The Danger of a Single Story

The 18 min TedTalk, The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was filmed in July 2009. In the talk, Adichie shares what she calls, “the danger of a single story” and the false understandings that can arise when only the single side of a story is heard. Adichie shows the powerful opportunity of storytelling- to hear the many different sides of a story and have a more complete understanding of a person, a situation, a reality. Below is the full talk and a brief excerpt of the transcript, and it can also be viewed at site here.

From the transcript…

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.

I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called “American Psycho” and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers. Now, obviously I said this in a fit of mild irritation.

But it would never have occurred to me to think that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. This is not because I am a better person than that student, but because of America’s cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America. I had read Tyler and Updike and Steinbeck and Gaitskill. I did not have a single story of America.

When I learned, some years ago, that writers were expected to have had really unhappy childhoods to be successful, I began to think about how I could invent horrible things my parents had done to me. But the truth is that I had a very happy childhood, full of laughter and love, in a very close-knit family.

But I also had grandfathers who died in refugee camps. My cousin Polle died because he could not get adequate healthcare. One of my closest friends, Okoloma, died in a plane crash because our fire trucks did not have water. I grew up under repressive military governments that devalued education, so that sometimes, my parents were not paid their salaries. And so, as a child, I saw jam disappear from the breakfast table, then margarine disappeared, then bread became too expensive, then milk became rationed. And most of all, a kind of normalized political fear invaded our lives.

All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. 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.

Of course, Africa is a continent full of catastrophes: There are immense ones, such as the horrific rapes in Congo and depressing ones,such as the fact that 5,000 people apply for one job vacancy in Nigeria. But there are other stories that are not about catastrophe, and it is very important, it is just as important, to talk about them.

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.

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.

About Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.

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Re-imagining and Restoring Justice: Toward a Truth and Reconciliation Process to Address Violence Against African-Americans in the US

The webinar, Re-imagining and Restoring Justice: Toward a Truth and Reconciliation Process to Address Violence Against African-Americans in the US, was hosted by Carl Stauffer and speaker guest, Fania Davis, and occurred March 16, 2016 on Zehr Institute‘s site. In the hour and a half long webinar, Stauffer and Davis discuss the restorative-justice based, Truth and Reconciliation Movement. Davis begins with sharing her personal story and how her path led to restorative justice and the Truth and Reconciliation Movement. In this process, Davis explains, one asks the questions, “how can we tell the truth, promote accountability and transform social structures that are totally different?”. Like the restorative justice frame, participants come together to share their truths, listen to other perspectives, offer support to those affected, and work through the experiences in a way that heals trauma. Throughout the webinar, Stauffer and Davis talk about restorative justice processes around the world and how they shaped the Movement, current Truth and Reconciliation processes going on in the US and finally, the webinar is wrapped up with a Q&A.

You can find the full webinar below or on Zehr Institute’s site here.

From the Zehr Institute…

The recent wave of internationally publicized police killings in the U.S. has sparked a national race conversation and passionate outcry for justice. But the current justice system cannot deliver the justice we seek – it is itself a perpetrator of massive structural harm. Also, killings of unarmed black people are contemporary expressions of centuries of unhealed racial traumas reaching all the way back to the birth of our nation, morphing from slavery to sharecropping and lynching, from Jim Crow to convict leasing, and to mass incarceration and deadly police practices today. Prevailing justice lacks the capacity to redress racialized historical harm. Yet, until we as a nation interrupt intergenerationally-transmitted racial traumas, we are doomed to perpetually re-enact them.  If the justice system as we know it cannot adequately redress the long legacy of racial trauma in this country, can we imagine and engender a justice that can? A more capacious justice: one that promotes truth-telling, accountability, and reparations? Can we envision a justice that transforms relationships and social structures, grounding them in a mutual recognition of one another’s humanity?  A justice that allows us as a nation, racially-fractured for centuries, to heal and build a new future together?

This webinar explores the possibility of a restorative justice-based Truth and Reconciliation Movement as our best hope.

We need to think about justice in a completely different way. How do we envision and imagine justice that can interrupt the historical cycles of racial trauma? How do we transform this historical harms, so that the killings can stop? How do we view accountability? How do we hold system accountable?

Below is the full webinar and it can also be found on Zehr Institute’s site here.

About Dr. Fania Davis
She is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY). Coming of age in Birmingham, Alabama during the social ferment of the civil rights era, the murder of two close childhood friends in the 1963 Sunday School bombing crystallized within Fania a passionate commitment to social transformation. For the next decades, she was active in the civil rights, Black liberation, women’s, prisoners’, peace, anti-racial violence and anti-apartheid movements.

