The Analysis of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk

The single-story is a depiction of an American game called The Telephone Game. The Telephone Game is familiar amongst many people, as it has been around since the mid-20th century. The game is popular amongst different ages, race, and ethnicities. Since the mid-20th century, it has gone through various name changes such as the Chinese Whisper, Russian Scandal, Russian Gossip or simply Telephone. The game begins with players standing in a straight line. The first person in line whispers a phrase in the ear of the person standing next to them. The remaining players whisper the phrase until it reaches the last person in line. Once it reaches the last player, he or she says the phrase out loud so everyone can hear how the phrase has changed through passing. The object of the game is to demonstrate how powerful misconceptions can be. During Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie TED talk, she states, “Show us something about people over and over and that is what we label them as.”

For instance, in her TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives an example of an American student, who after reading her novel about an abusive male character, came to the conclusion that Nigerian mean was abusive. Adichie responds sarcastically saying, “Having just read American Psycho, it is a shame that “all young American men are serial killers.” This is what she meant by the danger of a single-story. Referencing back to the telephone game, a single-story always starts with the whisper of a phrase about a person or place that has been passed down through people over time until they are labeled as such. The problem is that it leads to misconceptions, stereotypes and the untold truth about people and places. For example, many Americans think of China as being polluted and overpopulated; they think Chinese people eat cats and dogs, are loud, rude, obnoxious, loves math and not allowed to have more than one child. They think of African Americans as being athletes, aggressors, ignorant, meager, rambunctious, criminals, illiterate, only raised by one parent, and that they love fried chicken, watermelon, and greasy food. The American society is consumed with dominant, debasing, bias account of events of different people, reinforced by newspapers, television and other news sources, exploited in the name of free enterprise and in service to corrupt those around them.

There are two ways you can view the danger of a single story. The first level would be a micro level, the danger with a single-story being viewed on a micro-level is that it prevents people from connecting with others on a personal level. Secondly, we have the macro-level which exerts the use of power. According to Chimamanda, she argues that the power of a single story is dangerous for the reason that the one who receives the information lacks the full story and/or knowledge or they simply refused to understand that they’re always two sides to a story. This indicates that Laymon’s story in the book Heavy an American Memoir could be seen as a dangerous story, being that the book was written from Laymon’s perception. So, as a result, the reader received a one-sided story. Chimamanda stated in her TED talk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Laymon’s states on page 241, “I wanted to write a lie. You wanted to read a lie. I wrote this to you instead because I am your child, and you are mine. You are also my mother and I am your son. Please do not be mad at me, mama. I am just trying to put you where I bend. I am just trying to put us where we bend.” This statement illustrates that he knows his truth is coming from his point of view. He also understands that his mother's perception of the events that took place in his memoir Heavy might be remembered differently. In Kiese Laymon’s memoir, Heavy, he discussed many societal inequalities. Kiese mother saw education as something that will protect her son from police violence. Every day he went to Beulah Beauford’s house he was to write a report using their encyclopedias. Kiese mother was studying to get her Ph.D. and was employed at Jackson State as a professor. She was the only local black political scientist on TV. In Layman memoir on page 32, he recalls, “The way you over-pronounced your words, defended poor black communities, insisted on correcting everyone whose subjects and verbs didn’t agree made black folk in Jackson think we had plenty of lunch money, gas money, rent money, and light bill money.” In his memoir, Laymon recalls getting beat for not being perfect. On page 5 he states, “I cared about the way you’d grit your teeth when you beat me for not being perfect.” His mother replies, “I didn’t try to hurt you, I don’t remember hurting you as much as you remember being hurt.”

Which brings me to my next subject - violence. Violence surrounded Kiese as a young boy. Throughout the book, he discusses the different times and ways he was beaten by his mother for not being perfect. Kiese remembers cleaning his mother's bloody face and icing her swollen eye after she was beaten up by her boyfriend Malachi Hunter. Upon his father visit, his father’s shares a disheartening story about his mother who was raped by a sheriff in Enterprise, Mississippi. Kiese explains his understanding of violence: “My body knew things my mouth and my mind couldn't, or maybe wouldn't, express. It knew that all over my neighborhood, boys were trained to harm girls in ways girls could never harm boys, straight kids were trained to harm queer kids in ways queer kids could never harm straight kids, men were trained to harm women in ways women could never harm men, parents were trained to harm children in ways children would never harm parents, babysitters were trained to harm kids in ways kids could never harm babysitters. My body knew white folk was trained to harm us in ways we could never harm them.”

Last but not least, after one of Laymon’s students was kicked out of school for allegedly threatening her roommate, he knew he had to become the change he wanted to see, therefore, he joined the judicial board to prevent the same thing from happening to another one of his students due to their race, gender or sexuality. The next inequality I will identify is social class. Kiese noted in his book on page 189 that, “Nearly all of the students who visit me during office hours had been targeted, disciplined, exceptionalized because of their race, gender, and/ or sexuality.” During a judicial case of a small, smart white boy who was caught with a felonious amount of cocaine but did not receive expulsion, disciplinary probation or suspension because during his opening statement, he talked about being approached by a big dark man who made him purchase the cocaine. The disciplinary committee viewed this small, smart white boy opening as frightening and, therefore, could not hold him responsible for someone else’s actions. On page 32 of Laymon’s memoir, as Kiese and his mother headed home. Kiese mother said I’m just tired, Kie.” “I work hard. I really do. I work so hard. They never pay us what we’re worth.”

01 August 2022
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