Ted Talk “The Danger of the Single Story”

01 Nov

I have done four posts about this Ted Talk over the years – and I can’t seem to stop myself from posting it again for November Adoption Awareness Month…

I don’t think it matters if you are in an open-domestic adoption – right through to a closed international adoption – what you know about the family of birth is limited to what you have been told.  (video at the end of the post.)

Chimanda Ngozi Adichie – “The Danger of the Single Story”

2010 – This is what I said in the first post

Adoption is not part of this video but it speaks so loudly about it that every single person involved in the adoption world must hear the words in this video.  Please take the time to listen to her words they are important.  None of us comes with a single story, nor is one story the only story you must hear on anything.

2010 – This snippet from the next time I posted it…in November

In the talk she shows time and time again with anecdotal personal stories how our impressions and views on an individual are shaped only by what we know about one part of who they are. (corrected transcript)

She states “It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali”.  It’s a noun loosely translates to “to be greater than another”. Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principal of nkali: how they are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person.”

As an adoptee in a closed adoption with knowledge that I would never know my family, my ancestors, my nationality I had one Single Story of them. A Single Story passed to my mom and dad from the social worker. That story consisted of four sentences. Once the court opened my records and I met my family, I learned that story had no truth to it at all. But it had been MY Single Story of my family for over 40 years. The power was held by the social worker who crafted my story, each sentence had the smallest grain of truth and a liberal helping of borrowed or changed information designed to ensure that even if I searched, with those facts I would fail.

and this…

Towards the end of the talk she states “The consequence of the Single Story is that it robs people of dignity, it makes our recognition of equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different, rather than how we are similar. […]

Stories matter, many stories matter. Stories have been used to disposess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. […]

That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

2011 – This is what I said when I posted it again

In my post last November on this talk, I took the time to transcribe some parts and talked about my story, or indeed the lack thereof and how it impacted me.  I reread that post the other day and realized that what I did not talk about, was how much it impacted me in my teen years while I was trying unsuccessfully to incorporate what I knew of nature side – with what I knew of my nurture side.

2012 – This is what I said last year

I think Chimanda Adichie provides the very best advice to adoptive parents in her talk.  What I took away in part was – be aware that you are telling only one story of another person – tread very carefully with the terms you choose to use, and how you tell the story, and how limiting that story actually is.  Recognise the power you hold over making that single story – the only story anyone hears and remembers – you don’t know all the stories – just the one story you were told.


Even if you have listened to the talk before – it is worth listening to it over again, I can’t stress that enough.



Posted by on November 1, 2013 in Adoption, adoptive parents, biological child


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5 responses to “Ted Talk “The Danger of the Single Story”

  1. cb

    November 2, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Even though my parents tried to be as factual as possible when telling us our stories (and made clear that it was they had been told rather than carved in stone), there was inaccuracy to my story – they told me that they had been told that my bmother was pregnant and went over to NZ because her parents didn’t know – thus my assumption was always that she deliberately went over to NZ to make it harder for her parents to ever find out. Later, when I got my OBC and non-ID info, it said that she was already in NZ when she met my bfather. It wasn’t until I managed to find some friends of hers that I found out that in fact, they were both wrong – she met my bfather on the boat over and I was conceived a month later. It did sort of make me feel better than she was already overseas when I was conceived.

    3 years ago, I decided to contact bfamily. My bmom had died a long time ago but I realised that if I really wanted to “know” her, I really needed to speak to more than just her siblings – I spoke to some of her friends, workmates and found the people she went to NZ with and also the host famly with whom she lived. I also tried to find out as much about the organisation that arranged my adoption and also decided to read both good and bad reunions so I could get a fuller picture. I read up a lot of about the times as they were and also what life was like for women in her era and before. In the process, I’ve learnt not just about my bmother but about a lot of other things about life as it was and is as well. One thing one learns also is how contradictory life can be how and that everything isn’t black and white. Unfortunately, when people only insist on seeing the white and one is trying to get them to see the grey bits, one can be accused of painting things only in black.

    As for adoptees in general, we often are the victim of the “single story” view – to many in the general population we were unwanted children adopted by people who wanted us. Of course, things are far more complex than that. I would now rather say “being pregnant in unwanted circumstances” than having “an unwanted pregnancy”. I also think that thinking of a woman as “being pregnant in unwanted circumstances” means that one can address the circumstances first to see if that is a factor in her feelings about her pregnancy.


  2. Tiffany

    November 7, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    I saw this in another blog related to being gay. It’s interesting how many levels this video has. We are in a domestic open adoption, but this is actually precisely why we value open adoption- we want our daughter to hear her story directly from her other parents. There is a lot of danger in the “single story,” isn’t there?


  3. Moe

    November 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    TAO – thanks so much for the ‘like’. I’m glad you especially liked that post – I think those amazing photos speak to the human story – on so many levels.


    • TAO

      November 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      Moe – I was going to comment that as an adoptee it is fascinating to see. I met my very first relative in my fourth decade so looking at faces for similarities is something I have done my entire life because I had never seen anyone that looked like me – but seeing other families that all looked alike in various combinations. Hopefully that made sense. Genetics and hereditary become a fascination when you have no reference.

      The pictures by photographer you posted also has a slide show of it that just as good, or better than the stills, don’t know if it is still on-line or not.



      • Moe

        November 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

        There’s an old story about a lady at a dinner party – a guest told her that she looked exactly like someone in his old hometown (far far away). “You could be sisters” he said. “Do you have relatives in ——town?” “Well” she replied” my father WAS a travelin’ man.”



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