As part of Brooklyn College’s “We Stand Against Hate” initiative, dozens of students met in the Student Center on Monday to view a screening of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” and discuss the way negative stereotypes influence our perception of the world.
Several dozen students attended the event, which was co-sponsored by the Black Students Union, the Black Faculty and Staff Association, and the Office of Diversity and Equity Programs.
The event kicked off with introductory remarks from the Special Assistant to the VP of Student Affairs, Dave Bryan. Bryan organized the event after seeing Adichie’s TED Talk two months ago, which he thought would provide a great opportunity for students to learn about each other.
Spurred by the recent killings in Lower Manhattan which left eight dead and the previous evening’s mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Bryan began the event by asking the audience to observe a moment a silence for all those who have perished in crimes of hate.
He also noted that the event was being held on Black Solidarity Day, a holiday created by Brooklyn College Professor Emeritus Carlos E. Russell which falls on the Monday before Election Day. Several students from the Black Students Union who were observing the holiday nodded in approval. Students held signs that read: “What if all Black people were to disappear for one day?”
In the TED Talk shown at the event, author Chimamanda Adichie talked about reading Western literature as a child in Nigeria, and how she imitated these stories in her writing as a child, resulting in her writing all sorts of stories about blue-eyed white men who loved snow and drank ginger beer — never mind that she had never seen snow or drank ginger beer in her life.
When she went to college as an adult, she became very aware of the stereotypes her colleagues had of life in Africa, most of which they absorbed from reading Western literature such as when a dorm-mate asked to listen to her “tribal music,” only to be confused when Adichie handed her Mariah Carey tapes.
Adichie’s message was simple: it is dangerous for people to have only a single story, and we need to have a wide range of perspectives for us to have a true picture of the world.
Her message may have been about our perspectives of Africa, but it resonated with all in attendance, regardless of race or nationality.
“Oh my god,” said one student who identified as Grenadian, “she is so inspirational. I actually connected with her. It was deep.” Another attendee found parallels between the negative stereotypes of Adichie’s Nigerian culture and the negative stereotypes of her native Jamaican culture.
Adichie’s talk also touched upon how Western depictions of Africa contribute to a misperception that all African cultures are interchangeable, and while most of those who spoke identified as of Caribbean descent, her words clearly struck a chord.
“I’m not black. I’m Haitian!” said one attendee. “When you say black, forget about color. Half the people here aren’t ‘black.’” Another attendee pointed out that her experiences as an African-American from the Bronx were completely different than the experiences of her peers from the Caribbean.
The event was held the day before Election Day, almost exactly one year after Donald J. Trump was declared President-Elect of the United States, so it was fitting that the discussion cycled back to the Trump administration.
“I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what’s happening […] it’s hard for me to digest a lot of what I see,” said one student perplexed by cultural shifts in the year following Trump’s election. “I’m hoping this is just a phase.”
“With Obama, it was the beginning of conversations people didn’t want to have anymore,” another student chimed in. “Now we have a conversation from the other side, saying what they really felt.” She discussed her experiences going to a predominantly white high school, where she felt her peers did not appreciate her perspective. “I remember going to Greek sweet sixteens, I remember going to Italian sweet sixteens […] It’s sad to see they don’t want to do the same.”
Several students agreed with her statement, but not with her pessimism.
“Now you know that some people, not all, but some people think like that. Some people still say, ‘I’m not racist, my TV is colored!’” one student responded. “Donald Trump is not the first crazy white man in the Oval Office, and he won’t be the last.” He stressed that while President Trump was “a bully,” he is not the only person in the country whose voice matters. “We’re in a space where we can create a safe space for this kind of dialogue. This is an institute of higher education.”
The diversity of Brooklyn College came up several times. “It’s always good to have a diverse community,” said David Wells, chairperson of the Black Faculty and Staff Association. “The challenge is having a community within that diversity.”
Tony Thomas and Tunji Fussell from the Office of Diversity spoke at the event, encouraging students to stop by their office and say hello. A representative from Hillel House was also present, saying that while Hillel House was predominantly Jewish and religious, its doors are open to everyone.
“Regardless of race, we all have the opportunity to grow,” said Bryan. “Once we start thinking of ourselves as part of a larger community, what we call humans, we begin to seek out and understand that we all have a purpose. At least, that’s what I got out of this.”