The Stories We Tell

In the constant mess of American politics today, there is one attitude that saddens me particularly deeply every time it surfaces. This is the truly reprehensible attitude toward non-white countries in the developing world that is openly displayed by the US president and mirrored by so many others.

Now, I have disagreed fiercely with these same people over their handling of many other topics – women, health care, business ethics, police brutality, mass shootings, media, immigration…the list goes on. But the inherently racist and unjust comments disparaging developing countries really hit a nerve for me. In part, this is because I have the great privilege of working in the country of Rwanda,
and now that I know and love so many incredible Rwandans and the beautiful country they call home, I am highly upset at the idea that anyone would look down on them. It may also be that I am unfortunately quite used to blatant misogyny, vocal disdain for the welfare state, NRA crusaders, and more, but I’m not as used to people openly trashing developing countries and the people who live in them. It seemed to me that we were progressing, albeit slowly, toward tolerance and global citizenship – but now that the current US president is championing bigotry, many others who feel the same way seem empowered to be more vocal about it. It feels like we’re moving backward.

So put aside for a minute the fact that this is obviously wrong, in terms of God’s love for all the people of the world, and also on the level of basic human decency. Because there is something else going on here.

It’s all, to some degree, unsurprising. The perception that many people have of developing nations, especially in Africa, is extremely inaccurate, and has been for most of history. The narrative that is commonly communicated about the developing world is horribly misleading, and sometimes blatantly false. Most people are genuinely ignorant about the realities of life in developing nations, and see them only through the narrative of poverty and instability.

We need to seek out the truth: the whole truth Click To Tweet

Now there is truth to the fact that Africa, and developing nations all over the globe, still face a ton of challenges. The problem is that there are so many other stories that are not being told, and this one-sided narrative is really damaging. When you take the time to see what’s really there, you find that life outside of the western world is not all deprivation and desperation. You will find hope and promise, young entrepreneurs, strong female leaders, human rights activists, successful businesses, technological innovation, vibrant culture, beautiful art, incredible music. You will find multidimensional people with ambitions, interests, talents, and abilities – people with so much to offer the world. And while we’re at it, lets not forget, minimize, or whitewash the staggering amount the developing world has already contributed to modern civilization.

The reality is that representation shapes perception, conversation, and action, and knowing this, we need to take it more seriously. Media and individuals alike need to change the narrative. We need to responsibly tell a fair and truthful story that preserves the dignity of the people and places we talk about. It doesn’t mean minimizing the bad parts, it just means sharing the good parts in equal measure – telling the whole story. On the other side of the coin, we all should think more critically about the stories we are told. We need to seek out the truth: the whole truth.

Adebola Williams is a Nigerian media entrepreneur and activist who fully understands the power of stories. His organization, Red Media Africa, seeks to tell the stories that will inspire and empower citizens of developing nations, that will make them hungry for change and positive impact. He dreams of “a critical mass of young, hopeful people who believe in the power of their own gifts to create a different future.” This is the kind of example we should follow.

We’ve had enough of the same old stories. These are the stories we should be telling now.

 

Note:

For some fantastic insight on the power of story and the danger of a single story, watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted talk: The danger of a single story.