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  • So earlier this year,

  • I was informed that I would be doing a TED Talk.

  • So I was excited, then I panicked,

  • then I was excited, then I panicked,

  • and in between the excitement and the panicking,

  • I started to do my research,

  • and my research primarily consisted of Googling how to give a great TED Talk.

  • (Laughter)

  • And interspersed with that,

  • I was Googling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

  • How many of you know who that is?

  • (Cheers)

  • So I was Googling her because I always Google her

  • because I'm just a fan,

  • but also because she always has important and interesting things to say.

  • And the combination of those searches

  • kept leading me to her talk

  • on the dangers of a single story,

  • on what happens when we have a solitary lens

  • through which to understand certain groups of people,

  • and it is the perfect talk.

  • It's the talk that I would have given if I had been famous first.

  • (Laughter)

  • You know, and you know, like, she's African and I'm African,

  • and she's a feminist and I'm a feminist,

  • and she's a storyteller and I'm a storyteller,

  • so I really felt like it's my talk.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I decided that I was going to learn how to code,

  • and then I was going to hack the internet

  • and I would take down all the copies of that talk that existed,

  • and then I would memorize it,

  • and then I would come here and deliver it as if it was my own speech.

  • So that plan was going really well, except the coding part,

  • and then one morning a few months ago,

  • I woke up

  • to the news that the wife of a certain presidential candidate

  • had given a speech that --

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • that sounded eerily like a speech given by one of my other faves,

  • Michelle Obama.

  • (Cheers)

  • And so I decided that I should probably write my own TED Talk,

  • and so that is what I am here to do.

  • I'm here to talk about my own observations about storytelling.

  • I want to talk to you about the power of stories, of course,

  • but I also want to talk about their limitations,

  • particularly for those of us who are interested in social justice.

  • So since Adichie gave that talk seven years ago,

  • there has been a boom in storytelling.

  • Stories are everywhere,

  • and if there was a danger in the telling of one tired old tale,

  • then I think there has got to be lots to celebrate about the flourishing

  • of so many stories and so many voices.

  • Stories are the antidote to bias.

  • In fact, today, if you are middle class and connected via the internet,

  • you can download stories at the touch of a button

  • or the swipe of a screen.

  • You can listen to a podcast

  • about what it's like to grow up Dalit in Kolkata.

  • You can hear an indigenous man in Australia

  • talk about the trials and triumphs of raising his children in dignity

  • and in pride.

  • Stories make us fall in love.

  • They heal rifts and they bridge divides.

  • Stories can even make it easier for us

  • to talk about the deaths of people in our societies

  • who don't matter, because they make us care.

  • Right?

  • I'm not so sure,

  • and I actually work for a place called the Centre for Stories.

  • And my job is to help to tell stories

  • that challenge mainstream narratives about what it means to be black

  • or a Muslim or a refugee or any of those other categories

  • that we talk about all the time.

  • But I come to this work

  • after a long history as a social justice activist,

  • and so I'm really interested in the ways

  • that people talk about nonfiction storytelling

  • as though it's about more than entertainment,

  • as though it's about being a catalyst for social action.

  • It's not uncommon to hear people say

  • that stories make the world a better place.

  • Increasingly, though, I worry that even the most poignant stories,

  • particularly the stories about people who no one seems to care about,

  • can often get in the way of action towards social justice.

  • Now, this is not because storytellers mean any harm.

  • Quite the contrary.

  • Storytellers are often do-gooders like me and, I suspect, yourselves.

  • And the audiences of storytellers

  • are often deeply compassionate and empathetic people.

  • Still, good intentions can have unintended consequences,

  • and so I want to propose that stories are not as magical as they seem.

  • So three -- because it's always got to be three --

  • three reasons why I think

  • that stories don't necessarily make the world a better place.

  • Firstly, stories can create an illusion of solidarity.

  • There is nothing like that feel-good factor you get

  • from listening to a fantastic story

  • where you feel like you climbed that mountain, right,

  • or that you befriended that death row inmate.

  • But you didn't.

  • You haven't done anything.

  • Listening is an important

  • but insufficient step towards social action.

  • Secondly, I think often we are drawn

  • towards characters and protagonists

  • who are likable and human.

  • And this makes sense, of course, right?

  • Because if you like someone, then you care about them.

  • But the inverse is also true.

  • If you don't like someone,

  • then you don't care about them.

  • And if you don't care about them,

  • you don't have to see yourself as having a moral obligation

  • to think about the circumstances that shaped their lives.

  • I learned this lesson when I was 14 years old.

  • I learned that actually, you don't have to like someone

  • to recognize their wisdom,

  • and you certainly don't have to like someone

  • to take a stand by their side.

  • So my bike was stolen

  • while I was riding it --

  • (Laughter)

  • which is possible if you're riding slowly enough, which I was.

