Social issues

The Danger of A Single Story

– by Yunnita D. Mattoha

“So that is how to create a single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

Some of us might have been to other cities or countries – most likely for the purpose of travelling, working or studying. For me, my first experience going to another country is when I decided to study in Perth.

During my preparation, I read some books about Australia – Perth in particular. I read about its cultures, outdoor activities, weather, and other basic information. From what I had read, I learnt that Australia is a beautiful place to live and is well known for its multiculturalism and egalitarianism. Perth, in particular, has beautiful weather with a lot of outdoor activities to do.

I was so excited to start my new journey – to experience multiculturalism and to learn about other cultures from different countries. I expected my life in Perth to be safe and sound, and surrounded by friendly people all the time.

In fact, it did not go as smooth as I expected. I was at a bus station with my friend when one Australian came to us and said, “You should go back to your country” because we were speaking in Indonesian, and not in English. It happened in the first two months I lived in Perth.

Later, my house parents and many people around me told me to be aware of the Aboriginals, “because they are always drunk in public and they are dangerous.” And yes, there were several instances where some drunken Aboriginals approached me asking for money or yelled at me – yet I am still here.

Last Sunday, I watched a speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an award-winning Nigerian author, about the danger of a single story on TED Talk. One of her statements that I find so powerful is:

 “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.”

As I look back on my experience in Perth, I realise that I – or should I say we – cannot depend merely on one story. It is understandable that as a human being, we have a tendency to be judgmental. Throughout our lives, we learn how to judge whether something is good or bad so that we are able to choose and make decisions wisely.

Unfortunately, we have become too judgmental in that sometimes we buy into a negative single story. This is especially true about particular groups that are reported in the media repeatedly in negative single stories, such as Muslims, LGBT, immigrants, asylum seekers – you name it.

Sadly, we have come to the point where we believe that those negative single stories from the media are “true”. We then tend to focus more on our differences instead of our diversity – letting the creation of fear and panic by such stories take control over the beauty of our multicultural society.

“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.”

We all have our own choices. We can choose to believe in a single story of any place or group, or to explore other different perspectives. We can choose to follow our human nature – judging, or to open our hearts and intellectuality and not to let ignorant fear control us.

After all, I am happy to finally understand the Aboriginals in different perspectives; to learn their history and not to buy into a negative single story that many people have told me before.

I am happy to experience multiculturalism in Australia – to deal with many differences, and to teach myself how to respect others because I know how it feels like to be the minority.

To live in this multicultural society is not easy. Because we need to remind ourselves over and over again to be open-minded, to understand, and to respect something that we are not yet familiar with – something that we cannot judge straight away.

Sometimes we feel insecure about it, but it is okay as long as we still want to put effort into being open-minded and respecting others regardless of their cultures.

Our biggest enemy is not our differences. Our biggest enemy is ignorance.

“That 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.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks via Flickr

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