Let's end the "single story" phenomenon.
In 2009, one of my favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a TED Talk that spoke on the “dangers of a single story.” During her presentation, she spoke of many examples of a “single story,” or stereotype, which can negatively affect the outlook some people have on individuals who are different from them. Her examples included her confusion as a young Nigerian writer, reading books created by and for a particular group of readers, as well as people placing culturally ignorant stereotypes on new acquaintances.
Though her words caused her audience to giggle, this is a sad reality for many underrepresented or misrepresented groups of people.
Often people tend to view others through the naive lens of generalizations and stereotypes that have been formulated through a single story. This is done without taking a moment to stop, think, and ask “What’s your story?” Or, most importantly, taking the time to simply listen to the stories of individuals who long to set the story straight.
The acceptance of a single story is something that most often affects our youth. Society creates a story for our youth (you are A so that makes you B—a defined formula that limits the ability for people to recognize that our youth can be much more than that). Society creates a story of what it thinks our youth are and what they can be based on the stereotypes many mistake for truth.
In my social studies class, individual voice has been the most empowering thing for my 4th and 5th grade students. My students pride themselves in having their own voice heard and appreciated in the classroom through class seminars, writing and art. My students are most excited when I, as their teacher, just simply listen to their stories.
Together Tulsa is breaking the single story in our city. Each student whose work will grace the pages of the publication, whose feet will walk through our office doors into a family, whose light will shine within all of us, will have their own unique story—just as every young person has. The beauty of Together Tulsa is that Tulsa’s youth will have the opportunity to share their story and their voice in their own way.
A single story is dangerous. A unique story holds the power to upset stereotypes, generalizations, and oppression. Your unique story brings a voice to you. Your unique story inspires others to speak up just as you have. Your unique story allows your truth to be told—the truth of the un- and misrepresented.
As we prepare to meet our first cohort of student editors and staff and equip these young minds and voices with skills that will empower them to share their story, I am excited to teach Tulsa’s youth that their powerful voice is already living inside of them. I am blessed to be a part of an organization that will create a platform for Tulsa’s youth to discover the power of their individual story and use their voices to advocate for themselves, their community, and their world.
Asia Thomas is a Founding Board Member of Together Tulsa. Her story is part of our Story Series, where people from our community and in our organization share their experience and their dreams for our city. If you'd like to share your story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.