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Is Africa a dark continent, full of illiterate people and catastrophes?

17 September 2015, 14:48 Anne Muigai

When I read Jordan Vernon's memoir, Vernon Can Read!, I was perturbed by the level of ignorance many people portray when they judge and place others based on a single story. Jordan was a black-American youth and worked as a chauffeur for a white during summer. His employer was a white racist who had all these ideas of blacks being illiterate and uneducated. He expressed shock when he discovered that Jordan could read. He had a single story of blacks and Africa in general, and that is what he used to gauge them.

I know many people, friends, family and neighbors who perceive others based on singles stories. We are quick to ignore people as poor, ignorant and intolerable just because we have heard of their situations and the things they have done. Many people have lost their jobs just because you and I negatively shared a single picture they updated on social media. We create negative buzz about people, tell a single story about them and cost them opportunities and dignity.

Many times we judge and group people according to just what we know about them. It's common place to feel enormous pity for poor people, for people in power to perceive their subjects as deprived, or even for whites to look down on Africans and assume they are clueless. When growing up, we learn through enculturation, to tell single stories; the negatives, the wrongs and just one facet of other people. In the age of social media, single storytelling is as big as it could be. People spread and share rumors and negative stories of others, oblivious to the harm they can cause.

We are all guilty of single story telling. It always seems easy to rule out and characterize people using a single aspect. Showing people who are composed of many parts as just one thing over and over is unfair. It denies them their humanity and dignity. Reading Jordan’s memoir has changed my way of thinking. Now, I understand how important it is to tell other people’s stories in a definitive way.

Imagine of the people you have met in your life including friends and workmates. But all you can tell about them are the negatives. Think about how unfair you have been, contributing to negative stories about people on social media. Honestly, single stories are not untrue, but what makes them dangerous is that they are incomplete. The problem with individual stories is that they create stereotypes and rob many people of their rightful recognition and dignity.

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I have a close friend who is an introvert, a loner, and many people brush him off as just that. I have a verbose work mate who will just say anything, anywhere. I know many people who have been crucified on social media for a mistake they did.  If people could know my introvert friend better, and discover that he is a great artist, then they could tell a complete story about him. If many racist whites, who unfortunately still believe that Africa is a dark continent characterized by illiterate people, incurable diseases and catastrophes knew better, they would tell a better story. If you and I knew more about the committed employee, who just a mistake, we would divorce ourselves from judging them and spreading insensitive messages about them on social media.

Many times we tell stories that are demeaning, disempowering and dehumanizing. How about we use stories to empower and enhance people’s dignity?

I feel that it is wrong for anyone to assume that I can’t speak proper English just because I’m from Africa, or from an individual tribe. It is wrong to snob people because all you know about them is that they are not outgoing. There is no greater form of meanness than defaming a person on social media resulting in loss of face and jobs. Think about it. Telling a single story of another person denies them great opportunities. To be fair, we ought to know others well, free of any bias and prejudice, to tell their stories better.

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- MyNews24

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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