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Chandra Kamaria

Chandra Kamaria
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
July 02
Harkins House Productions
Chandra Kamaria is an enterprising artistic professional dedicated to creating dynamic initiatives for cultural and social expression using various forms of media. Her passion is to offer an alternative to the crowded mainstream; granting exposure to those underserved audiences and creating tremendous artistic, social, and business opportunities. Please visit


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JULY 19, 2010 3:36PM

The Danger of a Single Story

Rate: 29 Flag

While wasting time on Facebook, which is something that I find myself doing more often than not, I came across this insightful and inspiring video.  If you haven’t spent time on, do yourself a favor and do so.  You will be a better person for it, trust me.  I discovered TED about a year ago when I googled a wonderful actress, Sarah Jones, for some reason that I can’t remember now.  I was led to her website and there was a video of her appearance at on behalf of UNICEF.  After watching Sarah’s crafty performance, I went on to discover the video’s source.  Since then, I’ve been hooked on TED, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  Its sole purpose is to push their Ideas Worth Spreading initiative, hosting several talks/sessions per year and then under the Creative Commons license, post video footage on the Web for greater coverage.

Now, as for the video I’m raving about, it features Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie and her talk on the danger of a single story.   As she recounts her experience growing up in Nigeria, then traveling the world and meeting new people, she eloquently builds a profound argument about disallowing powerful entities from controlling our perceptions of people and then using that perception to generalize the whole.   Considering that the video is enclosed with this post, I won’t recap any of the points. You can just view it for yourself.  But before you do, allow me to elaborate on how this relates to my life as a writer.

One of the main things that I’m concerned with doing as a writer is reshaping the perception of my home state of Mississippi and of Black Southerners.  All Southerners are generalized for the most part; many believe us to be one-dimensional, uneducated, and simple-minded individuals, however, when you’re Black and Southern, there exists another level of misperception.  Given films like Mississippi Burning or A Time to Kill, Black Mississippians are often viewed as subservient, poor and always the tragic victims of brute force.  Their depiction consists of sweaty faces and bodies, with kinky hair, dingy denim overalls, and they spoke in broken English, denoting their lack of education.  While those films tapped into a yesteryear reality, to this day, whether you believe me or not, I am sure that there are some around this country who have mentally embedded that as a base perception of Black Southerners; drawing from that in such a way that certain aspects of ‘being Southern’ work against us.  For instance, our Southern drawl has been regarded as an indicator that we’re rather slow-brained, which contributes to our ‘supposedly regressive’ natures.

As an undergrad, I remember vehemently defending my intelligence when a Brooklynite attempted to explain a specific passage in a book that he was currently reading but I had read.  Very flatly, he told me that I was not able to understand the concept because ‘cats down here in the South don’t get into this kind of knowledge’.  Over the years, when I have told people that I’m a native Mississippian, I’ve been asked questions like, ‘Do you have running water or a bathroom at your house?’  Yes, at one point in time, an area in the Mississippi Delta known as Sugar Ditch in Tunica County was the poorest in the nation, however, to suggest that the rest of us lived like this was preposterous.

Admittedly, the state of Mississippi has a torrid past with deep racial scars that continues to haunt its present day circumstances.  However, I grew up in a family that cherished the struggles of our relatives.  My mother often recounted events such as the Strike City protest that included many of my family members and gained national attention.   She tells me of how my great-grandmother held such a personal authority during a time when a Black woman’s life had about as much value as a speck of dust (to some extent, it still does).  She has told me of her vivid childhood memories of rural living, love, and a sense of community.  My father has told me about his days as an athlete and the silly things he used to do with his brothers while growing up in rural Alabama.   You see, the oppressive forces of racism were prevalent, but there was an everyday living that took precedence over that.

