Adichie’s “The Dangers of a Single Story” demonstrates why the humanities are so important: learning empathy. History is almost always written by the victors. Minority voices rarely have the opportunity to share their story, which silences thousands of voices, stories. This silencing of the oppressed allows us to avoid the uncomfortable truth of the past because the victors can leave out details of their mistakes, of the horrible atrocities committed, or the full scale of the victims’ suffering. However, this leaves us with a skewed understanding of history and our society. If we never hear those stories, we will never understand the world in “full color”— we will only see it in one shade. But how can we change this if we are only ever offered one side of the story?
In our youth, we read children’s books that tell stories of kids that are just like us. In school, history (and the humanities in general) is almost always taught from a Eurocentric perspective. We are so impressionable in what we hear, whether that’s from the news or a book or a movie. This vulnerability is what makes fake news especially dangerous; it isolates us from those who are different from us. Take, for example, a group like QAnon. They spread misinformation that takes advantage of people’s hatred for people that are different from them, which once again promotes an “us vs them” mentality. They also capitalize on people’s discomfort for the unknown and the unfamiliar; it’s easy to rationalize hating someone you don’t know. Fake news isolates and separates groups of people.
Additionally, the single story creates stereotypes, which both forms and reinforces assumptions that guide our perception of the world around us and other places and cultures. Stories have the power to take away dignity from someone, but they also have the ability to repair it and promote empathy and human connection. Stories are told by those in power, and once a narrative has been spread, it’s hard to reverse it or change it. Those in control can decide which stories are heard and how they are presented– they form the definitive story. That’s why it’s so important that we are always creating new stories from different perspectives. Empowering those whose voices are diminished is the first step to creating a more equitable world. This also ties into our earlier discussion of who has the right to tell another’s story and cultural appropriation. If we can only tell stories of people that are just like us, how will we ever hear the narratives of those whose voices are distinguished. But we also have to consider the dangers of biases when telling another person’s story, whether conscious or unconscious. Reevaluating the current practice of storytelling is difficult, even uncomfortable, but important because it may allow for untold stories to be heard.