By: Alison MacGillivray
Second-Year Tutor + Writing Center Co-President
In my humanities class, we learned about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We watched her TedTalk on the dangers of a single story. She grew up in eastern Nigeria, but upon coming to the United States to continue her education, she was disappointed when there was only one narrative being told about Africa: Africans were impoverished, ill, and sad. It was a drastic comparison to the US, where people were perceived as innovative, intelligent, and healthy. Adichie shared her frustration about the misconceptions, but in a sense, she understood. She explained that if she grew up in America rather than Nigeria, she would also believe the popular stories. The stories focused on stunning safari landscapes, but mostly on starving children, victims of AIDS, and villages waiting for white saviors. She cites this misconception as a result of Western Literature and then the beginning of Africa’s European narrative. She began to tell her own story of growing up in Nigeria, and when her American professors told her that her stories weren’t “authentic” enough to Africa, she rolled her eyes. She knew her own story and wasn’t going to let a white folks tell her to change it.
She brings up the idea of single stories. These are stories that eliminate your accomplishments, your good days, your bad days, and reduce you to a singular moment. A person’s identity is washed away when we promote the idea of a single story. The question is often raised among my peers: “Why should I tell my story? No one wants to hear it.” My answer has always been the same. “You matter. I want to read your story.” That is a cliche response, though, and the recipients know that. Adichie has given me a new perspective and a new answer to give.
As a teenager in high school, it is easy to be represented by a single story. Teenagers are lazy. We’re messy. We don’t sleep well, we don’t try hard, and we aren’t as good as the generations before us because we don’t walk uphill both ways to school through 10 feet of snow… in the sleet when it’s 10 below. Celsius. We know that teenagers are not defined by these ideas. By sharing your story, you are helping to break this idea.
These stories become increasingly dangerous for students when they are restricted to smaller scaled ones. There are stories of how black students, AP students, and disengaged students are within an academic setting. School performance, race, age, gender do not impact one’s personal story. By producing and promoting your own story, you are successfully breaking this cycle. Students have so many stories just waiting to be told, and my role as a tutor has enlightened me on this. Our school’s curriculum limits assignments that allow these stories. I’ve seen the most creative work in Moth stories, but these aren’t assigned to upperclassmen. When it is time for juniors and seniors to write college essays, an initial excitement arises until the students realize that their audience is looking for specific qualities and specific answers. Once again, creativity is stripped away. An assignment cannot possibly promote creativity when it has a restrictive rubric.
Still, I encourage everyone to write. While there isn’t much time to write in a teenager’s busy life, it’s not impossible. When a thought comes to mind, open the Notes app and type it out. Scribble it on the back of math homework. Or, go further and use a journal. It doesn’t have to be expensive or new. Every night, write down a quick summary of your day or what you find most thought-provoking at that moment. I know each and every student in my school has a story to share. Everyone must find value in their own writing and in their own stories.