I will be the first to admit that I have not always been as focused and interested in the issues I now write about. For a large part of my younger years I was the queen of random and useless knowledge. For example: I could quote word-for-word all of ‘When Harry Met Sally’; friends called on my expert knowledge of entertainment and celebrities during pub quizzes; and I could sing the full rap from the opening credits of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’. I didn’t often investigate events I saw in the news any further than perhaps reading the article on the news website, or chatting with my flatmates about it. I relied on other people to give me a ‘perspective’ on places that I didn’t have any real link to. As Chimamanda Adichie said in the video above, I could have very easily fallen into the ‘single story’ trap in my view of the world.
I’m not entirely sure when my attitude changed – all I know is it was quite a number of years ago. Now, instead of quoting ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and reading entertainment gossip, I’m quoting the Millennium Development Goals and reading books on community development, AIDS/HIV awareness campaigns, health and education initiatives and programmes, and climate change. Over the years, I have become so passionate about the need for action and change that I am taking a new career path. I see an article on the news, and I find myself wanting the whole story. I will read, digest, react, share and respond. I recognise that it my own responsibility to be informed and engaged with these subjects.
I also have to face the frustrating fact that not everyone has the same attitude. The misunderstanding and cynicism that lurks in people who are trapped in a ‘single story view’ comes to the forefront when they are faced with humanitarian disasters and charity appeals. I have seen and heard some ill-informed and prejudiced views that only serve to emphasise how little they know about the people and the place they are talking about, how little they understand about the culture and way of life of the people of the nation that is now in crisis, and how naive they are to think that they could solve it if ‘they were in charge’.
These recent comments I read and heard regarding the current crisis in East Africa:
“If the Horn Of Africa is prone to drought, then why do they live there? Why don’t they just move instead of sitting waiting for us to help them?”
“Their problem is there’s too many mouths to feed. They should stop having so many kids. It’s their own fault.”
“We gave them money already – why is it not fixed?”
These attitudes struck me as being so very removed from the fact that they are talking about real people, and real lives. It is, of course, not entirely the fault of those who are expressing these views that they have this attitude. They have most likely been bombarded with negative images of ‘helpless people’, and may well have given money time and time again to charity appeals. Yet again they are seeing similar images on television and in their newspapers, and in many ways are becoming apathetic and often cynical towards these issues.
These opinions have been stated without the knowledge of the devastating effect of climate change on a region that used to be able to sustain families of pastoralists on its lush farmland, the rising food prices of up to 400% that made obtaining basic grain become out of reach for the average person, the need for procreation, not only in the knowledge that one in six children in your part of the world do not survive past the age of 5 , but also within a culture where family and tribe are your highest priority, the bloody civil war and fighting that has raged in a country that has been mostly forgotten by the ‘West’ and that aid agencies have been refused access to for many years.
To quote Chimamanda Adichie:
“The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes the recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
It made me consider the single stories that the ‘opinions’ had seen, and it made me wonder if these people would ever look at the bigger picture, inform themselves on the rest of the story, gain understanding of the reasons behind the headlines. Will they then realise that they are talking about people just like them?