Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Danger of a Single Story.
While staying with the Holy Cross Community in Nairobi and my time here in Kakamega so far, I have had some time to digest many different topics. One of the biggest, that is now especially close to my heart, is the danger of a single story and stereotypes.
There is an extremely informative TED Talk done by novelist Chimamanda Adichie about the danger of a single story. I really recommend watching that video before reading more. (It's about 19 minutes long but very good. The link is here.)
For me, the danger of the single story is so closely linked to stereotypes. While some stereotypes can be okay, I tend to see stereotypes having a very negative connotation. In my childhood, I was very lucky in the sense that I never felt stereotyped. I grew up in a mainly white community, with many people who shared similar beliefs.
Being in Kakamega is a completely different story. Here, I am a muzungu (a white person) and compared to the population size, I am one of the very few in Kakamega. I have been getting a lot of attention from people on the street, especially children, who will often stare and shout “Muzungu!” repeatedly and various greetings in Swahili and English.
(Seeing the children get so excited by the color of my skin is probably the cutest thing in the entire world though. Some are so excited for interaction with me, whether it is a simple “hello” or “how are you?” because it would be one of the first, along with one of the only interactions that they have had with a white person.)
People will ask how I am, say hello, or try to get me to buy something. I've noticed many people openly staring at me and usually I shake four or five hands of random strangers just walking through the market from the FSD office to our hotel. I stand out here, which is a new experience for me all together.
And of course, with my white skin, reddish hair, and blue eyes, a stereotype follows. I am, in every sense, a walking dollar sign for vendors and taxi drivers. And yes, in comparison to many people here, I am very wealthy but that is not the only aspect to me as a person.
While growing up, I never felt stereotyped but here, I feel it with every fiber of my being. It is an odd experience and not necessarily a bad one.
Even in Nairobi, I had a very similar experience. There are two in particular that stick out most in my mind. On the first day of Kathya and I arriving to the Holy Cross formation house, a Brother took us over to the mall that was close by. Because of recent threats and attacks in Nairobi, there was security everywhere, including in the entrances of the mall. The Brother who took us is Ugandan and was searched when we arrived but Kathya and I were both waved in.
A couple days later, everyone at the formation house headed to the airport to drop Father Tom off and say goodbye. Like with the mall, there was security at the entrance to the airport and many people were asked to pull their cars over to be quickly searched. At this time, Kathya was in the front seat and while she is Colombian, we were still waved through security.
Growing up with American media, I admit that I had many stereotypes about many different types of people. While I've grown out of most, I still do carry some to this day. (I'll admit it. A small part of me thinks British people are insanely smart because of their accent. And I still have the stereotype that all Canadians are polite and that Canadian drivers are incapable of using their turn signal while driving.)
Having stereotypes isn't something that I think is completely wrong and needs to be changed. Acting on those stereotypes and judging people for a stereotype, however, is the problem.
I could go on and on about this topic but for now, I'll spare you the reading.