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Contemporary Western society has been battling stereotypes for decades. For some reason, however, these biased beliefs and ideas persist. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her speech “The Danger of a Single Story,” demonstrates the impact of biased ways of thinking, using examples from her own experience. Adichie explained that she desired to discuss “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a single story” (“The Danger of a Single Story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”).
A single-story is a stereotype based on a biased and highly limited perception of someone or something. Despite the contemporary trend of battling stereotypes, they remain very popular because of the single stories promoted by the media. Single stories can also be extremely dangerous because they are misleading and illusory.
Single Stories as Limited Perceptions
Whether deliberate or not, most people are guilty of stereotypical and biased thinking. Throughout her speech, Adichie mentions several examples where stereotypes formed single stories and shaped people’s perceptions of someone or something. She experienced stereotyping herself that was based on a single story as her university roommate demonstrated an extremely biased perception of Adichie as a native African person. Single stories may take the form of perceptions of people according to various aspects of their identities and backgrounds such as financial state, mental ability, sexual orientation, gender, age, and ethnicity, among others (Stangor 17–22).
The categorical perception that makes people prone to stereotyping is at the foundation of the cognitive processing on which humankind has relied throughout its history (Hinton 29–33). This categorical perception was an ability that helped humans survive and avoid many dangers.
Single Stories in Media
However, categorical thinking and radical judgment of other people are not as critical today as they might have been many centuries ago. As a result, modern people use critical thinking in reflecting on their surroundings and situations, seeking for the right answer. The problem is that a mind liberated by critical thinking is difficult to create in a society heavily influenced by media and its portrayal of various events and population groups.
Specifically, in the United States, mass media outlets are known for the promotion and popularization of biased and limited images of ethnic minorities (Sharples and Page-Gould). As a result, social tensions arise between different population groups, aggravating existing complications caused by a lengthy history of inequitable and unfair treatment of minority groups that have produced a series of challenges for their representatives living today.
Dangers of Single Stories
As a consequence of the divisive nature of stereotypes, the single stories that drive them can be very dangerous. In particular, these potentially destructive stories could gain significant power in the modern societies of the globalizing world, with its mixture of diverse populations and cultures. Single stories can work as binaries, creating an illusion of only one idea being correct and all others, therefore, false.
As they form people’s perspectives, single stories can make their owners blind toward many aspects of those stereotyped, producing hostility, judgment, disrespect, and conflict. This phenomenon was experienced by Adichie as a child, when she was inclined to perceive their house boy’s family solely as poor and limited so that it became impossible for her “to see them as anything else but poor” (“The Danger of a Single Story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”). This happens to almost anyone who relies on information received from just one source.
The belief that we live in a free world is common. However, not many may notice how thinking and impressions can be influenced and even formed by biased ideas. Their effect is especially strong when such ideas are repeated daily as they are in the media. Critical thinking based on research and collection of data from diverse sources provide the best way to battle stereotypes and add more sides to the single stories we face.
“The Danger of a Single Story | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.” YouTube. 2009. Web.
Hinton, Perry. Stereotypes, Cognition and Culture. Psychology Press, 2013.
Sharples, Amanda, and Elizabeth Page-Gould. “How to Avoid Picking Up Prejudice from the Media.” Greater Good Magazine. 2016. Web.
Stangor, Charles. Stereotypes and Prejudice: Essential Readings. Psychology Press, 2000.