Food for the Flock June 24
Last week I listened to the TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story.” If you have not listened to it, it’s not too late: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en
I enjoyed the examples and the humor shared by novelist Chimamanda Adichie. I could see how a young reader from Nigeria would develop a picture of her own culture based on British and American children especially when British and American books were most available. Or the houseboy who was initially only known as poor, until she discovered he was creative and artistic. It got me thinking about my own experiences.
As a child I received my own subscription to National Geographic as a Christmas present from my Nana. It was a fantastic magazine that brought adventures of the Kon-Tiki expedition into my home. There were articles about the space race and different countries. The photographs introduced me to people from around the world. I remember pictures of black women with lip plates and numerous ornaments around the neck that stretched it like a giraffe neck. There were photos of men with a bone piercing the nose.
What if those were the only photographs I had ever seen? I would have a skewed understanding of people from the continent of Africa.
The TED Talk made me think of the various stereotypes we have about white and black people. White people cannot dance, or white kids get away with backtalking parents. (Backtalking was never acceptable in my house. I suspect not in yours either.)
The stereotypes for blacks are equally absurd. They are unintelligent, loud, violent and unpredictable. One has to do with the unusual appetite blacks have for watermelons. After the Civil War blacks often grew, ate and sold watermelons. The watermelon was initially a symbol of freedom that got turned into a symbol of poverty and slovenly behavior. Poverty because a watermelon was not a cash crop like rice, cotton, or tobacco making it difficult to sustain a household. Slovenly because there was no tidy way to consume watermelon with one’s fingers. From this stereotype cartoons emerged that reflected badly on people of color. It helps to understand the history of such stereotypes.
Thirteen years ago a newspaper headline was printed after the shootings at Virginia Tech: “Are they teaching students at Virginia Tech to kill each other?” The single story focused on the shooting of 33 people in 2007. The article implied that the influences of backwater western Virginia had something to do with the tragedy. The reputation of VA Tech became one story. It never mentioned the programs researching nuclear engineering, architecture and the advancements in farming or animal husbandry.
I can see how the danger of a single story begins. It’s important to poke and prod the back roads of history. The nooks and crannies of cultural identity to discover the numerous strands of a story.
There is so much I need to learn. This week I’m going to watch I Am Not Your Negro. It is available on Amazon Prime. It’s free until the end of the month.