About Zehr Institute
The leaders of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) announced the founding of the Zehr Institute at the end of the fall 2012 semester. The Zehr Institute spreads knowledge about restorative justice and is a resource to practitioners, while facilitating conversations and cultivating connections through activities like conferences and webinars. The institute is co-directed by Howard Zehr, distinguished professor of restorative justice, and Carl Stauffer, assistant professor of justice and development studies at CJP.

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What’s Race Got to Do with It? (Video)

The 49-minute video, What’s Race Got to Do with It?, published by California Newsreel in 2006, shows the journey of a diverse group of 16 UC Berkeley students who participated in a semester-long intergroup dialogue program sponsored by University of California, Berkeley Ethnic Studies Department and Stiles Hall. The students were part of the class, “FACING YOU, FACING ME: Race, Class & Gender Among UCB Student Leaders”, led by David Stark and co-facilitator, Jerlena Griffin-Destaco. An online facilitator’s guide is available on PDF here.

Below is a six minute clip from the video:

More about the film…
This excerpt comes from the film’s site,

More than 40 years after the Civil Rights Movement, America faces the paradox of being a nation “with racism, but without racists,” as sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has put it. Racial inequality is harder to recognize in a world where it no longer announces itself with white-only signs. Meanwhile, the idea of “colorblindness” conveniently allows us to condemn prejudice and bigotry while ignoring how racism contributes to the vast disparities that persist right under our noses.

Not surprisingly, many of today’s students, born in the post-Civil Rights era, don’t seek out opportunities to engage in diversity programs and interracial dialogue. They feel they’ve heard it all before or wonder why we’re still talking about a problem that ended a long time ago. More often than not in these discussions, structural racism is ignored and multiculturalism gets confused with equality. Even many students of color don’t realize how underlying conditions impact opportunity.

Too few resources exist to help young people scrutinize their own assumptions, beliefs and attitudes about race – using language they understand, spoken by their peers. At a time when campuses are struggling to close achievement gaps, foster inclusion, and promote diversity – while equity initiatives across the country are under attack – we responded to the demand for a new tool that is up to date and speaks directly to students’ doubts and concerns in today’s post-Civil Rights world.

What’s Race Got to Do with It? chronicles the journey of a diverse group of students participating in a 15-week intergroup dialogue program at U.C. Berkeley. As the students share personal stories, debate hot topics, and confront one another about the role race plays in their lives, they make discoveries about their preconceived ideas and assumptions, and in so doing, help us begin to disentangle our own.  The film goes beyond identity politics, celebratory history and guilt trips to help viewers “see through” achievement myths and create a safe space for open, honest exchange, particularly within educational environments.

In some ways, What’s Race Got to Do with It? is a “sequel” to our earlier release Skin Deep, because it highlights an interracial dialogue and provides a window into the different attitudes and assumptions that young people hold about race and equality.However, it goes further by highlighting the unique challenges and obstacles that students from disadvantaged backgrounds face compared to their peers (e.g., isolation, discomfort, underrepresentation, lack of encouragement and support, financial and emotional stress, societal disparities) and helping us understand the structural and institutional conditions underlying those difficulties.

In addition, the film focuses not just on what’s being said but also what’s not being discussed openly – the underlying fears, frustration, ignorance and confusion that render unproductive so many of our conversations about racism. The film spotlights the stories young people use to rationalize (to themselves and others) the persistence of racial disparities as well as the rhetorical strategies and often-loaded language they employ to evade, resist or deflect ideas that are unsettling. And it reveals just how different our experiences and perceptions can be of the world we ostensibly share – how something that is painfully obvious to one person can be invisible to another.

What’s Race Got to Do with It? does not attempt to replicate the experience of the class nor does it supply easy answers or address the concerns of every group. What it does provide is a starting point for a deeper, more productive level of conversation – one grounded in real-life issues and experiences. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the students on screen, their stories help get the “high stakes” topics out on the table, in a manner accessible to individuals who have never thought much about race as well as long-time activists. Perhaps most importantly, the film challenges each of us to reflect on existing disparities and the responsibility we all share – individually and institutionally – to create more equitable conditions for everyone.

For more information about the UC Berkeley class or to learn how to start your own intergroup dialogue program, contact David Stark at 510-841-6010 or info[at]stileshall[dot]org.

Resource Link:

Deliberation in the Classroom

The 19-minute video, Deliberation in the Classroom, created for National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), was published January 2013. The video shows examples of students engaging in deliberation using NIFI issues guides at two different schools, one in Alabama and one in Wisconsin. The video shows the students getting ready for their deliberative forums, during the forums, and reflections afterwards from the students and teachers. Read more about the video and watch it below, or find the original on NIFI’s site here.

