Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken elegantly about the dangers of a single story

I very much like the idea that there isn’t a single story that can encompass everything.

The drawbacks and pitfalls of reliance on a single story – regarding any topic – is aptly underlined in an October 18, 2023 CBC article by Christopher Stuart Taylor entitled: “Why the way we’re taught about how Black people came to Canada is completely wrong.”

The subhead reads: “By largely accepting one story, Canada is erasing generations of dark-skinned voices.”

An excerpts reads:

The most widely accepted story of Black migration to this country is told through the lens of the Underground Railroad: the fairy tale that Canada was the “promised land” in which Black people sought refuge to escape the horrors of enslavement and anti-Black racism in the United States in the 1800s. The idea is that Black people should — and must — be thankful and grateful for all things Canadiana. Racism and all.

I would argue that accepting this single story, and neglecting, erasing and silencing generations of dark-skinned voices, is a disservice to all Canadians. Not just those that happen to be Black.

This single story of migration does not engage with the relationship between settler colonialism and Black and Indigenous liberation movements. In Canada, even in the age of Truth and Reconciliation, we do not truly understand the truth that we are a settler colonial state that excludes Black and Indigenous existence.

This single story of Black migration does not tell the story of the emigrant ambassadors: the Black women who left the Caribbean in the early 20th century, culminating with the West Indian Domestic Scheme in the 1950s and ’60s, to work in the homes of “old-stock” Canadians. Many of these women faced physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

This single story does not include the Black seasonal agricultural workers who have been feeding Canadian families for decades, whose bodies and spirits are often broken by inhumane working conditions.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Click here for previous posts regarding Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie >

An additional excerpt from the October 18, 2023 CBC article reads:

There are many misconceptions about the Black experience of migration in Canada. Here are a few:

    • We are all recent newcomers.
    • We all come from the Caribbean. Better yet, we are all Jamaican.
    • We all saw Canada as the “promised land.

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke elegantly about the dangers of a single story in her well-watched 2009 TED talk.

“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…. When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise,” she said.

Seeing like a state

Previous posts underline the pitfalls of seeing like a state – a term proposed by the anthropologist and political scientist James C. Scott. The term refers to the drawbacks of approaching the world from the vantage point of a single story promulgated by state-level bureaucrats, officials, and politicians.

Click here for previous posts about seeing like a state >

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