The Danger of a Single Story


Hi everyone!

               During class this week, we discussed teaching “hard history” (Learning for Justice), including slavery and American Indians. Within this topic, we explored the history we learned and what is still taught (Columbus, Presidents with enslaved people, etc.); collectively, we felt this was not doing anyone justice. As mentioned in previous posts and classroom discussions, we can not ignore parts of history; although we morally may not want to talk about Columbus, we need to (even if it is just to fulfill the SOL). However, we do our due diligence and tell both sides of the story.

               We watched the first two minutes of The TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story   (or if you’re in Diverse Learners, the entire talk); I remember in high school also watching it after talking about The Carlisle School. We are always so quick to tell our students and children, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” “give someone more than one chance,” etc., but we are hypocrites by only giving a single story when teaching history. I loved Adichie’s point to start with “secondly,” begin the story of American Indians with their arrows instead of the ships coming in from England; this does not eliminate either storyline but still tells an entirely different story. We can see this too with the book A Fine Dessert; unintentionally, the author tells three different single stories which worked to normalize slavery, the elite whites, and the division of labor. This is a single-story, but it is not the whole story – luckily, Dr. Stohr has shared with us multiple books and resources to utilize when looking for an appropriate and complete story to teach our students.

               Do you all have any single stories that stand out in particular to you? Further, have you given into the single story? Even Adichie, conscious of her thoughts and actions, fell victim to subscribing to a single story. Lastly, any thoughts on her talk? I find it so powerful, and despite seeing it multiple times, I’m always moved and entertained by her words.

Have a great spring break y’all (‘:

5 thoughts on “The Danger of a Single Story

  1. Hey Aiden!

    Thank you for your blog post. I am so glad you brought this video up. I have probably seen it in at least 10 classes starting in middle school for human development, English, and FYS classes as well as at all school assemblies. Watching this video for a class in which we prepare ourselves for teaching valuable history is a different experience. Never in my other viewings of the video have I thought about the “danger of a single story” in the perspective of educators and taking a look at what is being taught and what should be taught.

    I would like to agree and emphasize that we are hypocrites in promoting the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” because educators are still only teaching the normative one-sided perspective of history. I also love that you bring up the point about how Adichie mentions that there is the side of American Indian history that portrays them as carrying Indians and there is another side that portrays them as individuals on ships departing England. I have seen many books and images in general that depict American Indians mostly as the first side I mentioned. This single story creates stereotypes that nurture people into believing that there is only one side of the story as the other sides of the story are buried in inaccurate representations.

    The single story that I’ve heard and that stands out to me is that Hispanics (Mexicans) in the U.S. are illegal immigrants and are stealing jobs from Americans. Hispanics in this context have always been portrayed in a negative context and, even though I have never had any negative experiences with people about this, I was always self-conscious. I did not speak English until I was in second grade, so I still had a bit of the “Mexican accent” until the beginning of middle school. I took the time out of each day to get the American accent because I did not want to the fit the stereotype, the single story.

    No matter how many times I watch this talk, I never get tired of it. It serves as a reminder for educators to strive to do students the justice of teaching them history the right way – teaching many sides to a story. Even though we may not get to cover or even touch on a lot of the sides to these stories, our attempts will hopefully inspire students to be more passionate and curious when learning history, enabling them to navigate their own learning outside of the class and perhaps connecting what they have learned outside of the class in the class.