From NIFI…

This 19-minute YouTube video features students in Wisconsin and Alabama as they participate in deliberative forums using materials from the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI). In Birmingham, Alabama, teacher, Zakiya Jenkins, with assistance from Peggy Sparks, of Sparks Consulting, reflects on eighth-grade student deliberations about Youth and Violence. And in Wausau, Wisconsin, teachers Sarah Schneck, Shannon Young, and Kevin Krieg, discuss student deliberations about America’s Role in the World. The student forums in Wausau were hosted by John Greenwood of the Wisconsin Institute for Policy and Service.

Watch the video below:

About NIFI
NIF-Logo2014Based in Dayton, Ohio, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves to promote public deliberation and coordinate the activities of the National Issues Forums network. Its activities include publishing the issue guides and other materials used by local forum groups, encouraging collaboration among forum sponsors, and sharing information about current activities in the network. Follow on Twitter: @NIForums.

Resource Link:

Deliberation: A SUNY Broome & Windsor Middle School Collaboration

Deliberation: A SUNY Broome & Windsor Middle School Collaboration (2015), is an eight-minute video documenting the collaborative experience of students engaging in deliberation during the Fall 2014. The video shows the experience between SUNY Broome Civic Engagement Center and Windsor Middle School, where students used deliberation to better understand the American Revolution. Check out the video below or read more about in on NIFI’s blog here.

From NIFI…

Watch this eight-minute video about a collaboration between Windsor Middle School students and teachers; and State University of New York (SUNY), Broome, that introduced 7th and 8th graders to the practice of deliberating events in U.S. history as difficult choices among several possible approaches. The video was published to YouTube on June 24, 2015.

The following is excerpted from the YouTube description of the video:

“SUNY Broome and Windsor Central School District are working together to promote deliberative thinking and active participants in society. In Fall of 2014, with help from Lisa Strahley at SUNY Broome, Stefani Olbrys began deliberations with her 7th and 8th grade US History students using the American Revolution as the historical context.”

For more information about this project please contact:
Lisa Strahley, Chair of Teacher Education and Civic Engagement Coordinator,
SUNY Broome Community College
at strahleyla[at]sunybroome[dot]edu

About NIFI
NIF-Logo2014Based in Dayton, Ohio, the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI), is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that serves to promote public deliberation and coordinate the activities of the National Issues Forums network. Its activities include publishing the issue guides and other materials used by local forum groups, encouraging collaboration among forum sponsors, and sharing information about current activities in the network. Follow on Twitter: @NIForums.

Resource Link:


Dialogue In Nigeria: Muslims & Christians Creating Their Future

Dialogue In Nigeria: Muslims & Christians Creating Their Future is a 65-minute video highlighting how two hundred courageous Christian and Muslim young adults met in face-to-face dialogue, listening to learn and discovering their equal humanity, new communication skills, and that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard.”

Co-produced in January 2012 by the New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation and the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue, this program shares experiences from the 2010 International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Communication.

Dialogue In Nigeria is distributed on DVD and available upon request, postage included, for dialogue and deliberation practitioners, students, and trainers worldwide.  Follow the link below to learn more, request your own copy and to see increasing social outcomes of ethnic and tribal healing in other African nations and worldwide.

Resource Link:

This resource was submitted by Libby and Len Traubman of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue via the Add-a-Resource form.

Song of a Citizen Video Essays & Interviews with D&D Leaders

Song Of A Citizen has produced a second series of dialogue and deliberation-related videos. The first was a series of Video Op-Eds with esteemed political philosophers, academics, and leaders of major deliberative democracy organizations (see the NCDD resource listing here). Those were filmed at various locations around the country between 2008 to 2010.

EricLiuVid-screenshotThe more recent series features Q&A interviews with key practitioners and other experts in the dialogue and deliberation community, filmed at the NCDD Conference in October 2012. Most of them are on the SoaC site, and all of them are on SoaC YouTube Channel.

Now that “Song Of A Citizen” has produced a wide range of interesting and informative videos with field leaders and experts, as of August 2013 they are seeking funding for new productions designed to resonate with the general public.

Making films and videos that reach and impact millions of people is actually SoaC founder Jeffrey Abelson’s strong suit, as witnessed by his 30 year background as a creative filmmaker, whose work ranges from prime time PBS documentaries to high profile MTV videos. More about that can be found at

Video interviews on the Song of a Citizens site:

Song of a Citizen YouTube channel: