Otherizing through a single story

A few months ago, I found myself sitting in front of my MacBook, mesmerized by Chimamanda Adichie‘s inspiring TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story.  I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon it, but her message landed on me at just the right time.

Like I mentioned in an earlier post, recognizing that I otherize people was like waking up.  The first realization felt as if someone grabbed my shoulders and said, “Open your eyes, Trace.  You do this!”  But understanding who I otherize, and how I otherize has been a gradual process.

And I am still learning.

One clear indication that we otherize is when we find ourselves using the phrase “those people” in reference to a certain group.  And I don’t just mean saying the words “those people” out loud.  Mentally categorizing a group as “them” or “those” or “they” is still otherizing.

I believe we’re all guilty on some level.  Maybe it’s a leader or political party or religious group.  Maybe you refer to those in the LGBTQ community as “those” people.  Or maybe it’s a particular social class or ethnic group.

In a few days, you will meet Jessica.  Battling mental illness for many years has left her feeling otherized, often by well-meaning people.  Yes, she struggles with deep depression, but that is not the sum of her life.  Her mental illness alone does not define her as a human being.  Jess is far more than that – she is not just a single story.

One of my favorite quotes from Adichie’s Ted talk is this:

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.

Pour yourself a drink, sit back, and listen to this amazing woman’s message.


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