  2. Thanks for this great post, Aiden!

    I’m trying to think of a “single story” or dominant narrative I’ve encountered recently, and the one that stands out to me from this semester is the story of Rosa Parks as elementary school textbooks tell it. According to the standard narrative, Parks was a solitary woman, tired after a day’s work, who was simply too “stubborn” to move seats. (I specifically remember that word; it bothered me because it’s a word associated both with children and with animals, like mules.) According to the textbook, Parks’ unwillingness to give her place to a white passenger then kicked off a whole movement to integrate public transportation in Montgomery. Now, granted, this, in and of itself, is not the worst story to tell, but nevertheless, the story does not give Parks the credit that is due to her for her actions, nor does it look at Parks’ protest within a larger context. What we see by studying primary sources and looking at multiple accounts, is that Parks’ so-called “stubbornness” was more like strategic defiance; tensions over the buses had been building for quite some time in Montgomery and boycotts had been discussed by activist groups. Moreover, we find out that many organizers were already communicating with the city and elected officials regarding public transportation integration, people like Jo Ann Robinson and the Women’s Political Council. By considering more than one story, we also learn that there had been previous incidents of individuals refusing to give up seats (Claudette Colvin), and we are pressed to think about why Colvin’s actions were not as catalytic as Parks. In this light, Rosa Parks’ protest was certainly an act by a heroic individual, but we should also understand that Parks was working alongside many other brave activists and grassroots organizers. By zooming out and looking at these multiple stories, I think we get closer to the truth of how history is made and how social change actually happens.

  3. Aiden,

    I also find Adichie’s TED Talk incredibly inspiring! I think we are all guilty of giving into the single story at one point or another. In this class, we have learned to make sure to teach history from multiple perspectives. We need to be particularly cognizant of whose voices are not being heard.

    In today’s political climate (specifically in Virginia), I think the single story being emphasized is a whitewashed one. Many do not want to face difficult historical truth or the extent of systemic racism. Instead of striving for equity, they are unwilling to admit inequity exists. Critical Race Theory is expressly forbidden. This is very concerning to me, and as we discussed in class, I worry about walking the line between being an honest/quality educator and keeping my job.

    When I was young, I was exposed to a very limiting belief system. Under this belief system, I tended to judge others who did not believe the same things I did. When I was older, I realized that I was confining many people to a single story. I am sure there are examples in my adult life, but I can not think of one offhand. Of course, as teachers, we need to be careful not to limit students to single stories. We are all complex humans.

    The video is truly powerful and an important message applicable in many contexts. Thanks for giving us a chance to discuss!

  4. Aiden, thank you so much for your insightful post. I actually had not watched the entire video featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so I wanted to thank you for including it for reference. I watched it and found it entertaining, informative and fascinating.

    Sadly, I have given in to the single story and the one that comes to mind at this moment is the one of Thanksgiving. I am embarrassed to admit not giving much thought to the Native Indian perspective when learning about Thanksgiving or the colonial time period. I only thought of Native Americans in terms of the past and had not given any thought that they were still present in society today. Growing up, a friend of mine had Native American ancestry but she was completely assimilated into our culture so I didn’t give much thought to her family being any different.

    When I listened to the Adichie talk, I was reminded about what my thoughts were about Israel growing up. I remember thinking the entire area was a desert! I had no concept there were businesses, traditional homes, roads, etc. I had only thought of Israel in terms of the Bible stories I was learning. When my mom told me we had family living there, I remember wondering how they could possibly be surviving in the desert! I realize this sounds like I was a complete moron as a child but what I am taking from this example now is the importance of sharing more of the story and not just one side or a single story when teaching about historic events AND places. -Erika

    (Images from Israel today!);_ylt=AwrJ61sYVi5icuUAci9XNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZANBRzIyMV8xBHNlYwNzYw–?p=what+does+israel+look+like+today&fr=mcafee

  5. Hi Aiden,

    Thank you for your post this week, I really enjoyed it. I watched this whole talk for the first time a few semesters ago in Diverse Learners. I was so moved by her words and I believe it drove my passion for teaching even further. I think the two single stories that I did fall into before knowing the truth as an adult were Christopher Columbus and how he treated Native Americans and others, and the story of Rosa Parks. Growing up, Columbus was praised in school. I thought he was a man who did no wrong and that we were here solely because of him and he was friends with the Indians and all was well. That is so far from the truth it is funny, but I’ve wondered why he was praised so much to young children with the actual truth hidden. And with the Rosa Parks story, I never knew that she was sitting in a “dead section”. I always thought she was sitting in the whites-only section and that’s why she got in trouble. NO! She did absolutely nothing wrong and I had no idea. I hope as a teacher to expand stories for my students and open their eyes to more information and books to give them the healthy truth.


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