The Danger of a Single Story

Marcia Forbes PhD

The first part of the title of this article was the topic of a presentation I watched on-line by a young, female Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Adichie. It fired my imagination to apply the essence of her thoughts to Jamaica and our present conditions. She made the point that by showing a people as one thing over and over again, that is what they become. Many of us in Jamaica can easily relate to this as we consume the all too frequent images of our country as a ‘murder capital’, rife with dons, drugs and dancehall.

Our single story for the past several months has been our dire economic straits, our out of control crime levels, the socially unacceptable messages in our music and the failure of the JLP administration to present well thought through plans as to how to move us from ‘here’ to a more productive and pleasant ‘there’. This single story is robbing all of us as Jamaicans of our dignity, with the potential to dampen our spirit of resilience and to ‘mek we tun wutliss’. I reject the single story of Jamaica. There are many, many more stories.

As we begin a brand new year, all of us as Jamaicans need to recognize and begin to share the multiple stories of Jamaica. I truly believe that there is POWER in the WORD and that we speak and act things into existence. Now more than at any other time therefore we need to call upon our spirit of resilience, the positive aspects of our ‘fighting spirit’ which allowed our foreparents to struggle and to survive the middle passage, or for those not of African descent, to leave their homelands for Jamaica.

Listening to a recent media vox pop, it was amazing to hear ‘ordinary’ Jamaicans explain how they were battening down for 2010 and its challenges. Their responses reminded me of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. No one played dead. We pulled together as one people in that time of crisis and pulled ourselves out of it. Four years later when Hurricane Andrew hit parts of the USA I was amazed at how Americans appeared to winge and whine at just about everything. It was then that I realized how strong and resilient we Jamaicans really are.

Group-think can put us in peril. The diet of a single story of Jamaica that we are being fed and keep regurgitating for others is only working to give us all upset stomach, normalizing our fear, frustrating and crippling us. At this rate we will become a sick nation instead of the proactive, productive people we need to be. While being the last one to propose a rose-coloured view of Jamaica, the challenge is to present a balance and to take heart from the positives while working to correct the negatives. Wallowing in self-pity and recrimination is the past time of fools. Jamaican people nuh fool fool.

Despite its challenges, Jamaica still has much to offer but too many of us take its offerings for granted. Adichie does not. She highlighted Bob Marley’s powerful influence on present day urban music in Nigeria. Like her, more of us need to reject the single story of doom and gloom for our country and ‘put our shoulders to the wheel’. I have claimed 2010 as my year and intend to give more attention to those less fortunate than I am. While I know that there are numerous Jamaicans who give a great deal of their time, talents and treasures, I charge more to get on board to give back to our country, to stand and be counted in the ways that really count! Let us reject the single story of Jamaica and in giving write new stories.