My own childhood in Mississippi was not wrought with despair and lack or anxiety about racism, instead my blue-collar parents gave me a rather middle class lifestyle; my father paid my college tuition with his factory trucker wages because he didn’t want his daughter bogged down with student loans.  I grew up in a single family brick house on a paved street with neighbors–something that may be in stark contrast to how the media has portrayed how we live in the ‘Sip.  For every childhood friend that may have fallen by the wayside, there’s twice as many who are doing quite well for themselves.  It is from this wellspring that I draw my stories of Southern living, hopefully giving the world another angle to see Black Mississippians/Southerners.

Just as Adichie, I have to admit that I have been guilty of allowing a single story to shape my understanding of a few people from other ethnic, socioeconomic backgrounds, states and countries.  Now, I try to take a genuine interest in the person by being open enough to allow them to paint their reality for me.  From there, I get a better portrait of them.  By doing that, I usually begin to marvel at how interesting and rich their experiences have been.  This is why I now believe EVERY ONE should write an autobiography.

Anyway, enough about me, enjoy the video. Feel free to comment and share.

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If you think the questions posed to you as a Mississipian are heavily slanted, I,too, tired of ones like "do you still ride horses?" back in the 80s as a Texan.
off to watch the video- excellent intro
Chandra, I haven't watched the video yet, but your piece here is superb.
I hope this goes on the front page, that video is not just valid, but an important concept.
This post and the accompanying video are both important and eloquent. Chimamanda Adiche's spoken words resonate as much as your written ones. Thank you for sharing both of them.
Born in the south and raised by a black woman while my mother worked for 10 years, I am keenly interested in this. Thanks, Miss Julie, for the PM recommending I read this. I'm off to watch the video. Thanks for this perspective.
Your post and the video capture my attention. I like to think that my New England roots are within my writing, but my life experiences create many colors for me to paint with — to write. As a student, I was taught, "write what you know, " yet I know so little.
Excellent piece of writing, and excellent video! Although I'd seen that clip before, I was so glad to watch it again . . . to be reminded of the many, many stories which populate any given place, and given time. Thank you for this!
Like Owl, I've seen this before but I welcome seeing it again...especially since it helps introduce another story. R
Thank you for this. I try to keep this in mind when I write about cultures not my own: I know one story, but there are many others. I am trying to escape the "rescuer" position and move into a "partner" position. We all need to be helped out at some point in our lives. Doing so does not make us inferior or superior to the one helping us.
It's a coincidence for me that you posted this. Having just read Percival Everett's hilarious novel, ERASURE, I have one more perspective on how cultures are portrayed in literature and the news.
Thank you.
Excellence is everywhere. Your last graf for example, and now off to the vid.
I appreciate this piece, and the video as well. I lived in the south, on the Georgia Tennesee border for four years as a college student and I envied the southern oral story telling tradition. Of every geography (and even every person) there is certainly more than one story.

this is a valuable way of thinking about the world.

I've lived all over the south and the only place the south is really the south is Virginia, and I wish it wasn't.
Love, love, love this! I'll be back to comment further if I can find the time, but thank you!
This is excellent and some of the best writing I have ever read on Open Salon.
A very good point, very well said. As a white Mississippi woman, I can relate well to what you say. I've encountered enough stereotyping to last me a lifetime. I'm old enough to have lived through so many different "Mississippis" and I am grateful to be living in the one that exists today. For all our faults, I see real hope and good changes here every single day.
Helluva great piece. Solid writing. Good content.
Thanks for the wonderful post and to Julie for leading me here. Rated!!!!! Tink Picked as well!!!
Great post. I will follow your advice. Stereotyping is so easy...
I don't have the 20 minutes necessary to watch the video right now but did not want that to stop me from conveying appreciation of this post, and thank you hyblaean- Julie for pointing me here. Great title that speaks volumes, and particularly like: "You see, the oppressive forces of racism were prevalent, but there was an everyday living that took precedence over that."
Thank you so much Chandra for your excellent story and this video! It evoked the thought that the concept of the single story applies to individuals as well: we see one aspect of a person and assume that is all they are. But like countries, we have many different stories in us.