Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Debunking the Dangers of a Single Story

AGI-Rome participants in January 2019 during a walking tour with Guide Invisibili, a sound walks project that tours the city of Rome through the perspectives and life stories of migrants who live in the reception centers of this city

Storytelling: Debunking the Dangers of a Single Story
Adam Abate, MPA student

One of the many experiential learning components of AGI Rome was how human dignity and social justice paradigms play a role in the leadership and management of worldwide projects for humanitarian assistance. A common advocacy theme surrounding the public perception of refugees is the danger that results from a single story, a concept that warns if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Primarily due to media misrepresentation in their host communities, the public perception of refugees seems to be feelings of opposition. It seems as though policies and values hold more weight than facts and evidence when public perceptions are created. I strongly believe storytelling, a strategy that can be used by advocacy organizations, can help host communities develop appropriate attitudes and inter-cultural competencies towards refugees and forced migration.

During our walking tour, we heard the personal stories of Bakari (pictured above in middle) and other refugees upon their arrival in Rome. Feelings of exclusion, xenophobia, and apathy from host communities in Rome were consistent amongst all the stories I heard. Here’s an article that depicts the refugee crisis and describes the public perception that refugee advocacy organizations are fighting against in Rome, I love Rome, but Rome doesn't love us. After the tour, I spoke with Bakari one-on-one about his story and let him know that my family members had similar experiences as migrants to the U.S. from Ethiopia. I wanted him to know that his experiences were synonymous with many migrants, regardless of the host country. He then shared with me his aspirations on coming to the U.S. to pursue his passion for music and acting.

Reflecting on my conversation with Bakari, I realized I have achieved a learning outcome of this course. Our conversation was a representation of Intercultural communication, a demonstration of cultural sensitivity, empathy, and appreciation of cultural differences. I recommend watching The danger of a single story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who tells her story of how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

The same streets we walked on during the tour were the same streets walked by many refugees before us. To ease the refugee integration process, I believe advocacy organizations must focus on storytelling to create empathy and compassion amongst the host community. To conclude, here’s another piece on storytelling and its potential impact on the Refugee Narrative.