Question Of Personal Identity In Americanah Novel
An Exodus to Personal Identity: Exploring America’s Identity Subjugation in Americanah
How does one define his or her own identity? In Chimamanda Adichie’s novel Americanah, Adichie writes the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian young woman, who moves to America in search of a brighter future than her life in Nsukka. In this realistic portrayal of the Nigerian immigrant Ifemelu, Adichie uses Ifemelu’s trajectory throughout the novel to criticize how American society subjugates an individual’s identity by defining personal identity through the perceptions of other people other than herself. With this criticism, Adichie first explores significant struggles within Nigerian identity through Ifemelu’s early childhood and teenage life then moves on to explore Ifemelu’s first critical years finding herself in America, next builds Ifemelu’s unique and strong American-African identity when becoming a blogger, and at last concludes her message by returning Ifemelu to her roots in Nigeria where she finally finds peace in her own identity.
Building an identity conflict within Ifemelu’s early age in Nigeria, Adichie creates Ifemelu’s mother an independent personality then dismantles it to religious subjugation. Growing up “in the shadow of her mother’s hair,” Ifemelu identified her mother by her unique African braided hair that “sprang free and full, flowing like a celebration” (49). Describing freedom in her mother’s hair, Adichie builds physical characteristics representative of an independent personality unique like a “crown of glory” (49). Despite building a strong character, her mother’s braided hair changes one day when her mother arrives home and “chops off all her hair, [leaving it] on the floor like dead grass” (50). A shocking moment for Ifemelu, Adichie portrays this scene to compare the “chopping” of her mother’s hair to the murder of her own identity. Her mother explains the reasoning behind her impetuous actions in a melodramatic fashion: “I am saved. Mrs. Ojo ministered to me this afternoon during the children’s break and I received Christ. Old things have passed away and all things have become new. Praise God,” followed by the narrator declaring, “her mother’s words were not hers, [speaking] them too rigidly, with a demeanor that belonged to someone else” (50). Describing the sudden change in religion, Adichie criticizes the fraudulent tone in the mother’s words to demonstrate the influence of a superior authority made her “mother’s essence take flight” (50). As result of this transformation powered by Nigeria’s religious influence, Adichie begins portraying identity conflict within Ifemelu’s narrative that would progressively develop throughout her novel.
Notwithstanding her mother’s identity conflict, Adichie depicts independence within Ifemelu’s personal identity in Nigeria when describing Ifemelu’s relationship with Obinze. When first meeting each other in their youth, Obinze describes Ifemelu “like the kind of person who will do something because [she] wants to, and not because everyone else is doing it” (73). Creating this bonding relationship between Obinze and Ifemelu early in the novel, Adichie begins planting Ifemelu’s authentic identity by describing her as a person who acts voluntarily rather than manipulated by another person or ideology; therefore, her authenticity grows in her relationship with Obinze making “her like herself” and feel “at ease” (73). Additionally, Adichie continues building Ifemelu’s independent identity describing her relationship with Obinze “seem natural” where she could feel comfortable “[talking] to him about odd things” (73). Building trust in her relationship with Obinze, Adichie contrast Ifemelu’s identity conflict involving her mother to her experience with Obinze to demonstrate how Ifemelu begins developing a strong identity at the start of her life in Nigeria.
However, once in America, Ifemelu begins to experience a different perception of identity struggle when recognizing American society present feign people and culture different from her expectations. During Ifemelu’s first day in America, the narrator describes Ifemelu starring at “matte” buildings, cars, and signboards, which revealed a “high-shine gloss” covering the “mundane things in America” (127). Adichie’s description of “high-shine gloss” describes the narrator’s point of view in portraying the physical aspects of America as a phony figurative depiction of its society that covered its flaws in its pretended culture. Likewise, Adichie reveals America’s feigned identity when Aunty Uju answers a phone call mispronouncing her Igbo last name in an American accent. After the phone call Ifemelu challenges Uju’s mispronunciation: “Is that how you pronounce your name now?” in which Uju responds blaming American people: “It’s what they call me now” (128). With Uju’s accent “emerged a new persona, apologetic and self-abasing,” described the narrator signifying Adichie’s purpose in demonstrating how Uju lost her own identity when “America had subdued her” (135). As result, Ifemelu discovers the perplexing identity subjugation that would soon enslave her identity while living in America.
After discovering Aunty Uju’s subtle change of identity, a white American, Cristina Tomas, begins subjugating Ifemelu’s Nigerian identity. Registering into college in Trenton, Cristina Thomas unintentionally belittles Ifemelu talking to her in an exaggerated slow manner: “Yes. Now. Are. You. An. International. Student?” (163). Creating a pause between every word, Adichie makes Tomas exaggerate her slow tone to demonstrate how American society’s categorization makes immigrants like Ifemelu feel inadequate as “a small child, lazy-limbed and drooling” (163). Thus, with Tomas’ immigrant categorization, Adichie demonstrates how Ifemelu “shrinks like a dried leaf” knowing she had spoken English all her life to be considered an incoherent individual to American society. (164) As quick and simple as Tomas’ categorization, Ifemelu likewise begins practicing an American accent to avoid future encounters with other white Americans who might diminish her personality; therefore, in this process of transforming her Nigerian accent to an American accent, Ifemelu begins subjugating her personal identity under the influence of white American culture. (164)
Once Ifemelu masters her American accent, Ifemelu realizes the pretentious value of her faked American identity. After living a year in America, Ifemelu had perfected her American accent “watching of friends and newscasters, the blurring of the t, the creamy roll of the r, the sentences starting with ‘so,’ and the sliding response of ‘oh really’…” (213). Creating an aura of American characteristics that helped Ifemelu achieve her perfect American accent, Adichie makes mastering the American accent an ultimate hardworking skill. After having a conversation with a foreign call center man, the caller compliments Ifemelu of her perfect American accent: “You sound American,” but Ifemelu was baffled as to why it was an achievement to sound American. (215) While Ifemelu had accomplished to achieve her ultimate American personality having won over people like “Cristina Tomas, [who] shrunk her like a small, defeated animal,” she now realized that her American accent was just “a pitch of voice and a way of being that was not hers” (216). Deciding to give up her pretentious American accent, the narrator describes Ifemelu: “This was truly her; this was the voice with which she would speak if she were woken up from a deep sleep during an earthquake.” (216) Building back Ifemelu’s unique personality, Adichie achieves now to portray Ifemelu begin shaping her own American-African identity.