  • (Laughter)

  • So one minute I'm cutting across this field

  • in the Nairobi neighborhood where I grew up,

  • and it's like a very bumpy path,

  • and so when you're riding a bike,

  • you don't want to be like, you know --

  • (Laughter)

  • And so I'm going like this, slowly pedaling,

  • and all of a sudden, I'm on the floor.

  • I'm on the ground, and I look up,

  • and there's this kid peddling away in the getaway vehicle,

  • which is my bike,

  • and he's about 11 or 12 years old, and I'm on the floor,

  • and I'm crying because I saved a lot of money for that bike,

  • and I'm crying and I stand up and I start screaming.

  • Instinct steps in, and I start screaming, "Mwizi, mwizi!"

  • which means "thief" in Swahili.

  • And out of the woodworks, all of these people come out

  • and they start to give chase.

  • This is Africa, so mob justice in action.

  • Right?

  • And I round the corner, and they've captured him,

  • they've caught him.

  • The suspect has been apprehended,

  • and they make him give me my bike back,

  • and they also make him apologize.

  • Again, you know, typical African justice, right?

  • And so they make him say sorry.

  • And so we stand there facing each other,

  • and he looks at me, and he says sorry,

  • but he looks at me with this unbridled fury.

  • He is very, very angry.

  • And it is the first time that I have been confronted with someone

  • who doesn't like me simply because of what I represent.

  • He looks at me with this look as if to say,

  • "You, with your shiny skin and your bike, you're angry at me?"

  • So it was a hard lesson that he didn't like me,

  • but you know what, he was right.

  • I was a middle-class kid living in a poor country.

  • I had a bike, and he barely had food.

  • Sometimes, it's the messages that we don't want to hear,

  • the ones that make us want to crawl out of ourselves,

  • that we need to hear the most.

  • For every lovable storyteller who steals your heart,

  • there are hundreds more whose voices are slurred and ragged,

  • who don't get to stand up on a stage dressed in fine clothes like this.

  • There are a million angry-boy-on-a-bike stories

  • and we can't afford to ignore them

  • simply because we don't like their protagonists

  • or because that's not the kid that we would bring home with us

  • from the orphanage.

  • The third reason that I think

  • that stories don't necessarily make the world a better place

  • is that too often we are so invested in the personal narrative

  • that we forget to look at the bigger picture.

  • And so we applaud someone

  • when they tell us about their feelings of shame,

  • but we don't necessarily link that to oppression.

  • We nod understandingly when someone says they felt small,

  • but we don't link that to discrimination.

  • The most important stories, especially for social justice,

  • are those that do both,

  • that are both personal and allow us to explore and understand the political.

  • But it's not just about the stories we like

  • versus the stories we choose to ignore.

  • Increasingly, we are living in a society where there are larger forces at play,

  • where stories are actually for many people beginning to replace the news.

  • Yeah?

  • We live in a time where we are witnessing the decline of facts,

  • when emotions rule

  • and analysis, it's kind of boring, right?

  • Where we value what we feel more than what we actually know.

  • A recent report by the Pew Center on trends in America

  • indicates that only 10 percent of young adults under the age of 30

  • "place a lot of trust in the media."

  • Now, this is significant.

  • It means that storytellers are gaining trust

  • at precisely the same moment

  • that many in the media are losing the confidence in the public.

  • This is not a good thing,

  • because while stories are important

  • and they help us to have insights in many ways,

  • we need the media.

  • From my years as a social justice activist,

  • I know very well that we need credible facts from media institutions

  • combined with the powerful voices of storytellers.

  • That's what pushes the needle forward in terms of social justice.

  • In the final analysis, of course,

  • it is justice

  • that makes the world a better place,

  • not stories. Right?

  • And so if it is justice that we are after,

  • then I think we mustn't focus on the media or on storytellers.

  • We must focus on audiences,

  • on anyone who has ever turned on a radio

  • or listened to a podcast,

  • and that means all of us.

  • So a few concluding thoughts

  • on what audiences can do to make the world a better place.

  • So firstly, the world would be a better place, I think,

  • if audiences were more curious and more skeptical

  • and asked more questions about the social context

  • that created those stories that they love so much.

  • Secondly, the world would be a better place

  • if audiences recognized that storytelling is intellectual work.

  • And I think it would be important for audiences

  • to demand more buttons on their favorite websites,

  • buttons for example that say,

  • "If you liked this story,

  • click here to support a cause your storyteller believes in."

  • Or "click here to contribute to your storyteller's next big idea."

  • Often, we are committed to the platforms,

  • but not necessarily to the storytellers themselves.

  • And then lastly, I think that audiences can make the world a better place

  • by switching off their phones,

  • by stepping away from their screens

  • and stepping out into the real world beyond what feels safe.

  • Alice Walker has said,

  • "Look closely at the present you are constructing.

  • It should look like the future you are dreaming."

  • Storytellers can help us to dream,

  • but it's up to all of us to have a plan for justice.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

So earlier this year,

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B1 INT US justice bike talk social justice storyteller social

【TED】Sisonke Msimang: If a story moves you, act on it (If a story moves you, act on it | Sisonke Msimang)

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