“The Danger of a Single Story:” Is the iGen Complicit in Continuing the Single Narrative?

Nyeleti Honwana, Contributor

‘This is the 21st century after all,” is a phrase that Generation Y’ers have all uttered at one point or another. And we are proud to belong to this 21st century. We are progressive and free thinking, and we believe that all are equal and, most importantly, we are informed…or so we think. The Internet, which many of us consider our “generational head quarters” provides us with almost anything we could possibly want to know. We literally hold the world in the palm of our hands–whether it be on our Blackberries, iPhones or Androids. However, one must ask the question: what is the value of the information we receive, and how does this information influence our understanding of a people, place or occurrence?

Author Chimamanda Adichie

Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie (Purple Hibiscus, 2003) explains that as people, especially as children and young adults, we are “impressionable and vulnerable…in the face of a story.” In her speech, titled The Danger of a Single Story, Adichie tells the story of Fide, her family house boy when she was just a girl:

“The only thing my mother told us about him [Fide] was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, ‘Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.’ So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.”

One day Adichie visited Fide’s family out in the countryside and was taken aback to see the beautiful and intricate baskets that his family made. She explains that she had not imagined them capable of making anything; all she knew of them was that they were poor. That, she says, was her ‘single story’ of them; they only way she had the ability to imagine them living.

When Adichie later attended university in the United States, she was met with benign ignorance. She recalls her first run in with an American roommate, who, she says, was shocked to learn that Adichie listened to Mariah Carey and could use a stove. She goes on to say that:

“She [her roommate] had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa; a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.”

The image of Africans as a backward people, who spoke tribal languages and only listened to tribal music was the single story that her roommate had of Africa. Adichie’s roommate, like Adichie herself, was not necessarily ignorant, but had bought into the single story: the stereotype of a peoples. It is this lack of knowledge that led to her surprise when meeting Adichie. However, a single narrative can have much more damaging consequences than surprise. On many occasions the single story has led to hatred, alienation and violence.

Nine years after 9/11, there are nationwide stories of teens abusing their Muslim school mates. A recent example is Kristian, who at thirteen was experiencing the worst year of his life. Kristian was born in the U.S. to Trinidadian parents. An average American teenager, Kristian enjoyed “regular stuff” and was described by his father as a normal kid; he watched T.V. and played games on the computer  However, during the 2009-2010 school year, Kristian suffered long months of physical and emotional bullying because of his religious beliefs. Kristian was beaten, spat on and called a terrorist by four of his classmates. In an interview with the New York Post, he recalls one of the worst days: “They punched me…spit in my face…tripped me on the floor… [and] kicked me… And as they were kicking and laughing, they kept saying, ‘You f- – -ing terrorist, f- – -ing Muslim, you f- – -ing terrorist’.”

Kristian’s attackers were his 14 and 15 year-old classmates; classmates that once told him “You came here to burn our buildings down. People can’t get jobs because of you”. These teens were fed a single story of Islam, one of terror and hatred. Therefore they were unable to see the good in Kristian and, more importantly, unable to understand that they were more alike than they were different. Kristian’s ordeal is just one example of the danger of the single story. We must all be vigilant against a single narrative and strive to understand the wider story before rushing to judgment. Not doing so means that we allow the stereotypes to form our total opinion of people, places and events because we become prisoners of a linear narrative; we miss the context and ultimately lose sight of the complexities of that which is different and new to us. We become scared of the “other” instead of realizing that those whose lives are completely “unlike” ours are still human. They very well may be just “like” us, but if not, then ignoring the single story’ will allow us, Generation Y, to continue to extend our scope and understanding of the world, which can do nothing but improve our abilities to improve the world.

Taken to the extreme, it is this way of over simplifying our narrative and the image we create of the other, that leads to intolerance.  When you decide that all Muslims are terrorists and all blacks are thieves and all whites are racist, that is when the problem starts. Generation Y must avoid this problem if it wishes to successfully lead the integrated, mobile world of the future.



Italian Students Rally Against the Government

James Sasso, Associate Editor

Italian university students have not kept quiet about their anger against the Berlusconi government in Italy. The Italian prime minister, besides living a life of tremendous personal scandal and leading what is widely regarded as a corrupt government, has spearheaded the government’s attempt to cut spending and reign in the unruly university system. While no one, especially students, can deny the truth of the disastrous situation of Italy’s higher education system, almost every member of academia disagrees with the government’s plan to reform the system with a program known as DDL.

Students Occupy Colosseum

These reforms would, according to a student member of the protest at the University of Parma, would take away power from the students, ensure that researchers do not have the time or money to teach needed lessons and that an “outsider” of the school would overlook its spending with bureaucratic limits and regulations that would not account for the needs of the individual school. Indeed, the reforms would aim “to reorganize the governance of institutions and the system of recruiting university teachers, and to change the way funds are allocated, by rewarding meritorious institutions and forcing schools that are running a deficit to close.”

These reforms had already been passed through the House in Italy and were awaiting approval by the Senate when Silvio Berlusconi’s government came into question due to his numerous personal scandals, including Rubygate where he had relations with an underage girl. The students hoped that his government would fall and thus take away the majority of Senators who would support the DDL reforms to the universities. So, as is the norm in Italy, the students decided to make their voices heard against Berlusconi and against the proposed reforms by protesting, marching and occupying buildings.

