And what are the single stories we believe about others that impact the way we choose to engage them.  

As I married these two ideas together, it hit me! Jesus rejects the single story about us and enters into our story. Imagine if Levi was a victim of a single story as the Pharisees had portrayed him ("a sinner and tax collector"). Jesus may have never entered into his story and we wouldn't have the Gospel of Matthew. But what does Jesus do? He says to Levi, "Follow me" and then proceeds to have dinner with him in his house! How radical and scandalous is that?! 

Here are a few take-aways as we choose to reject the single story: 

  1. People's stories are not as simple as we may perceive them to be. Let's reject the single story and hear what people's stories really are. 
  2. If you have a resistance towards someone or people group, try inviting them over for dinner before you put any judgements or labels on them. 
  3. Ask yourself the question, "What are the single stories I believe about people? And how did I come to these conclusions?" 

Adichie closes her Ted Talk by saying, "When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place (or person), we regain a kind of paradise" (Parenthetical added). When we reject the single story about any person or place, we can experience heaven and earth being weaved together, we see God's Kingdom manifest in our communities and we allow Jesus to enter and redeem our broken stories. 

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I'd love to hear your comments! What is your experience with the single story stereotype? Please comment below.