Single Stories: A Denigration of Peoples Humanity (1)

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Naturally, as human beings we tend to form our own views and conceptions as regards people and things in our environment, be it man, animal place or thing. Through our encounters with people and things, we begin to   form patterns based on their similarities, from thence we begin to see them. Subsequently we begin to make laws that will govern these patterns already formed by our previous encounters.

It is these patterns and laws that will begin to guide the way we think or perceive them. These patterns and laws woven from our experiences, give us easy navigation through our environment, making us draw general conclusions that are often exaggerated, about things in our environment.  This foists on us the tendency to   subject other things and people we come across, who share semblance with the previous ones we have experienced in the same lenses. Therefore without giving room to see if there are differences.

We conclude already that they are all the same .This is what is known as stereotype. It has to do with assumptions and presumptions, which more often than not are unfounded or unduly exaggerated. It is from these myopic lenses that the individuality of people are often summarized. When this is done, it often denigrates people regardless in what shades of colour it comes. World evils like racism, pogroms, genocide etc. mostly resonates from these assumptions .

Chinua Achebe’s debut novel “Things Fall Apart ” is a critical response to the denigration and the stereotyped  lenses through Africa is viewed, as portrayed  in colonial novels such as Joseph Conrads” Heart of Darkness ” (1899) and JoyeCarys”Mister Johnson “(1939) . “Things Fall Apart” stretches the novel form to create a space for the authentic African subject and his or her world .It seeks to go beyond the colonial depiction of grunting “Savages” and “cannibals “with no language, culture or historical links to their physical environment, and as such, it reverses the colonial gaze in order to reveal an essential humanity that the colonial novel either deliberately elided or repressed or was incapable of articulating.

Thus Chinua Achebe delved into the quest of telling the real and true story of the African people by an African, by opening a broader perspective from which the African people could be viewed, without their humanity being strangulated within the denigrating, constricting and the myopic lenses of the whites, that as it were, was suffused with quite terrible and horrifying tales that ripped the Africans of their humanity and their inalienable right to fully and truly exist as humans.

Achebe’s story was thus a fight against negative stereotypes, the demeaning and cruel single stories that ruffle the fabric of peoples humanity .Thus with this work he asserted that Africa has its own story ,that we have a system before the arrival of the white man. It was the arrival of the White man that put a knife to the thing that held us together and things fell apart .Negative stereotypes are quite unkind and harmful .

it can foist people to begin questioning their existence and the authenticity of their humanity, as evidenced in Cairo, southern Illinois, USA, where single stories sold to a generation of people has led to one of the worst form of racism and denigration of a people. And also evidenced in Oswald Mstsahli poem “The boy on a swing” where the boy questioned his mother “mother when will I wear long trousers ? ,why was my father jailed ? ” This poem was written amidst the throes of the apartheid in South Africa, where the story of a people was cruelly retold leaving their humanity gruesomely mangled, to the extent that they lost their compass as a people and where blown to the fringes of the society in their own land.

Goaded by these they questioned their rights to exist and be fully human .All these were birthed by single stories sold to a generation of whites by some of its enlightened members -the likes of Immanuel Kant ,Levy Bruhl ,John Locke ,Hegel etc. who saw Africans as no less than monkeys ,thus the apartheid and even the slave trade were all efforts geared towards salvaging these savages and making them useful, as during the trade they were used as beast of burden .Unfortunately some of these enlightened members like a Immanuel Kant  had never visited Africa ,all they built their view  was on the stories of missionaries. But generations of the West have bought those views today, and they all add up to the problem of our world today, ranging from racism, bigotry, discrimination etc.

Our society today still suffer the harm done by negative stereotypes. Our society is still not dearth to these negative stereotypes and harmful shibboleths, that wrongly and erroneously tell and retell people’s stories, often to suit their own selfish interests. For instance, many people view the indigenous people of Abakaliki as those mentally retarded, as a backward people.

On a closer investigation, one discovers that the person with this perception has never visited Abakaliki nor knows where it is located, but he has surmised the whole of Abakalikipeople as those backward just with few people from the area he had seen. In  such a situation when a person who is probably handsome or intelligent says he’s from Abakaliki, there’s always this look of surprise and well-meaning pity that someone like him had come from such a place,in order words implying “can anything good come out of Nazareth”.They see the person as so unfortunate even before they actually know the person, and have limited the whole of the person’s capabilities to fit into their single tales.

This is the evil of stereotype. People are summarized with just a story or event, people are judged severely or excused based on stereotypes.  When Collin Powell, labeled Nigerians as “a bunch of liars” and Oprah Winfrey, insinuated that -Nigerians no matter their level of education are all corrupt, that corruption is rooted in their culture. It was indeed a demeaning categorization of a people, summarizing a people just with few of its members They forgot that humans are too vast, complicated and complex to be dished out on plates of inductive arguments.

The duo of Powell and Oprah, ofcourse have never seen all Nigerians still they had made a generalization that included all Nigerians.This doesn’t imply either that to make a judgment about people we should know all of them.No,rather we should note that there are exceptions ,and thus hedge our statements and respect the innocence and dignity of those not involved.

But this is not always the case. This is Stereotype. Stereotypes are those not so innocent a story, that cripples the humaneness of others.It exacerbated by telling of tales that are often an a far cry from the reality of a people or stories that are simply incomplete and are sometimes used to subdue others in order to assert superiority .It was while reflecting on such single stories that Chinua Achebe said in the introductory part  of  his novel “Things Fall Apart :

“I read lots of English books …I did not see myself as an African    to begin with. I took sides with the white men against the savages …But a time came when I …realized …I was not on Marlowe’s boat streaming up the Congo in the Heart of Darkness.I was one of those strange beings jumping up and down on the river bank, making horrid faces ….That is when I realized that stories are not innocent..”

From the above, we can’t claim ignorance of the negative effects of these negative, prejudiced ,single stories. Thus negative stereotype is evident in the single stories we tell about others sometimes goaded by our religious orientation ,ethnic group or tribe ,state, race ,political orientation etc .These fan the embers of malicious prejudices that stretch tout the fabric of our humanity .


Stereotype is a term which connotes lots of things, yet it remains basically the same undertone .In talking about stereotypes, we refer to beliefs, assumptions or perspectives we have as it regards to a particular thing, which more often than not are illogical and unverified.Yet these assumptions are usually gulped down accepted to being true or reflecting the true nature of things it talks about. Sometimes stereotypes maybe accurate ,and at other times they can be largely inaccurate and misleading . It is this inaccuracy inherent in stereotypes which often leads to prejudice ,bourgeoning into negative stereotype .Therefore,it is this negative side of stereotype that we are focused on ,its malicious tendency of telling single ,incomplete, erroneous stories, that denigrate people’s humanity.

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