At the beginning of the semester, a professor of mine showed our class a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, in which she discusses the danger of a single story. Chimamanda was born and raised in Nigeria and used her perspective as a middle-class African woman to expose how hurtful a single story can be to those it labels and degrades. She gave examples of single stories in her speech, including when she came to America to study. Her American roommate was shocked that she could speak English so clearly and asked her about the “tribal” music she listened to, buying into a stereotype that’s very common in the west. Chimamanda remembers realizing that her roommate felt sorry for her because she bought into the single story of Africa that is told in America, which tells us that Africa is a poor continent with poor people, very different from Americans. Chimamanda makes the point while that Africa has its struggles, it has many successes, too. It’s important to acknowledge both stories equally, and all stories that fall in between, in order to gain a complete understanding of Africa. This lesson not only applies to people, but to industries, countries, continents, and everything in between.
Soon after watching this TED talk, I had the opportunity to attend the Plank Summit on Diversity and Inclusion, where I was able to hear cutting-edge research and meet professionals who are moving the diversity and inclusion needle within the communication industry. A common theme that emerged during this summit was the outdated story that our industry still follows, and I became aware of the single story that is present this industry. The field of public relations is lacking in diversity and inclusion and often times holds diversity to a higher standard than inclusion. It is no longer acceptable to meet the bare minimum of having one or two diverse people at the table, while not giving them a voice or making them included in the conversation. The underlying narrative told by each speaker at the summit was about this single story that negatively impacted them professionally, academically, and personally. They spoke about the challenges they’ve faced in overcoming stereotypes and spoke about their efforts in changing the story to include a more diverse audience. When I left the summit, I took away the very important lesson that it is up to every single one of us to do our part in changing the single story into an epic novel that is as diverse as our industry.
As the next generation of communicators, we have it in our power to learn from the mistakes of our present industry and correct them moving forward. By changing the current single story, we open doors to new perspectives and opinions. We head in a new direction that encourages elevated conversations meant to understand one another. By evolving the single story into a diverse and inclusive narrative, we’ll be better able to achieve our goals as communicators by having a broader understanding of those we need to communicate with.