Telling Stories

doing it better

There are many ways a discussion of telling stories could go. The ethics of it, the how-tos of it, the need to capture multiple angles of a story, the way the teller or hearer interacts with it. This is simply an overview of some of these topics.

The Danger of a Single Story, Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

At this point it is almost cliché to reference Adichie and her Ted Talk but if you haven’t watched it or haven’t watched it recently, I urge you to listen again.

The Reductive Seduction of Other People’s Problems, by Courtney Martin, Medium

Is this why we secretly love to hear stories of other people’s troubles? It reduces and seduces and we can judge and compare. What grossness does that reveal about our own hearts?

A Map is Only One Story: Twenty Writers on Immigration, Family, and the Meaning of Home, by Nicole Chung and Mensah Demary.

This is such a good book. I especially appreciated the authors who wrote about viewing the USA through their lens of not growing up there. Of course it is different as a sojourner but I could understand to a small degree their confusion and perspectives.

Beyond the Western Gaze, by George Kibala Bauer, Africa is a Country

This is a close examination of how to write and think about Africa and the ways simplistic narratives polarize, simplify, and fail to capture reality.

“Many “Africa is doing great with COVID” takes are as problematic as the “Africa is hopeless in the face of this crisis” takes. They lack nuance, downplay the complexity of the situation, and most importantly still operate within the Western gaze. They also lack humility—we still have so much to learn about this crisis, and have to appreciate policy trade-offs associated with the huge social and economic costs of lockdown measures. As Teju Cole recently warned: “I keep thinking about floods, and how only after the waters recede do the bodies of the drowned become visible…Hopeless Continent,” “Africa Rising,” “Afro-optimism,” or “Afro-pessimism”: These binary meta-narratives are ultimately two sides of the same coin, and they’re equally useless. It’s like when people post pictures of skyscrapers in Nairobi in response to Westerners reducing African countries to slums. Like yeah, I’ve engaged in these responses as well—but the slums still exist.”

To learn more about “ethical storytelling,” I encourage you to listen to the Ethical Storytelling Podcast. I’m not sure if they are producing any new content but their old episodes are quite good (including one interview with me – it was more than a little daunting to follow Lisa Sharon Harper!).


How do you think about story-telling? What have you seen done well? What has been problematic? Do we even have the right to tell other people’s stories?

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