I am Black, American, heterosexually, grad student, from a middle-class family. Despite what everyone tells me, I have never been to Africa or Haiti. So yes, maybe it is a surprise to some because my dark skin tends to throw people off. I’m constantly asked, “where are you from?” It’s as if people are expecting me to say I’m a Nigerian woman. You should see their faces when I say “I was born in Texas.” Their facial expressions made me laugh every time. Also, do you want to know another thing, the people who ask me that the most are Black people. You see, growing up, I didn’t realize I was Black until I lived in a predominately Black area. It never dawned on me that my skin color was such a mystery. Let alone a mystery to people who looked similar to me. But, I have to admit, after living in an urban neighborhood for 15 years, I do see where these stereotypes are coming from. Darker skinned Black women are supposed to be the image of Africa; rough and ugly. Lighter complexion Black women are supposed to be the image of the American Black slave; gentle and beautiful. I never understood this growing up and as a grown woman, I still don’t. In order to grasps these stereotypes. I started researching all areas of stereotypes and how they position people within a society.
In order for me to grasps these stereotypes, I have to know where I stand. According to Davies and Harre, “All of us have multiple affiliations, and different selves within each of them.” If I say that I am Black and American, I immediately adopt two selves. The first is my identity as a Black person, the second is my identity as an American. However, if I attach woman (Black American woman) to those identities I have given myself a completely different identity. These identities stem from colonization. Before beginning my research, I never thought about colonization having an impact on the way people thought.
For years, people thought colonialism was a thing of the past. However, “over the past few decades, there has been an exponential growth in the study and teaching of postcolonial and cultures in the U.S. academy” (Desai 1). I also thought colonialism to be a thing of the past. It never dawned on me that the influences of the world stemmed from imperialism. After reading Christopher Columbus encounter with Indians, I realize how much imperialism has impacted people’s identities. Columbus description of his encounter with Indians is disturbing to me because societies still depict them in a similar manner. He says, “but they are by nature fearful and timid. Yet when perceived that they are safe, putting aside all fear, they are simple manners and trustworthy, and very liberal with everything they have … inviting us to take things” (Desai 20).
Do you remember Disney’s, Pocahontas? The depiction of Pocahontas and her tribe is extremely reminiscent of Columbus description. There’s this one scene in the movie where John Smith and Pocahontas come face to face. He stares at her like he was mesmerized by her beauty. However, Pocahontas runs away and John Smith has to prove himself trustworthy. Once he does that, Pocahontas lets him into her life and teaches him about her way of living. Her people are giving and gentle, just like the description Columbus gives. Of course, Pocahontas is based on a true story but, I wonder if Columbus descriptions were different would that change the way in which we see Indian people? I believe that “the “discovery” of the New World portends the emerging dominance of western Europe on the world stage” (13). Due to this dominance, the western ideology continues to exist on a world stage.
A danger arises when western ideology dominates most of the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recognizes the “danger of a single story.” When she was featured on Ted Talk, she mentioned how she was an earlier reader as well as a writer. And when she started writing stories, her characters were white, blue eyed, ate apples, and played in the snow. The influence of western novels dominated the way in which she wrote her stories. It’s important to note that Adichie is from Nigeria and had never been outside of Nigeria. She says that once she began reading African books, she went through a mental shift; she began to write about things she recognized. One of the most interesting things to me is when she begins to talk about her roommate. She tells the audience that her roommate was shocked by how well she spoke English. Her roommate didn’t know that Nigeria recognizes English as their official language. Adichie’s roommate “had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe” (see link below). It’s not unbelievable that her roommate thought African’s weren’t similar to Americans because society has taught Americans that African people are to be pitied. After is a depicted as a “place of negatives, difference, and darkness” (TedTalk video).
Adichie also mentions that John Locke is one of the first to give the story on Africans. This single story has become the dominant ideology about African people. It’s exactly like what Columbus did to Indians. There are dangers in these stories because they only give one depiction of people. Yes, there are different versions but all similar. With these stories, stereotypes are formed and that puts a lot of minorities in danger. People do not see that these depicts do not stand for an entire people. However, these stories have proven time and time again to produce “incomplete stereotypes.” I never really that about colonialism but now, I recognize the effects that colonialism has one people and believe that post-colonialism is something that needs to be further explored in order to deconstruct incomplete stereotypes. To get rid of that single story.
So now I sit here and think. When people look at me, they’ll see a Black woman. A dark skinned Black woman. They’ll immediately think that I am African, or Haiti, or Jamaican. They’ll assume that I’m aggressive and promiscuous. People will think this because of the single story that they’ve been given. The incomplete stereotypes which they think form me and create my personality. However, people do not know my single story. They do not know what makes me tick. For right now, all they know is that I am Black, heterosexual, grad student, from a middle-class family. These descriptions alone give people a story and I can honestly tell you it’s not the story they want. What if I just people that I label myself as “me?” Do you think that is enough? Do you think people will accept that story?