The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

The Power of our Power

16S RGLP

Dr. Uju Anya’s discussion with the RGLP cohort centered around the power of language in portraying multiplicities. 

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"...“Nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali. How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power." -Chimamanda Adichie

I am grateful that Dr. Uju Anya made us all watch Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk on “The Danger of a Single Story” in which Chimamanda explained the theory of nkali. To parallel this message, Dr. Uju Anya’s discussion with the RGLP cohort centered around the power of language in portraying multiplicities. 

Dr. Anya emphasized our ability to “do” language and how it affects our perceptions of people; however, even before we “do” language and transgress identity boundaries, the imagination shapes what we think about the world around us. Although there is a question of how much weight our own individual nkali affects historical perceptions, it can’t be denied that anyone can form ideas about a person’s identity based on instant sight - race, gender, class, personality - regardless of the truths or falsehoods these ideas manifest.

In the words of Dr. Anya, “identity is fixed and relational.” As a person who prides myself on the relationships that I maintain with people, I have to remember my power in imagining what identities I think people want to be portrayed. I should not “sit and stew in my own curiosity,” but rather hold a dialogue, talk to people, get to know them and hear what multiplicities they want to portray. It may be exhausting, and maybe my initial assumptions are right, nullifying this exercise. But as someone who has been told I’m a minority from the day I was born, how can I expect anyone to value me as more than merely what they see if I refuse to value them for anything more than what I see? Simply put: I can’t, and I’m glad RGLP is helping me realize this.

--Submitted by Abena Frempong, a participant in the 16S Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

 

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