As result of accepting her new American-African identity, Adichie begins to build a strong voice for Ifemelu shaping her into race blogger. Beginning to find social activism in her life, Ifemelu speaks in a race dialogue: “The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.” (359) Creating a bold tone in Ifemelu’s activism, Adichie now has build an Ifemelu that has recognized who she is in the American world and the important significance she has in inspiring American people. Thus, Ifemelu begins writing in her blog: “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care” (273). Making this statement in one of her blogs, Adichie suggests Ifemelu has now accepted her black identity in America and has now called other non-American blacks to understand the ideology of America’s pretentious identity to categorize immigrants.
Moving back to Nigeria, Adichie finalizes her novel creating an ambivalent identity for Ifemelu by leaving behind her American self and creating her own distinguished character. Away from the American ideology that defined her, Ifemelu felt “she was at peace,” beginning a new blog, discovering her old hometown, and finally “spinning herself fully into being ” (586). With this depiction Adichie portrays Ifemelu at the epitome of her own personality no longer facing pressure from an influencing society that cause her damage. When her American ex-boyfriend asked her if she still blogs about race, she declines explaining how “race doesn’t really work here feeling like she got off the plane in Lagos and stopped being black” (586). Ifemelu’s recognition of the irrelevance of race in Nigeria nourishes Adichie’s purpose in finishing her novel by leaving Ifemelu continue her life without worrying about what her identity presents to society.
Through the depiction of Ifemelu’s trajectory, Adichie takes a stab at common aspects of American society that belittle certain minorities in the nation. While most Americans think the fight for black and female oppression had ended with the Civil Rights Movement and the passing of the 19th Amendment, Adichie brings to life the subtle oppressive characteristics that still today subjugate minority identities in our nation. In the long run, Adichie offers the moral message consisting of living true to oneself despite society’s pressure to change your identity.
Gender, Race And Culture Issues In Americanah Novel
A Literary Analysis Of Americanah
When examining the collision of cultures within Americanah, it is important to take into consideration that race and culture are not the only factors that play into social interaction. As readers compare the experiences that Ifemelu and Obinze, in America and the U.K. It is important to remember that gender may play a major role in their interactions. And so combining race and making a differentiation between gender one can examine the similarities and differences between immigrants in America and the UK.
The first major similarity between their experiences abroad is evident right away as both Ifemelu and Obinze find help from people they once knew and they both start their foreign experiences very poor. They both struggle to find work because of their lack of citizenship. Ifemelu is legally in America, but she is not legally allowed to work because she is on a student visa. Obinze is in the United Kingdom illegally after his first six months there. Both of them acquire the documentation of another person, however and this is another difference in their experience Ifemelu was able to find work and make money without the use of her assumed name and Social Security number. Obinze was barely able to find legitimate work even with a fake SN number. This may imply that in America there are more opportunities for illegal or “under the table” work for illegal immigrants. Ifemelu truly did hit the lottery in terms of “under the table” work. Her work paid her enough money that she could move out of her apartment with her roommates that didn’t understand her, and she could start sending more money home to her parents. Obinze on the other hand was forced to give forty percent of his earnings to the man who gave him his fake work identity. Ifemelu was also blessed enough to have had a rich successful man fall in love with her.
Ifemelu’s life in America was improved drastically by the romantic relationship with her long time boyfriend Curt. The financial stability and the doors that were opened through Ifemelu’s relationship with Curt. Having solid relationships is one reason why Ifemelu was so much more successful in the United States than Obinze was in England. Ifemelu had Curt who got her a job and took her on weekend trips to Europe. Ifemelu had Dike and her Aunt Uju. Ifemelu also had Kinika in Baltimore to help her out. While Obinze had his cousin Nicholas, Nicholas really did not understand his struggles. Obinze struggled to find a legal way to stay in the UK.
Everytime someone helped Obinze it came at a cost. When Obinze got a fake identity he was forced to give up 40% of his income jut to be able to work. Even when Eminike gave Obinze money it came at the cost of his dignity and pride. Obinze received little charity. This is true in both accounts although the prices Ifemelu pays are more subtle. Ifemelu gets a job under the table but she is still working. Whatever she received from her relationship with Curt was at the cost of the loneliness she felt when she was with him. And the sexual based work she did for the tennis coach came at the cost of her peace of mind and her relationship with Obinze.
Ultimately the most marked similarly between their experiences are evidenced through the interactions with friends of friends. When we see natives of the lands they live in we see a generalized and gross misunderstanding of the Nigerian culture. People outside of the surrounding countries in Africa just do not understand the culture. Even the friends of a person who grew up in Nigeria, Eminike’s British friends, do not understand the struggles of Africans.
The most marked difference between their experiences stems from their treatment as a man or woman of color. Ifemelu was able to get a solid job under the table and was able to start a relationship with an attractive successful man, all as a black woman. But as a black man Obinze struggled to find any job and had no outlet or prospect to get good under the table work. Despite the fact that Ifemelu found success in America and Obinze was deported as an illegal immigrant their too experiences are not entirely different when considering the interactions of culture.
Gender Inequality And Class Privileges In Americanah
The New Boy and his Mother
The great Abraham Lincoln once said “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This is an extremely powerful quote that states all men are created equal and is relatable to many issues in modern society. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie author of critically acclaimed novel Americanah exhibits many issues of gender inequality and class privileges. Many characters of the novel face many difficulties in their life but none no matter the odds allows it to define them. In this essay I will connect issues of class and gender to the novel Americanah and to everyday life.
