reflection: on the world & its stories

Do you feel like you’ve been limited in the number or range of “stories” you’ve been exposed to? Do you feel that the rest of the world is limited in its “stories” about the United States? Why? What will you do about it?

I’ve considered myself a journalist for a while now, and so I’ve also considered it my job to tell stories. When I was in high school, I would always profess that I loved to give voices to the voiceless and that, most importantly, everyone has a story. I told a lot of different kinds of stories–I told the story of a girl whose parents were from El Salvador, with little more than a middle school education, and how they brought her to the United States for a new chance, and how she would be the first in her family to attend college. I told the story of the math club–how math, for them, was a lot more than numbers and worksheets, and how they would yell and argue over the many, many different ways to solve a problem.

I still do believe that everyone has a story. It’s something that countless journalism instructors and lecturers have drilled in my head, and–maybe I’m brainwashed–but I believe it.

But when I step back and think of the way I perceive other cultures, I don’t have tons of stories to choose from. Especially when I think about Africa, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained in her TED talk, I have a skewed view of the culture. Even just the fact that I specified an entire continent, rather than a country or particular city, should be telling.

Right now, any media coverage about Africa (especially Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea), focuses on the Ebola virus. It’s happening and it’s real, but the media has painted a picture of all of Africa as an unsanitary, diseased, dying land of bad health care, full of desperate, grabbing hands reaching out for American aid or medicine.

Even so, I don’t find myself clicking on headlines about countries in Africa or the Middle East. I tend to ignore them, focusing on the news that’s easier to stomach–local news, Texas and Oklahoma news, United States news. While mass media does limit the number of stories I hear about a particular culture or country, I also (consciously and unconsciously) limit myself to the number of stories I hear. It’s easy to avoid stories about countries and issues that seem far away from me, to tell myself that I’ll learn about what’s going on in Syria later.

So, while I’m not grossly ignorant about everything that goes on in the world around me (both locally and globally), the ignorance that I do have is at least partially my own fault. I don’t actively seek out the stories that will make me a more informed global citizen. So, I’m going to be more active in the way I look for stories–especially about world news. When I’m on Twitter, then, I’ll make the (impossibly minute) effort to click on an extra headline link to a story about a country I know little about, read it, and make sure that I’m hearing a variety of stories about the world.