Why we need Second Stories

Single Stories stereotype and dehumanize people. It is not so much that they are untruthful as they are incomplete. It simply does not acknowledge the complexity of a human being. People with much storytelling power define the Single Story about a group of people in a stereotypical way and spread it, repeating it over and over again until the people who are listening are no longer able to imagine this group of people as anything besides this single definition.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) first explained how a Single Story can disadvantage the people that they describe. In her most-viewed Ted-Talk ‘The Danger of a Single Story‘, she says: 

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

Single Stories dehumanise and often end up marginalising vulnerable groups, as the choice of what a Single Story includes is up to the ones in power. Single Stories take away the curiosity and imagination of society towards what else a person is next to a refugee, what abilities someone has next to being poor, what traits next to being gay, and what talents next to disabled. When society no longer imagines beyond the Single Story it stops offering opportunities that are relevant beyond this as well.

Depending on the nature of it, a Single Story quickly leads to exclusion and discrimination of those affected by it. It depends on the Story itself, on its intersectionality, on the included biases and assumptions. Some Stories tend to be told over and over again, in different versions, due to a lack of further information. Other Stories are purposely kept one-sided as a result of power structures in the world. When one has only a Single Story to refer to, this can lead to generalisation of a whole population of a country – sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. 

“How [Single Stories] are told, who tells them,
when they are told, how many Stories are told,
are really dependent on power”

(Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)


Intersectionality describes how people’s identities can overlap. Women with disabilities, Black persons from the LGBTQIA+ community are experiencing different forms of discrimination, than male or white individuals in the community.  

Kimberle Wiliams Crenshaw, who introduced the term around 30 years ago, says:
“When feminism does not explicitly oppose racism, and when antiracism does not incorporate opposition to patriarchy, race and gender politics often end up being antagonistic to each other and both interests lose.” 

Intersectional discrimination is thus not only two separate forms of discrimination, but the combination of both forms into one new form of discrimination. Discrimination is experienced differently by everyone, but the oppressive nature of discrimination is hard to tackle since it has many causes. And as “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”  (Audre Lorde) we should look at different forms of oppression at the same time.  

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free” (Fannie Lou Hamer) 

We need to tell different stories, to humanise the other”
Elif Shafak

The Solution: Second Stories

A Second Story is every story that a Single Story left out. These stories add to the completeness and complexity of the person that the Single Story failed to describe. It is relevant to the identity of the individual and/or their group and values their diversity. A Second Story humanises and restores dignity. Adichie referred to the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti when she said:  

“If you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and start with secondly

Second Stories is the platform to start introducing oneself with ‘secondly,’ a platform to get to know a people through multiple stories that they, themselves, find to accurately describe their identity, complexity, and humanity. 

With many Second Stories, we aim to find ourselves with multi-facetted stories about the people we listened to and curiosity towards the people who have yet to reach the stage.