Throughout history, many individuals have faced several difficulties regarding one’s gender. In the novel Americanah many characters face great hardships because of their gender. The protagonist, Ifemelu, faces difficulties because she is a women everyday. Ifemelu faces difficulty when she gets her hair braided. The braider, Aisha begins to quarrel Ifemelu about her life and context. When Ifemelu discusses her great success in America and her plan to move back to Nigeria, Aisha is immediately surprised because she is a women. Gender inequality is prevalent all around the world. Obinze’s mother, a very intelligent professor was victimized by a male coworker. Obinze explained to Ifemelu what happened that day “‘She was on a committee and they discovered that this professor had misused funds and my mother accused him publicly and he got angry and slapped her and said he could not take a women talking to him like that. So my mother got up and locked the door of the conference room and put the key in her bra.’” (Adichie 71) Obinze’s mother was assaulted because she was a women and called out her coworker. This was a horrific event happened to Obinze’s mother but she did not let it define her. She stuck to her guns and made she the man apologized for him appalling actions. This event is a prime example of how in society has made it acceptable for men to take advantage of woman in Nigeria. Women in all around the world face difficulties everyday due to their gender. Recently, in a NBA game Chris Paul received a technical foul for his gesture to a female referee. After the game Chris Paul said according to The Washington Post “If that’s the case, then this might not be for her.” which raised many concerns of Chris Paul being considered a sexist. Whether the call was right or wrong the referee was just doing her job. It is unacceptable for someone to call her out of her skill. This just shows that women fight everyday to gain equality in sports, workplace and in everyday life.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows in his novel Americanah the way the world has become extremely materialistic. The social class a person belongs to is very important in todays society. In Americanah, issues of class privileges is prevalent throughout the novel . The protagonist, Ifemelu shows class privileges when she visited Aunty Ujus new house in Dolphin Estate when she says “She wanted to live there. It would impress her friends; she imagined them sitting in the small room just off the living room, which Aunty Uju called the TV room, watching program on satellite.” (Adichie 90) This shows how in Nigeria what you have is important for your social status. Ifemelu is a young girl and she finds herself embarrassed to show her friends her small home. Throughout the novel class issues become more and more evident. People around the world face class privileges everyday especially in America because of their inability to prosper due to their class. In a later time in Ifemelu’s life in America she encountered class issues when she took a taxi to get her hair braided. “She hoped her driver would not be Nigerian, because he, once he heard her accent, would either be aggressively eager to tell her that he had a master’s degree, the taxi was a second job, and his daughter was on the dean’s list at Rutgers” (Adichie 10) This quote is very powerful and shows inequality not only in America but in Nigeria as well. In Nigeria many people obtain degrees at universities and then venture to America to pursue a better life. These Nigerian degrees are not worth the same amount in America. This causes Nigerians to be put into a lower social class because they do not receive the same opportunities in America. Everyone may have been created equal but sadly not everyone receives equal opportunities. In modern society every person has goals and aspiration but due to issues of gender and class inequality it may be more difficult for some people to achieve such goals.
Throughout history, all men and women have not been treated equally. Even today many people continue to fight for equality. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie exhibits many issues of gender and class throughout the novel that millions of people everyday are trying to overcome. These people do not let these things define them, they use these event to drive them and propel themselves past the nay sayers. Every man, woman and child should be able to do what they aspire to do no matter what circumstances they are born in to.
Depiction Of Main Characters Of Americanah Novel
With every story there is a plot and within that plot characters whom we can relate and identify with. In Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, the main characters are a female, Ifemelu, and a male, Obinze, who are both from Nigeria. Throughout the novel we follow these two characters, their travels abroad, and ultimately back to Nigeria. Both characters have their own struggles but I feel that there is a difference in how Ifemelu and Obinze are represented. Obinze, in my opinion, gets proper representation while Ifemelu’s character seems more conflicted. In Americanah Ifemelu, and other females, are represented as a dependent on her circumstances and the men around them.
Aunty Uju. The prime and first example of females in our novel being represented in the form of dependence is Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju. Aunty Uju appears to have the perfect lifestyle as a doctor in Nigeria, living in a nice home, with nice belongings, and socializes with the higher social classes in Nigeria. Aunty Uju carries on a relationship with a character referred to as “The General”. The General is a married man and Aunty Uju is his mistress. One could argue that Aunty Uju is a doctor in Nigeria, so not all of her success comes from The General. However, even Aunty Uju gives this credit to The General, “The hospital has no doctor vacancy, but The General made them create one for me” (93). This goes to show that even her occupation was dependent on her relationship with The General. She gets most of the nice things that we see early in the novel from The General. She even goes to say to Ifemelu, “You know, we live in an ass-licking economy. The biggest problem in this country is not corruption. The problem is that there are many qualified people who are not where they are supposed to be because they won’t lick anybody’s ass, or they don’t know which ass to lick or they don’t know how to lick an ass. I’m lucky to be licking the right ass” (93). I found this pretty funny, but true, and it only emphasizes her dependence on The General. Once The General dies we see Aunty Uju’s world turned around almost instantly. Aunty Uju is forced out of her home and flees the country to the United States where she can start a new life with her son, Dike. When Ifemelu arrives to America she finds that Aunty Uju’s lifestyle is completely opposite of what it used to be. She is working three jobs, taking exams to become a doctor again, and her living conditions are poor compared to that in Nigeria. Aunty Uju is in a place of desperation working three jobs, paying the bills, so when Ifemelu arrives she uses Ifemelu to watch Dike during the day to save her babysitting expenses. Aunty Uju meets a man, Bartholomew. Ifemelu feels that Aunty Uju is outside his social class, but Aunty Uju is in such a state of desperation that she ends up in a relationship with his where she moves to Massachusetts with him. She ends up staying in a relationship with him until she realizes that she no longer needs Bartholomew, and that she was in fact paying some his bills. If I had to sum up Aunty Uju in one sentence it would be, in her own words, “You do what you have to do if you want to succeed” (146). We can see that Ifemelu does indeed do what she has to do following the advice from Aunty Uju.
