The Danger of a Single Story

Dynamo is my bestie. My boo. He is also Muslim. Worse, Syrian.

Call the cops, y’all.

Even in Canada, this wonderful country, the anti-muslim spirit is present. One of Dynamo’s friends got asked, following the Paris attacks, “Whaddya mean, you’re Muslim?! You look normal!” I saw this cartoon several times in my Facebook newsfeed by Canadian friends who deplored our new Prime Minister’s plan to welcome 10,000 Syrian Refugees into Canada in 2015.

I get it. Times are scary. Some threats are legitimate. But it FREAKS ME OUT when I hear some of the rhetoric out there. Donald Trump makes me nauseous. Most of the American media does too. I get anxiety attacks when I hear echoes of that hateful speech north of the border. Canadians, remember our heritage:


I leave you with a Ted Talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – The Danger of a Single Story.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story, there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.

I can’t write down what I believe the current single-story about Muslims to be, in North-America. I will not. It is too upsetting. I come from a family, broken by WWII. Each of my grandparents lived through and witnessed horrors that forever maimed them, damaged my parents, who then influenced me & my cousins, because of a war started over a single story about Jews. Now, I look around me, and I fear the single-story growing about my best friend, his family, and so many others.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.

That is why the current American rhetoric is so dangerous. It doesn’t matter that Trump might never get elected. He is shaping a single story that will do damage.

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

Which is why the work being done by Humans of New York is so important. He finds the humanity of all people he interviews. He is telling their stories.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

The American writer Alice Walker wrote this about her Southern relatives who had moved to the North. She introduced them to a book about the Southern life that they had left behind. “They sat around, reading the book themselves, listening to me read the book, and a kind of paradise was regained.”

I would like to end with this thought: That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.

Wouldn’t a kind of paradise be nice?






  1. If it’s any consolation, the most Googled phrase during the Republican debates was “How to become a Canadian citizen.”

    Yes, there is a great deal of ignorance and hatred in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world. Fear does that. The fear is irrational – there are so many terrible things that can happen to someone, and being attacked by Muslim extremists is a relatively low occurrence. Being shot by some gun-toting right wing extremist is more likely, but the media doesn’t exactly harp on that.

    One ray of hope NOT covered in mainstream media – the grassroots campaign of Bernie Sanders. For all of Donald Trump’s hate speech, the candidate who has fought on the side of Civil Rights for decades is more popular than “The Donald.” And despite the media blackout, word is still getting out there.

    Stay strong, Canada – you are a light in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post because I feel exactly the same way as you do. My brother in-law and one of my cousins’ husbands have both shocked me over the past few months with their anti-Muslim, ultra-conservative rhetoric, to the point where I loathed having to be in same room as my brother in-law. Luckily, he has toned it down since seeing how upset he was getting me. We are a country built on liberal, inclusive values and we have to stay that way. Are current events in the world scary? Yes, they most definitely are, but we mustn’t lose sight of what has made Canada great because of fear. Then we’re just going to end up like the Trump lovers down below us and that scares me even more…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 100% agree.

      My father sometimes blusters ignorant statements about Muslims and it upsets me so much. I once asked him to stop the car so I could get out, aborting a trip. Dramatic? Yes. But it was that or say things that would be unforgivable.

      Ignorance can’t be reasoned with. THAT is scary.

      Liked by 1 person

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