I loved watching the new news station Al Jazeera America last night. I think it’s so cool that we have this option, and I hope the channel makes it. Somewhat because we have entrenched political debate in this country, and this might stir things up, but moreso because I love the chance to get away from “The Danger of a Single Story.”
You know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fabulous TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” don’t you? (If not, I’ve put it below.) She talks about how America has a narrative of what Africa is and isn’t and how her work is not only a reaction to that but a claiming of her own story. This happens throughout history. People yearn for a single line of meaning for the world, preferably that involved their kin in the main storyline. Unfortunately and fortunately, that’s not the way the world works. Everybody is the hero of their own story, but if they have the power (hegemony) they get to impose their story, their version of the truth, on the multitude of other narratives out there.
Creating meaning for a group isn’t a bad thing. It’s human nature, how we make our lives have worth. But we have to acknowledge the many narratives that there are. Like the Harper’s piece by William T. Vollman about being suspected of being the Unibomber. In an interview on NPR, he talks explicity about his America and what it means. (Mikhail Bakhtin has some interesting things to say about the centripetal and centrifugal forces in national dialog.)
Some of the things I love about the new Al Jazeera America channel. The fact that most of the anchors are nonwhite (by that I mean not of European American descent). That it has an international focus yet still covers the U.S. That it tells positive and negative stories. That there is dialog and disagreement and vehement discussion. That The Nation advertises on it, and you can go online on Facebook and participate in the discussion. Most of all, there is pushback against the dominant lines of discussion.
Very cool. And here’s the wonderful Adichie for your moment of zen.