Ifemelu. Our main character, Ifemelu, is not without flaws but I feel that her life events are dependent upon her circumstances and the other characters around her. It is hard to identify with what Ifemelu truly values. Throughout our novel Ifemelu has a relationship with three men: Obinze, Curt, and Blaine. Her character seems to change with two of the three people she dates and in between these men based on her circumstances. Ifemelu seems like a strong character up until the point where she is in America and has to pay for her college debt and rent. She has a hard time finding a job and has to resort to “massaging” a coach. This is the first point at which we see Ifemelu break from her normal character and do something that we did not see coming. After being pressured for money she goes to the coach where she, “placed her hand between his legs, she had curled and moved her fingers” (190). From this we can imply that she gave the coach a hand-job. Following this she is really conflicted with herself and everyone around her. It is at this point she stops contacting Obinze goes through a state of depression. I felt that Ifemelu compromised on her values and molded to the circumstances to do what needed to be done, like Aunty Uju had told her. Following her state of depression, she runs into Blaine on a train. She is attracted to him but loses contact with him because Blaine is in a relationship and ignores her calls. Ifemelu meets Curt, a rich white man, who is Kimberly’s cousin. Initially Ifemelu was not even attracted to him, the text states, “She began to like him because he liked her” (237). I find this shallow, but we see Ifemelu change in her relationship with Curt. Good things started to happen to her, Curt’s positive attitude seemed to bleed over into her life. Like Aunty Uju’s situation, Curt was able to get Ifemelu a job through his dad’s relations with public relations. This shows her dependence on Curt and her good fortunes are dependent on another character. Ifemelu ended up sabotaging her relationship with him but she even states that she, “stumbled around, trying to remember the person she was before Curt… She no longer knew who she had been then, what she disliked, wanted” (370). I think the following sentences are extremely important because it shows that Ifemelu herself states that her identity was built off of those around her. She gets into a relationship with Blaine after meeting him at a social event. Her identity starts to shift and she got a gym pass, starting letting him read and recommend changes to her blogs, she even changed her diet based on Blaine’s beliefs. Blaine was more of a man of action where Ifemelu was more of a woman of words. Blaine believed in standing for what you believe in. Ifemelu lied to Blaine and didn’t show up to a protest. Once Blaine found out that she was at a lunch instead of the protest they had an argument which ended up being the demise of their relationship. I feel that Ifemelu lacks a moral compass. She doesn’t get that lying to your partner is a big deal. This changes the passion in their relationship. I feel that Blaine’s passion for President Obama gave something for Ifemelu to be interested in, and kept their relationship alive based off this shared interest. Once she graduated Princeton she broke off her relationship and moved back to Nigeria. As a reader it becomes hard to identify with Ifemelu because it seems she lies very easily to keep people interested. When Pyrie offers to host Ifemelu a wedding Ifemelu responds, “Thank you, but I thing Blaine will prefer a governor-free event” (492). I don’t understand why Ifemelu cannot just identify with herself, and constantly needs a man involved in her life. Obinze seems to be the only character she can be transparent with; it is as if they are operating on the same frequency. When she finally meets Obinze they are a week into seeing each other again before they start having a relationship. Their relationship hits a friction point when Obinze goes to Abuja alone so he can think things over. At this point Ifemelu calls him a “fucking coward” and breaks contact with him. It isn’t until Obinze confesses to his wife and friends his intentions with Ifemelu and informs Ifemelu of everything that she finally accepts him back into her life. This is where the end of the novel leaves us but it goes to show that she is mainly a character of circumstance and of the relationship with the men in her life.
Throughout Americana we see Ifemelu and other female characters represented by circumstance or on the men they are in relationships with. Aunty Uju is the prime example of the female’s dependence, in this novel, on men and a victim of circumstance. Ifemelu follows suit with Aunty Uju in her relationship with Curt putting her dependence on a man. She doesn’t appear to have any true feelings for Curt or Blaine during their relationships but we see that she loses her identity with those relationships. It isn’t until she comes back to Nigeria that she starts doing things for herself and taking a stance for her character.
An Issue Of Ethnocentrism In Americanah Novel
Is one society superior to another?
Ethnocentrism is defined as the judging of another culture solely by the values and standards of one’s own culture. Although Ethnocentrism is spoken about in a negative manner, there are few cases where ethnocentrism acs in a positive manner. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author, of critically acclaimed novel Americanah, displays how ethnocentrism is present in the United States today. Americanah is a novel about a young Nigerian women, Ifemelu, who travels to America to go to school. Ifemelu, one of the protagonists of Americanah, experiences life in America head in her journey. Ifemelu experiences the hardships of ethnocentrism throughout her life in the United States because she is from Nigeria. Adichie uses Ifemelu and the novel to engage readers with an age old question: should immigrants in the United States be at a disadvantage because their culture is not American? In this paper I will provide an analysis of Americanah by examining the ways Americans use ethnocentrism negatively towards African nations and immigrants in the United States.
To achieve this goal, I have organized my paper into three main sections, two of which have sub-sections. In the first section, I will provide how ethnocentrism plays a role in the hinderance of African immigrants. I will prove this by using textual support from Americanah and by using research from F. Nii-Amoo Dodoo and Polibio Diaz. In the second section, I will provide a refutation source. This refutation source will be backed by Donald T. Campbell’s research: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes, and Group Behavior. I will end my paper with a third section that provides even greater backing for my thesis. The third section will contain textual support along with research by Eric Shiraev and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I also include a Works Cited page that contains all the sources I have used.
In the novel, Americanah, ethnocentrism is present throughout the protagonist’s life in the United States. Immigrants find obtaining jobs in America difficult because the qualifications they obtain from their nation is perceived to not be up to standards in America. Ifemelu encounters these hardships indirectly when she is waiting for a taxi. While waiting in the taxi line, Ifemelu begins to express her dissatisfaction with Nigerian taxi drivers: “She hoped her driver would not be Nigerian, because once he heard her accent, he would either be aggressively eager to tell her that he had a master’s degree, the taxi was a second job, and his daughter was on the dean’s list at Rutgers” (Adichie 10). This quote from Americanah is very powerful because it shows the hardships many of these immigrants have had to endure. This taxi driver faces ethnocentrism because of where he is from. He has obtained a master’s degree but because it was not in America it does not hold the same value. Even though this man may be extremely intelligent, he does not have equal opportunity because he is from Africa. Ethnocentrism is present because if his degree was obtained in America he would not have this problem. The taxi drivers situation in America is common in immigrants and is shown in F. Nii-Amoo Dodoo research: “Assimilation Differences among Africans in America.” Dodoo explores the ways in which African immigrants struggle in America. African immigrants face many hardships due to the ethnocentrism of Americans. They can not obtain jobs because they are from Africa despite their high levels of education. Dodoo argues “African immigrants have considerably higher levels of education compared to the other immigrants groups. Controversely, related to their high levels of schooling and relative youth, Africans have the lowest levels of working experience” (Dodoo 533). As Dodoo asserts, African immigrants face hardships despite many of them being very well educated. These immigrants face ethnocentrism in the American workplace due to the preconceived notions culture of Africa.
