Inspired by Chimimanda Adiche
Stories are what make up our world, but with so many words and pictures swirling around, it's not surprising people grasp the one closest to them, without bothering to connect the puzzle of alternate viewpoints. In this way, a single story is born. A single story is a one-sided view of a people or place, and while containing some grain of truth, is not a complete story, leading to the creation of stereotypes. In the words of Chimamanda Adiche, a Nigerian Blogger, public speaker, and writer, single stories “make one story become the only story,” and make “recognition of our equal humanity difficult” (Adiche 7). She speaks from experience, even from the time she was a child in Nigeria, she could only find books that featured foreign characters, European protagonists with blonde hair and blue eyes. Everyone has, at some point in their life, experienced the single story, but Chimamanda Adichie’s single stories, instead of eating away at her peace of mind, culminated in a Ted Talk, inspiring me to expose my own. My single story begins early; in fact only 12 minutes after my birth, in the moment my twin sister was born. Although, it wasn’t until I heard Chimamanda Adichie's Ted talk on the single story a few weeks ago that I realized that having a twin gave people a single story of me, and, in their eyes, reduced me to a copy of another person.
The single story that stemmed from my being a twin entered my life, along with new people and experiences, in kindergarten. Through the first of many parent-teacher negotiations, my sister and and I were to be in separate classes, under the agreement that we could visit each other whenever we so desired. At the time, I was pleased to have the option, with no regard to the fact that other sibling pairs were given no such consideration. Not surprisingly, I threw away the thought of ever taking advantage of that opportunity along with all my penmanship homework. There was simply no point in doing so, when there were plenty more hours after the school day to interact with my sister at home.
Soon after I entered school, questions of why two twins were not in the same class at school began streaming in. At first I was baffled, why should they be? Luckily, in her TED talk, Chimamanda Adic was able to explain the confusion then. “What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children” (Adichie 2). There was another pair of twins in the same school who wore matching clothes, and stars like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, twins who starred in the movies my classmates watched. Single stories start young, triggered by human judgmental tendencies, and driven by the media. Little did I know it in Kindergarten, but the people I met later in life would carry on the same single story, and it would only get worse in time.
Chimamanda Adichie speaks of people judging her upon meeting her for the first time, like a new college roommate who asked to hear her tribal music and “was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove...Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity” (Adiche 3). Since my single story isn’t as obvious as the color of my skin, I endured a different kind of pain when people who’d known me for years suddenly learned about my twin. During one eighth grade Spanish class, the subject of siblings came up and I watched 30 pairs of eyes turn toward me with more interest than in the last three years when I blurted out that I had a twin. I went through my usual rounds: “yes i’m older- by 12 minutes, no we’re not identical” but inside I was frustrated. These people had known me and not my sister for so long, but suddenly she was the most important part of me. They hardly noticed how I always raised my hand in class, always had a pencil to lend, and how I loved to write until they learned about my twin.
Like any single story, mine causes people to miss parts of me. In one sense, the correct spelling of my name on numerous forms upon entering high school, and in another, everything that makes me unique. I love music and writing, and my sister enjoys learning foreign languages. There are some things both my twin and I enjoy, such as reading and drawing, but to assume this applies for everything is to, in the words of Chimamanda Adichie; “flatten my experience” (Adiche 7). In this case, I was being compressed into sets of genes which could seem identical to my sister’s at first glance. Fraternal twins such as us share no more genetic material that other siblings, but still people overlooked our many differences. The single story I experienced is more direct than most, while all single stories unfairly generalize people, mine was essentially demoting me to an exact copy of another person. When people had trouble telling me and my sister apart, I would get irritated, but I knew it was pointless to make strangers see how different we were. Often, I found myself very grateful that I wasn’t an identical twin, then it would be many times harder to break away from the twin single story. Luckily, those who took the time to get to know me were immune to the pull of that particular single story and I surrounded myself with them. As I got older, the twin single story continued to haunt me, as I yearned to break away and diverge my own path toward my dreams.
The next step in that path was to fight back against my single story, as Chimamanda Adichie had done in one instance: “I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called "American Psycho" and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers...because of America's cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America...I did not have a single story of America” (Adichie 6). In her case, America’s social and economic dominance ha worked in her favor, granting her a diverse collection of stories to read from a young age. This enabled her to have power over the single story, and use it to help eradicate the ideas that generalized. On the other end of the spectrum, media power can also create single stories like one I experienced.
While the single story people had of me was a demon with a familiar face, sometimes it donned masks and went to even greater lengths. In one instance from a mere six months ago, I remember a classmate springing a new question on me: “so who’s the evil twin?” After a few moments of me blinking in confusion, she elaborated: “there’s always an evil twin” as if that was some unwritten rule, and . It was certainly a change from grouping my sister and I as mere copies of each other, but to label one of us as a saint and the other as devilish was almost worse. “My sister is the evil one,” I replied automatically, finally finding the words for the confusion that had turned to anger. “I bet if I asked you whether you or your older brother was the evil one, I bet you’d say your brother. Everyone’s sibling is evil to them.” She never talked to me again, but I felt refreshed knowing that i’d fought back against my single story. After reading Chimamanda's quote, I realised that, i’d only been able to nip that one single story in the bud because I was lucky enough to know it wasn’t true. My stories came from personal experience, not from the media, where content viewed from a young age is tainted with single stories that is easy to see why people succumb to them.
“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power” (Adiche 5). Said power translates directly to the media, to movies and articles and books that, from a young age, are not much rarer than oxygen particles in the air and just as hard to avoid. There are many famous sets of twins, such as the Olsen twins, and many franchises that seem drawn to the idea of twins having uncanny, almost magical communication abilities. Twins in the popular media finish each other's sentences and always dress and act alike, and of course the “evil twin” trope is overused as well. One example of this is “All my Children,” a soap opera featuring Adam and Stuart Chandler. A second is “The suite Life of Zack and Cody” a television show where twins Zack and Cody are portrayed as mischievous rascals. I don’t doubt that my sister and I caused plenty of trouble, especially in our early years and certainly still now, but to say that it was only because we were twins would be to generalize. There are plenty of other parents who might feel excluded by this, and wouldn't appreciate their struggling with troublesome children being undermined if said children were not twins! With the media now at the center of most everything we do, it’s not a surprise that single stories like this one rose to power. But then again, I hope to use the media to help destroy the single stories, to show the world what I can do- while wearing a different color than my sister.