In late November, student groups at universities across Italy began to take extreme measures to voice their opposition to the DDL. In Rome they occupied the Colosseum and Senate building. In Pisa they took over a runway at the airport and the Leaning Tower. In Parma, a smaller city, they occupied a classroom of the University of Parma, but in Florence and Milan students clashed with police. Even researchers at the universities joined in by taking sleeping bags to the roofs of universities to sleep there in protest. These protests intensified as the government prepared to make a vote of confidence (one that would decide, essentially, whether or not Berlusconi would remain in power) on December 14th. In Parma, students blocked the main street, stopping traffic and singing songs to try and rally support against Berlusconi and against DDL in vibrant and active manners. They obviously cared about the situation affecting their universities and their educations.

In America what would happen in a similar situation? Republicans already are threatening massive spending cuts in public education and public funding for higher  education, but almost no students have voiced protest. Education is the backbone of a developing society and should be protected by all, especially by those directly involved such as students and educators, but the discussion of school funding goes largely unnoticed to members of Generation Y who seem not to see education as a gift. Yes the Italian university system, almost entirely public, cannot be compared to the largely private (or semi-private) system of American colleges and universities, but that should not change the level that students want to protect their education. Generation Y needs to voice its opposition to the destruction, dismantling and degradation of the American education system, not ignore it.

While the Italian system obviously has its flaws and is untenable in its current state, one cannot deny the power of watching hundreds of students march to try and protect something they feel is sacred: their ability to advance their knowledge. American students could learn a lesson from their attempts. This is not to suggest that American students should pick up pitch forks and torches and take to the streets, but perhaps that Generation Y needs to once again recognize the invaluable gift and privilege given to it in the form of public education. It should hail that gift and nurture it. It should care for it and promote it. When something threatens its existence, Generation Y should strike back instead of lauding the decreased number of teachers and homework. As politicians attack the education system with spending cuts, furloughs and unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions, Generation Y needs to voice its opposition or else face the consequences as it matures in the world’s next generation of leaders.

“The Lies of the Truth:” One Rapper Speaks Out Against the Corruption in Mozambique

Nyleteti Honwana, Columnist


Edson da Luz is a typical young Mozambican who, at 26 years old, attends the University of Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, Mozambique. His blog, “Gestos das Palavras” (Gestures of Words) is where da Luz expresses his “passion for words.” He would seem the normal Generation Y’er searching to communicate his thoughts and feelings through the blogosphere, but he is much more.

Azagaia Album Cover

Da Luz moonlights as the rapper Azagaia who is known as one of the continents’ most outspoken rappers because his music highlights the corruption in Mozambican and other African governments. Having released his first album, entitled Babalaze in 2007, he has spent the last few years as Mozambique’s premier rapper. Rapping about the corruption within the establishment in 2007, to rising bus prices in 2008, to the corruption within the continent as a whole, he calls his music “intervention rap.”

“The Lies of the Truth” (2007) was Azagaia’s debut single and one of his most popular songs. In it, Azagaia addresses the often rumored about but never confirmed conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of many prominent Mozambicans who worked for the betterment of the country, including Samora Machels, the first President of Mozambique. The video shows him running from the “establishment” passing disillusioned and destitute people on the street, all let down by the government. His first single paved the way for many more songs that criticized both FRELIMO (the Mozambican governing party) and RENAMO (the opposition).

On his blog, Azagaia explains that he is impassioned by the written word and that an unchanging goal in his life is to “be the words.” While in Mozambique earlier this year, I came across another of Azagaia’s tracks, titled “People’s Power” (2008). In the song’s chorus, Azagaia clearly issues a warning to the government:

Robbers, out

Corrupt, out

Assasins, out

Shout with me for them to go away

The People have the power

The power to choose

The one who will govern us

We are the ones to elect

And if you haven’t been honest

Then get yourself in line

You will not manipulate us

Now the people are mad!

Weeks after the song was released, there was uproar within the government over Azagaia’s lyrics. The headline of ‘Freemuse’ (Freedom of Musical Expression), an international organization that promotes anti-censorship for musicians and composers worldwide, read, “The rap artist Azagaia was summoned before prosecutors to explain the allegedly violent lyrics of a song he has written about the February 2008 riots in Maputo.” On April 30th, 2008 da Luz was apprehended by the police and questioned for an hour and 30 minutes about his song, and the inherent violence in it. Azagaia did not deny his hostility toward the government and openly champions the song to those who protested against the 50 percent rise in fares charged by the minibuses in Maputo (the city’s main form of public transportation).

One of the things that struck me about Azagaia’s music was that it reverts back to the original forms of rap. Modern day American rap was born in the early 1970s in the era of the New York block parties. It has roots in African and Jamaican dub music, but quickly became a way of self expression for “disenfranchised youth of low-economic areas as the culture reflected the social, economic and political realities of their lives.” Today rap (now heavily incorporated into Hip Hop) remains the music of low income African Americans, but the messages in rap songs have changed dramatically. It has become rare to hear political rap and much more so to see those songs top the charts.

However, in Mozambique people have flocked to Azagaia’s music because they can relate to it. He raps about the everyday occurrences of their lives, and the people rally around him for it. He, like many Mozambicans, feels let down by the government, and he uses his words as a weapon to try and inspire change not only within the country, but the continent as a whole.  In fact he chose the name Azagaia, because it means “spear.”

Undoubtedly, the controversy surrounding his music also has contributed to his fame, and led him to tour in Mozambique, Angola and Portugal. An avid Facebook user, he uses social networking to connect to more people and spread his message and refers to it as “a necessity that we all possess as humans, which is to share.” It is Azagaia’s belief that there are aspects of every life that should be shared with others, in the hopes of attracting both those who think as you do and those that do not. That is the power of words. With an album and a host of successful singles under his belt, Azagaia is poised to keep advocating for the disillusioned of Mozambique and calling out corruption and dishonesty in the government as he sees it.