Preconceived notions lead to many stereotypes about Africa that are present throughout Americanah and in the world today. These stereotypes tend to be negative due to American’s ethnocentric views. Ifemelu encounters many stereotypes about Africa when she’s at a job interview for a nanny position with her friend Ginika. Ifemelu arrived at the house to meet her future employer, Kimberly and Kimberly’s sister Laura. At the job interview, Ifemelu noticed Laura’s ethnocentric views about Africa in her comments. At one point during the interview Kimberly asks,“‘Ginika said you left Nigeria because college professors are always on strike there?’ Laura nodded knowingly. ‘Horrible, what’s going on in African countries’” (Adichie 181). Later in the conversation the two women muse about Africa: “‘I’m sure back home you ate a lot of wonderful organic food and vegetables, but you’re going to see it’s different here.’ ‘Kim, if she was eating all of this organic food in Nigeria, why would she come to U.S.?’ Laura asked” (Adichie 182). In this conversation we can see how Laura is very ethnocentric towards Africa. She’s talking about Africa in a very negative tone, even though she knows little about Africa. Laura’s viewpoint of Africa is common among Americans because of their ethnocentric views.
Polibio Diaz reveals the ways Artists address issues such as ethnocentrism in their work in his research, The Emerging Canon: Artist and their Art. Diaz examines the work of many great artists such as Asof Aviidian, Franco Sacchi, Rafael Rozendaal, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Due to their life time experiences these artists illuminate the injustices committed all over the globe. due to their life time experiences. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer, speaks out on many problems and prejudices against people from Nigeria. According to Diaz, Adichie observes:
The Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie observed that poverty and exoticism are ‘the single story’ of Africa. Stereotypes are not necessarily untrue, she says, but they are incomplete. When the West looks at Africa it seems incapable of going beyond the stories of war, AIDS, and safaris. Relying solely on this reality to describe an entire continent robs people of their dignity. (31)
These stereotypes are directly related to Ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is shown because many people who are making the accusations present in Diaz’s argument aren’t entirely informed in the matter. The Ethnocentrism used in these stereotypes are very negative and can be detrimental to many African immigrants. As stated in the article these stereotypes rob a whole continent of their dignity. Ethnocentrism in this case creates an extremely unfavorable position for African immigrants entering America. Although, ethnocentrism may cause great hardship, it may also be the leading cause for good in many situations.
The belief that ethnocentrism should not exist in a society is not entirely true. Ethnocentrism has been proven to be a positive force in society. Donald T. Campbell’s research, Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes, and Group Behavior, discusses many aspects of ethnocentrism. Campbell argues while ethnocentrism does reveal many wrongdoings it can also prove to be productive in a society. Campbell’s explores the positives i his research: “Several theories propose a positive relationship between complexity of social, economic and/or political structure and ethnocentrism in general… establishment of stronger and stricter ingroup cohesion and coordination” (Campbell 223). Also Campbell argues that ethnocentrism plays a positive role in “family structure as it impinges on the developing Child” (Campbell 148). Lastly, Campbell argues that ethnocentrism promotes patriotism and nationalism within a society (Campbell 21). Campbell’s research proves that ethnocentrism can play a positive role as it allows cohesion within a society, strong family values to remain among its members and promotes patriotism and nationalism within a society. In Campbell’s argument he does prove the ways ethnocentrism can benefit a society instead of disabling it. However when that ethnic person migrates its causes great difficulty to assimilate in a new culture. This situation is common among African immigrants and the once positive ethnocentrism works against them. In America, many African Immigrants struggle due to ethnocentrism.
In the novel, Americanah, the hindrance on African Immigrants was displayed by Ifemelu on her first day of school in America. Ifemelu experienced ethnocentrism first hand when she encountered the women in charge of registration, Cristina Tomas. When Ifemelu arrives, Christina Tomas tries to help Ifemelu when she asks “‘Good Afternoon. Is this the right place registration?’ Ifemelu asked Cristina Tomas, whose name she did not know then. ‘Yes. Now. Are. You. An. International. Student?’ ‘Yes’ ‘You. Will. First. Need. To. Get. A. Letter. From. The. International. Students. Office”’ (Adichie 163). Then Ifemelu wanted to know why Cristina Tomas was speaking like that; “She realized that Cristina Tomas was speaking like that because of her, her foreign accent, and she felt for a moment like a small child, lazy-limbed and drooling. ‘I speak English’ she said. ‘I bet you do,’ Cristina Tomas said ‘I just don’t know how well”’ (Adichie 163). This caused Ifemelu to shrink and made her feel inferior even though she had spoken english all her life and led the debating society in secondary school. Cristina Tomas shows American ethnocentrism when she assumes Ifemelu could not speak proper english due to her accent. Cristina Tomas spoke to her as if she were speaking to a child. Ifemelu’s experience is relatable to Eric Shiraev research A History of Psychology: A Global Perspective. where he Eric speaks about his experience in the field of Psychology, and how ethnocentrism affects many people in this field. In Shiraev’s research, he states: “One of several factors contributing to ethnocentrism was the language barrier… Researchers who have limited knowledge of english or no access to international journals, unfortunately, have a diminished opportunity to be recognized” (Shiraev 23). Shiraev research shows how the language barrier can cause ethnocentrism and discredit the knowledge of many very intelligent individuals. Similar to the researchers study, Ifemelu was discredited by Cristina Tomas even though she is a very intelligent woman.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s research African “Authenticity” and Biafran Experience explores the ways in which, ethnocentrism is present throughout the world today. In this research, Adichie explores her own personal experiences and how her work exposes social ill all over the world. In the novel and elsewhere, Adichie describes how ethnocentrism can play a negative role in the form of stereotypes. In Adichie’s own life experience she faces ethnocentrism when she meets her new roommates in America: “They were surprised I knew who Mariah Carey was; they had assumed that I listen to what they called ‘tribal music’ (Adichie 43). Adichie encountered ethnocentrism first hand when she first came to America because her American roommates believed only they listened to that kind of music. Later in her study she explores how these stereotypes can be detrimental; “The problem with stereotypes, however, particularly in literature, is that one story can become the only story: stereotypes straitjacket our ability to think in complex ways” (Adichie 43). This quote is very powerful and shows how stereotypes can be harmful and create many ethnocentric views. Adichie proves how these ethnocentric stereotypes can harm many individuals in America. As Adichie states these stereotypes can straitjacket individuals and create great hardships for individuals to encounter. Ethnocentrism causes many hardships on African Immigrants around the world and creates a rift between cultures.
In this paper I will provide an analysis of Americanah by examining the ways Americans use ethnocentrism negatively towards African nations and immigrants in the United States. In the world, there are many different cultures that coincide with one another. No culture is better than another; some cultures are simply different. Ethnocentrism is present all over the world today and perhaps one day the rifts between cultures will cease to exist.
