Karen Smith famously said “So if you’re from Africa why are you white?”, contributing to the growing debate surrounding stereotypes in popular culture. This famous Mean Girls quote was surprisingly my first thought whilst watching novelist Chimamanda Adichie tell her story of finding her authentic voice. Ms Adichie exemplifies impressionable people’s vulnerability to pop culture and how a single framed approach leads to misinterpretations.
Children are feed multiple forms of media from literature to film; Adichi articulates the importance to teaching children to avoid stereotypes and forming a single story approach. Specifically focusing on Africa, poverty, violence and coloured skin forms the Western ideal of “authentic Africa”. The West is blinded by the growth of multiculturalism and the educated middle class men who do exist in Africa. Another significant point Ms Adichie exemplifies, is our ability to symbolize characteristics with an entire country, Africa is a continent and we (the west) often ignore the other 55 recognised states.
The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is that they are incomplete; the single story then becomes the only story, robbing people of their dignity. It emphasises how we are different rather how we are similar. …. When we reject the single story we gain a kind of paradise – Chimamanda Adichie 2009
Media giant Disney educates our children from an extremely young age, unfortunately they are known for stereotyping minorities. Disney writers have been maligned by activist for their representation of African Americans, Arabs, Native Americans and Asians (Lang 2007 p412) and for their ignorance of race and ethnicity in productions and publications (Sun and Picker 2001). A feral young dark skinned boy and human-wannabe orangutans are portrayed in the Jungle Book. African’s are completely absent in Tarzan and the evil lion Scar from The Lion King has dark fur suggesting he is of native colour and Native Americas in Peter Pan and Pocahontas are portrayed as savages. This plague of representation throughout children’s literature, confirms the single story approach to education.
The following video shows African men responding to Hollywood’s stereotype.
We are all victims and transgressors of the single story. What can we do as individuals to avoid, educate and communicate diversity and truth in pop culture?
Adichie, C 2009, The Danger of the Single Story, Ted Talk, July 2009, viewed 5 May 2014, http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story#t-1101122
Lang, P 2007, Disney and Stereotyping; “A nice Thirteen Year Old Girl”, Media Literacy, Peter Lang Publishing New York
Sun, C. Picker, M 2001, Mick Mouse Monopoly: Disney Childhood and Corporate Power, Film, ArtMedia Production.