the trouble with a single story [continuing to respond to “kony 2012”]

a list of sustainable organizations in uganda (northern and all other regions) is coming soon. before that, i wanted to expand a bit on some of the points i made in my last blog post “responding to kony2012”.

“it is impossible to engage properly with a place or person without engaging in all the stories of that place and that person, it robs people of dignity.” *

one of the main critiques that many have made in the past few days is that of the video’s oversimplified, dumbed-down or uninformed advocacy. this critique is not unique to this video and not a new phenomena in engaging with the world. in october 2009 nigerian author chimamanda ngozi adichie gave a TEDtalk on “the danger of a single story” addressing the exactly the issue many are taking with this viral video. if unfamiliar with TEDtalks, they are twenty-minutes and under and have covered a wide and varied number of subjects. i strongly encourage you to watch the entire video. maybe even twice.

“show a people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”

this does not have to mean this is what the people truly become–but it is what they become in the minds of those who have not seen. who do not truly know. speaking about a place like northern uganda with outdated facts and little history objectifies the people into a people who really just need people from the global north to step in and save them, and perpetuates the paternalistic and arcane view of THE WEST having the answer.

“to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me.”

i have seen, with my own eyes the radical hospitality, amazing ingenuity, deep love and compassion of the people of northern uganda (and central uganda, and western uganda, and southern uganda…).

and there are beautiful things going on in northern uganda. returned lra soldiers are being embraced by their communities–there is real and true work being done toward reintegration and being reconciled to one another. the place and the people are not flat one-dimentional, but complex, unique, hurting, powerful and beautiful people–just like all other members of humanity. only allowing their story to be told as one of constant war, death, terror and neediness takes away the inaliable humanity of every single individual.

“when we reject the single story when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

a kind of paradise where we take the time to listen to the more complex story. where we acknowledge the emotions and pullings that something like a viral video can raise for us–but then asking questions, reading histories and stories of a place and people, of asking more questions and seeking a more complete and full understanding than just one point of view.

we, as people, would be much better at hearing and responding to stories like that of the lra, famine in the horn of africa, tsunami’s in indonesia, earthquakes in japan and haiti if we realize that there is not just one story for anything. and to understand we must listen and learn, question and wonder. engage in conversation and then write your check if it still seems the prudent decision in that situation.

a voice from uganda

embeded below is a response to the video by a ugandan journalist and blogger rosebell kagumire. begin by listening to her.

rosebell has also written three fantastic blog posts:

drawing attention to the need for people to be careful where they send their money, addressing pride and paternalistic global north giving: when the ‘world’s most wanted man’ was captured by twitter also offers insight on outside donations to uganda from a point of view we in north america do not and cannot have by virtue of being from north america.

from her blog, more perspective on kony2012 rosebell engages other knowledgable voices regarding the lra conflict and northern uganda addressing “the american solution” and the ill feelings many on-the-ground in uganda consider to be viable options.

in her video rosebell addresses the mysterious nodding disease– in support nodding disease victims the most urgent challenge to a northern uganda child she offers some information and how one can get involved in finding the cause and stopping this disease from taking more children’s lives.

*all quotes in this post are from chimamanda adichie’s TEDtalk.

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