What is an American?
What is an American? To Be an American it means that to induce marriage and love. Participating in marriage and having a wedding may be a ritual practiced by most Americans throughout all centuries. Love and Lust is simply a part of an everyday American life. Rather its sensible love or unhealthy love, or simply lust. Some type of romantic play falls in line at one point or another. Americans can and will fight for love, and fight for who they’ll love. In “A Farewell to arms”, Lieutenant Frederic Henry is a young American ambulance driver serving within the Italian army throughout world war. Even after acquiring injuries, and ruined from WW1, lieutenant Henry can’t keep his eyes off Catherine. Wouldn’t one suppose with all that’s on his everyday schedule as well as War, and injury? One may not have time for love. But No, being the American Frederic Henry is he is infatuated. Frederic says, ”God is aware of I had not needed to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with anyone. however, God is aware I had”. Henry states that he did not wish to fall in love with anyone, however, he did anyway.
Well, One should apprehend that an American is susceptible to catching feelings for somebody in any romantic manner is sort of a guarantee. Either if it’s online, or in your existence, like college, work, Etc. Love is an Americans method of being financially supported, and ones sexual, and emotional desires met. This identifying feature is some things most foreign or “non-American” can notice regarding America. Its something permanently placed upon in our desoxyribonucleic acid. What is an American? Wealth and Materialism. Cash may be a large inducement in America. Everything in America in revolves around currency. Rather it’s taxes or education. Acquiring Cash in an Americans life can virtually cause problems. Rather it’s feeding a baby, or paying for rent, or paying for taxes, or gas for an automotive, or insurance for an automotive.
Therefore as an American, one may spend years and years, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars simply to induce an education degree. Then get employment and work additional, for currency. In “The Great Gatsby”, Tom and Daisy’s movements are supported by their cash. At the start of the novel, they move to trendy East Egg, once on the move between “wherever individuals contend polo and were wealthy along,” and are ready to terribly quickly obtain and leave at the end of the book after the murders, because of the protection their cash provides. Daisy, for her part, solely begins her affair with Gatsby once an awfully elaborated show of his wealth is shown, therefore the mansion tour. She even breaks down in tears once Gatsby shows off his preposterously expensive set of colored shirts, crying that she’s “never seen such stunning shirts” before.
Therefore shows what one will do to own material wealth or be around it. This shows however ignorant an American is often generally. I mean having an affair with one simply to be around his wealth… very American like. The no different text represents an American better than “The Great Gatsby”. Nothing represents an American more than the working class. In keeping with Bureau of Labor Statistics. Americans work more than anyone within the industrial world. More than the English, more than the French, far more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese. And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later, too. Rather it’s blue-collared, or Doctoring. Working may be a must, and a necessity to live in America. Everything revolves around currency, however, to amass that currency you need to work. In Nickel and Dimed: Ehrenreich tries to work out whether or not it’s present potential for an individual to live on a minimum-wage in America. Taking jobs as a server, a maid in an exceedingly cleanup service and a Walmart sales worker, the author summarizes and reflects on her work, her relationships with fellow employees, and her money struggles in every state of affairs.
A seasoned journalist, Ehrenreich is conscious of the constraints of her experiment and therefore the implications of her experiential analysis ways and reflects on these problems within the text. The author is forthcoming regarding her strategies and supplements her experiences with bookish analysis on her places of employment, the economy, and therefore the rising value of living in America. Ehrenreich spends years on this project. Also, dedicates her life to this project. So it’s very trustworthy. So what you ask. Materialistic wealth is in high demand in America. It is in high demand because who wants to have a life based on the setting of Nickel and Dimed. In Alan Jackson’s working-class song he uses a line ”But there’s nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer, Kind of glue that sticks this world together, Hands of steel and cradle of the Promised Land, God bless the working man”. The promised land (America), is cradled by the working class. Which means without the working class America wouldn’t be America. It would be a pile of a dump like the middle-east. Where representing and worshiping their god is more important than anything. Nothing describes an American more than these words.Immigrants and Immigration. Almost 2 percent of “Americans”, were not originally from America. So clear the color white, the English language, and American or soul food, and the religion Christianity from your head for a little bit.
The united states of America are the land of the free. The home of the brave. The land of the immigrants. America was founded upon Immigrants. America is known for being culturally diverse, and different because of immigrants. Without them we would be like any other country, dull and cultureless, People love America for the variety of our cultural elements. Immigrants are much needed and wanted in America. Don’t let trump fool you, he needs immigrants as much as he needs his tanning lotion, and golf, and Twitter. In Paul Wellman’s PDF it states “At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the forces of globalization are rapidly creating a new world. International trade is steadily expanding, while national borders are losing their significance. People, ideas, and goods traverse the globe at an ever-accelerating pace. In the world of the future, the United States will stand out as a shining example. While rigid nationalism continues to hold back many countries, Americans can take pride in a heritage that promotes openness, tolerance, and diversity.
Compared to our chief economic rivals in Japan and Western Europe, the UnitedStates is poised to compete in the international marketplace. American movies, music, fashion, and brand names are attractive to people throughout the world because they symbolize a culture that embraces and celebrates many cultures. Immigration puts our country in touch with the tastes and preferences of consumers worldwide and gives U.S. companies an edge in opening export markets. From its earliest days, the United States has been a land of opportunity for people outside our borders. Each wave of immigrants has contributed to the United States’ greatness and enriched our society. Today, immigrants are still coming. This latest generation of immigrants contains the best and brightest from a rich variety of cultures and regions. Even those lacking a formal education are driven by a strong sense of initiative and an unshakable work ethic. They have come because they believe the United States is the land of opportunity. They recognize that the theUnited States rewards hard work and ability like no other country in the world. In the end, the talents, ambitions, and dreams they bring will benefit all Americans. Keeping our doors opens the world know that the United States remains a country that looks forward to tomorrow.”, America advances the opportunity to change more than any other country in the world. To Be An American you are not perfect. You must make mistakes. You must sin. You must display certain behaviors to be propounded upon. In The Minister’s Black Veil Without a doubt, the most important symbol is the black veil itself. To the townspeople, Hooper’s veil is a clear sign that he is trying to show for he has sinned.
