This morning a friend shared a TED video with me. It is a talk from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the dangers of a single story. The stereotyping of a culture or society based on a single point of view set by someone else, for example, the entertainment or media industries or a single interaction with a person, is an easy trap to fall into – if you let it.
“Isn’t this what your blog and stories are all about? Sharing your experiences to demonstrate that the world more than it may seem?”
Yes, indeed it is.
Ms. Ngozi Adichie describes her experiences of having her college roommate stereotype her as a Nigerian and, generally, African. While frustrating for her as an individual, she explains how while living in the USA, she learned to understand why her roommate had such a limited view of “Africans”. She describes being asked random questions or having to explain the actions of people that she knows nothing about nor has any relevance.
I can relate as I traverse the world as an American abroad. Just as I might fall into the trap of assuming stereotypes, I have also been assumed as a stereotype. As an American, I have been asked:
- Do I own a gun?
- Why aren’t I fat?
- Did I grow up on a farm?
- Are my parents divorced?
- Am I a born-again Christian?
- Have I ever dated someone a different color than me? What did you my family say about it?
- Why is my government (insert just about anything from any year in here…)?
- When am I going back to the USA for good?
People are often surprised that I like flavorful beer, know that Europe isn’t a single country, *attempt* to learn other languages…
Obviously, I’m teasing those who tease me. While I always happy to try to broaden the perception of Americans, I can’t always explain what other Americans are doing or thinking! Its crazy to think that I could! The USA is a huge and varied country. I sometimes can’t explain other Americans because I don’t always relate to my fellow Americans. Just as I would listen to better understand an American with different views than myself, I do the same with others.
My worldview has evolved as I have traveled and befriended people from different cultures and places. Naturally, so did my point of view. It didn’t start out that way. I originally just wanted to do something different from my small hometown in the country. I started in my own country because it was cheap and there was plenty to see.
Yes, there are jerks and crooks out there. They are the same 2% as there are in any country – including the UK & USA. Sadly and unjustly, they often get the most exposure.
I know through experiences that 98% of the world has the exact same priorities – safety & family. Its only after those two areas are covered that enjoyment can be of importance. There might be differences in the definition of those concepts but, for most of the world, this is the real single story.