In 2009, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie spoke at a TED Talks conference on The Danger of a Single Story. I was blown away by her idea. It was a simple one, so obvious, yet one that we do not give enough consideration. She suggests that:
“To focus on only one story is to flatten the experience and to overlook the many other stories.”
Similarly, quoted in a Huffington Post article regarding this year’s 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lonnie Burch, says that freedom was “a process, not a moment,” and only when we realize that can we “allow [ourselves] to wonder what work is left for us in the next ten years.”
It seems to me that we are too eager to simplify ideas and movements into a “single story.” Problem is, ideas and movements are much too complex to condense into something so compact.
The desegregation movement in the middle of the 20th century, for example, involves much more than is taught in schools today. Just as Lincoln did not abolish slavery with a stroke of his pen, Brown v. Board of Education did not immediately end segregation in public schools. Both were processes, and both involve many stories from many points of view. To ignore any of them would be to redefine history.
I distinctly remember learning about how Brown v. Board of Education sparked a wave of opposition in the South, but I learned very little about the movements in the North and West. Perhaps this was just a lapse in the quality of my own education in American History, but I feel that this issue warrants a more in-depth analysis in the classroom, since it is one that still affects us today.