Thus, Hopper paraphrases he intends the veil to be a symbol of mankind’s general sinfulness, not any specific wrongdoing. their own, and don’t want to acknowledge it. Hooper’s black veil also represents bravery, and it symbolizes Americans. As Americans we were born to sin, it’s in our blood. Another special meaning of being American is to come together in times of struggle and also in times of celebration. Events such as the moon landing, and the JFK assassination, and 911. Brung us Americans down in the dumps, and on the edge of our feet. But one thing’s for sure. When we get knocked down we come together as a nation and stand right back up. Because Americans are strong and brave, and prideful and patriotic. To be an American it means to be successful. The first flight in 1903 performed by the wright brother themselves were Americans. Many inventors around the world were working on controlled, powered, manned flight projects, but the Wright brothers from Ohio were the first to make it a reality. Unfortunately, they also invented the airplane crash fatality. First shown to the world in 1973 by American television and radio manufacturer, Motorola, the cell phone has become a worldwide device that makes communications in most civilized places oh so easy. It is hard to even remember what teenagers did before this invention. Other things it means to be an American being PoliticalBeing spoiledBeing culturally diverse now that we have finished our journey into America.
Think, Do you have a better understanding of what it means to be an American? Did you learn something new? Being an American is more than just being a citizen. It’s among other things such as belonging to American culture. Movies, television shows, and sports create heroes, a language, and references for Americans. Be proud to be an American, just know you could be somewhere else right now. Somewhere where water and shelter are not heard of. Somewhere where you wife cant drive. Somewhere where you can vote, or choose who is your president. Somewhere where you have no amendments or a constitution. Somewhere where you can’t drink or smoke a little weed once in a while. So stop complaining about and be proud of who you are. An American.
Braiding the Strands of Culture: Interweaving Hair and Power in Adichie’s Americanah
Four braids wrap around the cover of Americanah, binding the stories and experiences of race within. Stories of realising one’s own race and how it changes your mobility in different places. Stories of understanding power. In Americanah, Adichie uses hair as a metaphor for race and the level of power it affords, challenging her intended audience of white, Western liberals’ assumptions about race and the depth at which racial inequality is entrenched within America today.
Americanah, a story of modern conceptions of race, insightfully begins with a journey from Princeton University to a Trenton hair salon, where the playing out of power will occur throughout the narrative. Adichie makes clear the distance, literally and metaphorically, between the “clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace” (3) with very few other black people, and the neighbourhood she can get her hair done. This Adichie describes in stark contrast: “the part of the city that had graffiti, dank buildings, and no white people” (10). Within the first ten pages, Adichie has established opposing worlds of race and correlated power. This is the primary setting where hair, and the power it symbolizes, “happens.” What occurs here will appropriately be interspersed throughout the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze’s experiences in nations Adichie portrays as places where white privilege and power dictates society. Within the salon, the audience sees the same power dynamics that occur in the protagonists’ stories.
Occurring simultaneously are stories of African immigrants attempting to integrate into Western society, all who come from different countries and may even speak different languages, for example Mariama’s interspersed French dialogue. Aisha, like Obinze, is desperate to procure citizenship through marriage. There is also a level of respect afforded to those the most Americanized, seen in Ifemelu’s offense when Aisha assumes she has not lived in America long, and Aisha’s respectful reaction when Ifemulu tells her it has been fifteen years (19). These exchanges purvey a deeply entrenched ideal of power that is associated with America and its “people.” Adichie shows us this ideal integrated in white privilege with Kelsey’s notable appearance. The moment the “young white woman came in” (232), the power dynamic of the room shifted. The owner Mariama, who had casually greeted Ifemulu and gave her little attention, suddenly “wip[ed] her hands over and over in front of her shorts” and “smiled an overly eager smile” (232). The white-skinned Kelsey is given respect and power the moment she steps foot on the setting where American race issues are represented. Kelsey easily accepts and fills the role she unconsciously does in her society, having the power and privilege of being white. She is without question given and takes a voice over the room, dominating the conversation.
Quick to condescend, Kelsey assumes that Mariama “couldn’t even have this business back in [her] country” (232), that her children would have a worse life in Mariama’s home country Mali, as well as questions its social progress by asking if women are allowed to vote. Kelsey represents the assumptions that those in power are able to make, following the dialogue of the Afropolitan novels that Adichie aims to criticize. These narratives stereotype African characters as those with little agency who look to Western culture for mobility and stability (Sayers). Kelsey affirms this by touting novel Bend in the River, which from her social position she is able to confidently label as a truthful representation of modern Africa, even when speaking to Ifemelu, who succinctly criticizes this Afropolitan novel. Adichie writes: She did not think the novel was about Africa at all. It was about Europe, or the longing for Europe, about the battered self-image of an Indian man born in Africa, who felt so wounded, so diminished, by not having been born European, a member of a race which he had elevated for their ability to create, that he turned his imagined personal insufficiencies into an impatient contempt for Africa; in his knowing haughty attitude to the African, he could become, even if only fleetingly, a European. (233-234) It is these exact assumptions of Kelsey and Afropolitan narratives that Adichie wishes to draw out in her intended audience. Ifemelu “recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you came from America was” (233). Americanah does not read as a story written for Nigerians or even Africans, but as one for white, liberal Westerners criticized in this passage, who are interested and against racism yet fail to see its reality from their place of privilege.
Misunderstandings and assumptions of this audience are seen in Kelsey’s last moments in the salon, when she is shocked to discover that hair is used for braiding: “[o]h my God. So that’s how it’s done. I used to think African-American women with braided hair had such full hair!” Not only is she assuming that all black women are African-American, but she is apparently blind the reality of braided hair, which in this story represents the natural, “God-given” symbol of race versus relaxed hair. Kelsey non-surprisingly sticks to her own hair, appropriating a piece of black culture but symbolically refusing to acknowledge or take on the loss of power it provokes in America. Upon Kelsey leaving the salon, Ifemelu remembers Curt, another symbol of white privilege, with whom she worked out the loss of power associated with her African hair. Following the advice of Americanized Aunt Uju and Ruth, Ifemelu chemically relaxes her hair and obtains the “white-girl swing” (251) that, Adichie implies, wins her a job. The chemically relaxation is a symbol of the shedding of her natural African race to take on a standard of stereotypical American white beauty, and through it clearly gaining power. In a response to Ifemelu’s struggle with her hair, Curt, like Kelsey, does “not see why she should be so upset but was better off not saying so” (259), thus reinforcing Adichie’s criticism of white audiences through the portrayal of her white characters of privilege and power.
