According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights all people have equal rights. In the preamble it argues ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’. In our Civics class we have been discussing how individual freedom is linked to rights. We discussed that rights are not acquired by actions or deeds but belong to everyone regardless of their country of origin, colour of their skin or religious belief.

While most people agree with human rights, as a class we have been exploring the forces at work that every day limit our freedom because they strip us of dignity and respect by limiting who we can become as human beings.

Recently we viewed a video highlighting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author who challenges us about reducing people to a ‘single story’. She argues that when we form a belief that only one story describes a particular ethnic group, we take away their dignity. Stereotypes, she argues, are damaging because they do not provide a complete story of an individual or groups of people.

Some reflections about these ideas from the students express their thoughts about how achieving rights for all is a difficult task.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told her story about how her human rights were infringed. Many people, like Chimamanda, tell stories of how they have lacked human rights or were looked down upon because they were different. People are often judged and stereotyped based on their looks. It is easy for people to make assumptions about others but it doesn't always mean that they are right. Just because somebody looks different to you or is a different gender, age or race doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the same rights as you. It makes people feel invisible when their rights are denied. Everybody, no matter what gender or race, should have equal rights.
Jacinta B. (10LRJO)

Stories we tell about others can infringe human rights because we are unknowingly putting them into a group based upon the colour of their skin, nationality, gender etc. This may make them feel unheard or unseen even though we sometimes don’t realise that we are putting these people into a stereotypical group. When we have this view on others it can strip their dignity. In order for us to stop stereotyping people based on a single story, we need to see people for who they really are and get to know them before making assumptions about their lives.
Alyssa M. (10CTKI)

When we make assumptions about others, we may reduce them to a single story. The majority of the time the stories are negative, or have negative elements to them. Often, it is all we know about people, incomplete stories circulate that often condemn certain people to our knowledge of other people we associate with them. When we have this prejudice towards others, we can strip them of their dignity. Making them feel invisible or unheard or seen. We may not allow them to do something or say something due to our assumptions about them, which in turn can take away even more rights such as freedom of speech and self-expression.
Maddie G. (10CTKI)

If we were to tell a story about someone who we do not know a lot about we will get a lot of things wrong. This might not sound like a big deal but it can make them sound like something they are not. There are many stereotypes about people and their nationalities or religions. These stereotypes put thoughts into people’s heads about what a person of a specific nationality is meant to look, sound and act like. This can alter the way a person thinks not only about themselves but of what other people think of them. If we tell a person's story incorrectly, we are taking away their dignity because we are not telling their entire story about who they actually are.

Elizabeth C. (10LRJO)

There is more than one human story. By limiting the stories we tell about people we take away their dignity, as we make assumptions about others that aren’t necessarily true and we minimise these stories to a single story. When different stories are told about a variety of countries, we instinctively stereotype them to how other people have described them. However, people don’t seem to look past the single story or the stereotypes of different races or even gender. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told a story about how her roommate felt sorry for her before they even got a chance to get to know each other. She was shocked at how well she knew how to speak English if she came from Nigeria, and asked Chimamanda to play her tribal music. This then shows the stereotype that because she came from Nigeria, she must not have a good education and must listen to tribal music. As many people spread and enforce these stories about different cultures, it can again strip them from their dignity and righteousness.
Jasmine C. (10CSGP)

When stories get told about certain countries and races, we instantly think of the stereotyping answer, because that is what's been told and retold over and over. However, people do not seem to see anything past the ‘single story’. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated that when she left Nigeria and moved to another country and had a roommate, that the roommate instantly was shocked at how well she spoke English and asked her to play her tribal music. This shows that her roommate had taken the stories she had heard and just expected that every single person from an African country would have the same issues, same lifestyle and same experiences. She stated ‘she felt sorry for me before she had even met me’, leading us to believe that her roommate was very single-story minded and was enforcing the stereotype. By enforcing these human stories and grouping every person together we take their honour and respect from them.
Ava D. (10CMSM)

Human beings tend to judge things almost instantaneously and unconsciously, leaving no time to reconsider. This often tends to lead individuals to believe in something that may not be entirely true. Over time, society has developed stereotypes that generally represent one specific part of a whole, a whole that has more to it than just the one fact. Some main groups that suffer misjudgement are individuals with colour, religion and ethnicity. These groups have walls built around them, removing from others the opportunity to get to know more and understand that the ‘single story’ is an incomplete story. Additionally, when individuals are misjudged for specific causes, it ultimately removes many common rights, such as fairness in employment, education, opinion, etc. This therefore closes the views of misjudged individuals, removing the opportunity for people to see and hear these individuals’ views. Furthermore, it creates an unbalanced society of injustice and unfairness.
Catherine S. (10MECO)

Viewing a group by one story, one rumour, one comment about them can be harmful and you only look at those people from one perspective. The news stories that are told about different cultural groups can be negative and people tend to focus on all of the negative aspects of these people and base how they view and treat them on this view, that they’re bad people. When people focus on the negative, people don’t think to even ask about the positive and other features of these groups because they can’t think of anything else other than that one view that has been shared to them.
Tilly Z. (10CPSE)

Russell Ives
Humanities Teacher