Listen to All Sides of the Story

A concept that I found to be important while reading the beginning of Lagoon and watching the subsequent TED talk by the author, Nnedi Okorafor, was the notion that there are multiple viewpoints to a single story and how crucial it is to be able to understand and listen to all the different facets surrounding that story.

Nnedi Okorafor opens up her novel Lagoon with a short introduction about how the name for the city of Lagos in Nigeria came from the Portuguese word for “lagoon”. She then goes on to criticize the naming of the city, for the Portuguese “could not come up with a more creative name.” Okorafor then comments about how the colonizers were so ignorant as to not even think of asking the natives for suggestions of what to call their own land.

This short excerpt from the novel fascinated me because of the way Okorafor describes the nature of colonization in the past. She does so in a way that exemplifies the innate ignorance of history as we know it today. Simple constructs such as city names like that of Lagos were made without the consideration of the very people who had lived their whole lives there. This notion of a “white history” is important because it is what differentiates traditional science fiction texts from those rooted in Afrofuturism.

Traditional science fiction, whose authors include the likes of Isaac Asimov, George Orwell, and H.G. Wells, are rooted in a predominantly white, male context. Afrofuturism differs in the sense that it imagines a historical context that hasn’t been influenced by white colonialism – a “what-if” scenario that hypothesizes the advancement of African civilization without the consequences of outside influence.

Nnedi Okorafor makes references back to this difference between the sub-genres in her TED talk. What’s interesting is that in the TED talk, she doesn’t outright put one sub-genre over the other. She merely explains that the two are different in some regards, but that both have merits in the way they form their speculations. A commentary that I appreciated was the octopus analogy she mentioned in her talk.

The octopus analogy goes by saying that, like humans, octopi are among some of the most intelligent creatures on earth. The difference between octopus and human intelligence is that they diverged down different paths in the evolutionary line, and therefore the very foundation of that intelligence is different. I took this to mean that just because the foundation of some ideas are inherently different, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be something to take from it.

To put things into a more modern perspective, we can’t be so ignorant as to not consider viewpoints that might be different than ours. Doing so only limits our understanding as a whole and serves to diminish critical thinking in its entirety. Instead, we should strive to try and understand where the opposition or other side is coming from and try to learn from a viewpoint that is different from our own.

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