Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story 02

Part Two
  • I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. 
    • My father was a professor. 
    • My mother was an administrator. 
    • And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. 
    • So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. 
      • His name was Fide. 
    • The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. 
    • My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. 
    • And when I didn't finish my dinner my mother would say, 
      • "Finish your food! Don't you know? 
      • People like Fide's family have nothing." 
    • So I felt enormous pity for Fide's family.
  • Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit. 
    • And his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket, made of dyed raffia, that his brother had made. 
      • I was startled. 
    • It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. 
    • All I had heard about them is how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. 
      • Their poverty was my single story of them.
  • Years later, I thought about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. 
    • I was 19. 
    • My American roommate was shocked by me. 
      • She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. 
      • She asked if she could listen to what she called my "tribal music," and was consequently very dissapointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. 
      • She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.
  • 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.

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