How the Danger of a Single Story relates to Cancel Culture
By Seth Meyer (Staff Writer)
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…” quotes renowned author, and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her, now famous, TED talk: The danger of a single story. This quote first came to my mind when Adichie’s name once again appeared on my radar, this time as the latest person to attract the ire of UCT’s Student Representative Council (SRC).
The story was familiar. The UCT SRC demanded that the author’s lecture be cancelled due to a certain controversial remark Adichie had made in a previous interview. UCT refused to do so. So, in response, the UCT SRC organised a boycott of the event, hosting an opposing lecture during that of Adichie and featuring an alternative speaker, Dr Anastacia Tomson.
This pattern of actions and events has become widely recognised and broadly attributed to the concept of ‘cancel culture’, with various permutations of the same scenario playing out all throughout the human diaspora – in a world that has grown increasingly more aware of its histories, peoples and experiences. The meanings and intent behind this “cancel culture” while, most times, noble can also be misguided. This was the case with respect to Adichie.
Some readers may have, understandably, anticipated that this opinion will revolve around something like “the toxicity of cancel culture” or “is it justified to boycott Adichie because of what she said?” Those arguments and their counter-arguments have already been written by others or are playing out right now, possibly between students who attended Adichie’s and Tomson’s respective lectures in spite of one another. Instead, this opinion is concerned with stories and the sharing of stories.
When Adichie said what she said, the lynchpin three words “transwomen are transwomen” at the centre of this particular story, she received both criticism and support in face of that criticism. She tapped into a deeply divisive issue and subsequently apologised, seeking to clarify her meaning. Those three words became the face of the SRC’s boycott campaign against her. In consequence those three words also omit the entire context of who Adichie is and what she has done. This is not a sustainable way to promote a discourse of any kind, be it for or against. When we insulate ourselves from criticism, skepticism, difference in ideas, the idea of justice that “cancel culture” often seeks to secure, is already defeated. It is better that Adichie received a clapback from the trans community and sought to apologize and to clarify, rather than become a pariah.
Adichie is a far more verbose and accomplished woman than any three words can tell, and it is for this reason that UCT would reasonably defend her position behind the lectern. She has much to share as an intellectual. And in opposition, so too does Dr Tomson. The SRC can be commended for seeking to showcase different schools of thought and opinions in contrast to Adichie, rather than outright ignoring the lecture altogether. Ironically, it is this very sharing of stories, the arguments made for and against, that is often in danger of being destroyed by movements that have unflatteringly been dubbed ‘cancel culture’, whether justifiably or not.
Here’s the point. It is inevitable that we as human beings will disagree. But in the face of our disagreement, we cannot commit ourselves to only ever hearing or wanting to hear the perspectives that suit us. We would all do well to listen carefully to what the likes of Adichie and Tomson have to say, lest we face the very danger of the single story. The saga of Adichie’s controversial remarks is not an untrue one but it is also incomplete. It is one single story. I would beseech us all to consider the others.
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