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A Limited Perspective: The Danger of a Single Story

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“The danger of a single story” essay is actually a TED talk byChimamanda Ngozi. She is a Nigerian novelist and in her speech she presents the idea that when only one perspective or narrative is presented, it can create a distorted and incomplete understanding of a situation or issue. 

Adichie argues that when we are exposed to only one story about a person, group, or place, we risk creating stereotypes, biases, and generalizations that can be harmful and limiting. Single stories can be especially dangerous when they are used to justify discrimination, prejudice, and violence against certain groups of people. According to Adichie, the danger in the single story lies in its effect of emphasizing how we are different rather than by embracing and recognizing how we are similar. She states that a single story robs people of their dignity and separates us from our humanity as it makes it difficult to see each other as equals. Social identity theory is applicable when discussing single stories as it describes how stereotypes can lead individuals to favor their own understanding or experience over that of others, and how individuals justify their preferential thoughts and feelings by emphasizing the differences and diminishing the similarities that exist between various groups of people without using critical analysis.

The single story of those incarcerated in America is that they are a burden and a menace to our society, and each of them is capable of committing some of the worst crimes imaginable. The United States has more of its citizens in prison than in any other country in the world. As a result of the massive increase in the number of those imprisoned in the last 50 years, there is significant overcrowding and there has been a great deal of pressure placed on the economy of the state due to the financial liabilities that prisons place on the state government. In the book Locked In by John Pfaff, the author argues that drug crimes only make up a small portion of prisoners and that the real reason for incarceration is due to violent crime. He states that the impact of private prisons has been exaggerated and given too much emphasis. Pfaff believes that the rise in the prison population is because of prosecutors deciding to pursue tough sentencing. Pfaff’s words are the single story of mass incarceration. It is not a part of this single story to acknowledge that those incarcerated are also parents, leaders, mentors, and victims. The single story dictates that these individuals must be confined, monitored and scrutinized, and there is no recognition that these individuals may have been wrongly convicted or that they may have received an unjust ruling. One of the main arguments made in How We Misunderstand Mass Incarceration is that prisons are full of nonviolent drug offenders. The author of this article explains that the war on drugs was the way in which the mass expansion of judicial power was justified. While there is a relationship between drug markets, violence and poverty, America has chosen to respond to these problems by creating the largest prison population in history. This single story of mass incarceration has been perpetuated with the large increase in the number of arrests made in minority-rich areas of the country. As the white-majority law enforcement has unjustly monitored and arrested minorities at a much higher rate for nonviolent drug offenders, white individuals are more likely to be given a second chance or to be let off with a simple warning. White individuals are also more likely to receive shortened sentences compared to minority populations for the same crimes. African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white individuals, and while African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 36% of the population of this country, they comprised of about 56% of all incarcerated people. This disparity is evidence of the danger of the single story as we are choosing to believe the negatives in people, particularly in minorities, and as stated by Adichie, to focus on the negatives would only flatten the many experiences that are part of an individual’s life and would overlook many other stories that formed as a result of those experiences. Former inmates have the ability to voice their experiences so that other individuals can reflect on and gain an understanding about what it is like to be deprived of liberty for days, months, and years. Wally Lamb, a well-known author and associate professor, has created writing workshops for incarcerated women in Connecticut where he edited and helped publish anthologies of two women. The compilation of poems and stories written by incarcerated women were autobiographical essays that gave these imprisoned women a voice to communicate their stories, experiences and personal emotions that they were previously unable to broadcast. This is a very powerful tool that Lamb equipped these women with as they are able to share parts of themselves that other individuals typically assume the worst of. Practices such as this allow there to be many stories of mass incarceration and they empower and humanize those who are feel powerless and unimportant. Politicians set policies and laws in place to be able to have control over the citizens of a country by using the threat of incarceration. Privately owned, for profit prisons can capitalize on these policies by providing and allowing a very cheap source of forced labor. The goal of privately owned prisons is not rehabilitation, but is focused on menial jobs and work that does not help to equip individuals who re-enter society after they have served their time. The media also controls the views of the general populace as inmates are generally not given a voice by the media. One of the solutions to reduce the massive prison population was introduced in Seattle. The city began a new revolutionary solution to the drug addiction problem in America and this approach involves not prosecuting those who are caught with a small amount of drugs, but rather encourages them to seek help from social services. Among public health professionals in the U.S. and abroad, this model is recognized as a preferred solution. While we cannot expect miracles, we can cautiously act to modify the issue at hand and refrain from negative reinforcements, such as prison time, to rectify the behaviors of those battling with drug addiction.

The danger of a single story cannot be explained any better without an example of authoritarian leaders and how they wield their influence. Dictators create politically persuasive single narratives that always place blame on others’ incompetence and incapability, and justify their actions to seize power by violating human rights and silencing those who oppose them. The UN Declaration of Human Rights outlines fundamental rights and freedom that every individual is entitled to and was established in 1948 as a response to the preceding world wars. The Declaration of Human Rights states that human rights are universal and every human can enjoy these rights irrespective of who they are and where they live. These rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life, liberty, and free speech. In order to protect our human rights and democracy, we must step up and disavow the single story of political operatives who vilify and disparage vulnerable people, criminalize those who oppose them, attack the media and use the military for political purposes. Dictators use these methods to develop a single story that uplifts the rights and actions of their friends while persecuting the rights and actions of their enemies. When a dictator uses a single narrative, it is not only multiple perspectives that are lost, but an entire group of people can be ignored and censored. The danger of a single story with respect to human rights is related to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer. Brown was denied his right to life as he was shot dead in the middle of the street and it was determined by the courts that his last words were pleading to the officer not to shoot his weapon. He was also denied his rights as no one has the right to harm or torture another human, according to the UN Declaration Of Human Rights. The Declaration also specifies that we are all born free and equal, and it is clear that the white officer did not feel that he and Michael Brown were equals as he was treated unfairly and died as a result of a single narrative. This single narrative is largely perpetuated by those in power, whether it be politicians, or those who have job titles that make them feel superior, or racial tensions that cause one race to feel superior to all others. World leaders, politicians, and local leaders in communities have the power to enact change by changing policies and laws, and engaging in grass roots organization through rallies and protests can influence the narrative and social paradigm through which society looks inward and judges itself.

The danger of the single story is that it holds us back as individuals and as a society. As we graduate from college and enter the working world, it is important to remember our purpose in life should be to better ourselves and contribute positively to a world that has given us so much positivity. In order to truly understand ourselves, we need many narratives and perspectives to help us learn more about the person we see in the mirror. When we feel trapped in a single story, we should seek the help of others and listen to the perspectives that they can offer as this is a resource that is always available to us if we are empathetic and open-minded. A story can be told by many voices and our identities should not be fragile that they need to be covered with incomplete or inaccurate narratives or stories.  

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A Limited Perspective: The Danger of a Single Story. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
“A Limited Perspective: The Danger of a Single Story.” GradesFixer, 11 Feb. 2023,
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