Ifemelu asks in her blog, “So is it me or is that the perfect metaphor for race in America right there? Hair” (367). Adichie, with astounding clarity and creativity, has answered this query. Those with “American” hair are granted power, and the closer non-whites can get to mimicking that appearance, the more they may acquire themselves. People today, especially Americanah’s target audience of privileged readers, are largely blind to modern racism. Therefore, Adichie substitutes skin colour for hair to illustrate that while audiences may believe their own “colourblindness,” prejudices continue to be deeply entrenched in America today.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. Toronto, Vintage Canada, 2014.
Sayers, Jentery. “Americanah.” English 429C, University of Victoria, Victoria. 23 March 2017.
Prejudice in Americanah and The Scarlet Letter
Prejudice or alienation is almost always a theme, whether a prominent one or a minor one, within a work of literature. Art is about the human condition, and the human condition only significant because of struggle; a blessed life does not make a story. The novels Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne both explore the theme of prejudice. Americanah does so with a direct approach, using the protagonist’s blog to specifically explore the prejudice of racism in America. The Scarlet Letter does so subtly, by giving Hester, the oppressed character, a humble and accepting nature, which arouses the sympathy of the audience. However, while both novels utilize different intensities when addressing prejudice, they share some of the same methods of arguing against prejudice. In the novels Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, both authors use irony and character development to oppose the barriers of prejudice: racism in Americanah and intolerance of fornication in The Scarlet Letter.
Both novels use irony to expose the faulty logic behind the types of prejudice. In Americanah, Ifemelu’s blog discusses the wariness of immigrant Africans in being associated with the general African-American community: “admit it – you say ‘I’m not black’ only because you know black is at the bottom of America’s race ladder. And you want none of that” (Adichie 273). The irony is that individuals with darker skin see the way others with the same appearance are treated, and so sub-consciously reject the identity to avoid being treated with prejudice. The “black” identity is immediately recognized as one to be avoided, as society has rejected it. The existence of this repulsion with being associated based on skin color is overwhelming proof of the ridiculous discrimination based off of appearance. Adichie intentionally shows this idea to enlighten the readers of the realness of racism in America.
In The Scarlet Letter, there is irony in the treatment of Hester, who is a publically announced fornicator in a Puritan community. Hester treats all those around her with kindness, and rejects any self-indulgence. However, the community refuses to acknowledge her kindness in light of the poor stigma surrounding ‘sexual immorality’: “Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those who she came in contact… expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere” (Hawthorne 277). Even “The poor… whom she sought out to be the objects of her bounty, often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succor them” (Hawthorne 278). She is completely isolated and suffers intense humiliation constantly because the Puritan community functions on a system of hierarchy and superiority, as Hawthorne quietly argues with poignant situational irony.
Moreover, both novels use character development to reflect a growth of character, in terms of recognizing and overcoming prejudice. In Americanah, Ifemelu discusses the social responsibilities of being “black” in America, explaining: “When you watch television and hear that a ‘racist slur’ was used, you must immediately become offended… Even though you would like to be able to decide for yourself how offended to be, or whether to be offended at all, you must nevertheless be very offended” (Adichie 274). Ifemelu shows an understanding of the racial tensions in America, and although she may miss the specific significance of racist activity, she recognizes it is her responsibility as a fellow black American to reject any of such activity. This is in contrast to her previous ignorance in regards to racial slurs, in the occasion which Ifemelu does not understand why the lady in the store refuses to describe the store girl as “black”. Throughout her experience and education of American culture, Ifemelu grows more aware of the sensitivity of race, therefore growing as a character. In The Scarlet Letter, the Puritan community eventually forgets its bitterness towards Hester, and “in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester’s life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too” (Hawthorne 281). While this is not because the community has a change of opinion regarding the unforgiveable sin of fornication, it shows a softening of heart and a recognition of kindness on the part of the community. Hawthorne shows the first step towards shifting prejudice: a change in heart.
Though taken from strikingly different eras, Americanah and The Scarlet Letter both effectively argue against the illogic of prejudice. Novels, by nature, are designed to remove the readers from their own bias and enable them to see a different perspective. Taking advantage of this, the two authors show the reader that a prejudiced society is not hopeless, as a broadening of perspective enables the growth of a community.
The Power of The White Ideal
In Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, navigating the American establishment as an African immigrant is a constant struggle for Ifemelu and others like her. Ifemelu soon starts to experience that the power in America is held not by the few, but by the collective mass of white Americans, who by virtue of being seen as the norm get to dictate the dominant culture. The mechanism in which white Americans power is exercised is not through dramatic moments but through everyday interactions. White America exacts crippling pressure on Africans to conform to a European standard of beauty as well as a disregard for understanding individual immigrants stories– instead applying a generalized idea of the African immigrant as a whole to everyone. Ifemelu and others face an immense pressure in their everyday lives to conform to the message of a non-ethnic, white outwards presentation. Many immigrants give in and change themselves to be acceptable to the white standard, but Ifemelu goes through multiple personal battles to not sterilize herself– keeping essential features of her as a person intact.
One way in which the non-ethnic, white ideal is enforced is through the inadvertent policing of foreign, in particular African, accents by ordinary white Americans. One of Ifemelu’s first sobering interactions on an American campus comes while attempting to register for classes. The student directing her, Cristina Tomas, speaks so condescendingly towards her that Ifemelu thinks she has an illness. It’s not until Ifemelu’s second exchange with her that she comes to the realization that, “Christina Tomas was speaking like that because of her, her foreign accent, and she felt for a moment like a small child, lazy-limbed and drooling (163). When Ifemelu tells her she speaks English, Tomas replies: “I bet you do. I just don’t know how well” (163). Through infantilizing Ifemelu based purely on her foreign accent, Tomas is indirectly communicating that any accent she deems “foreign” –that is, not white– is less educated and inferior. Humiliated, Ifemelu “shrinks like a dried leaf” (164). Even though her voice had been a source of confidence for Ifemelu ever since she “led debate society in secondary school” (164) and had thought of American accents as “inchoate” (164), Ifemelu is humiliated by Christina Tomas’s judgment of her accent. Unthinkingly, Tomas is able to assert her power over Ifemelu through the security that comes from considering yourself the norm– as a nondescript white girl she doesn’t think twice about the effects of her words. The pressure to conform to the accent of the rank-and-file white American is readily acknowledged by Ifemelu’s peers in the African Students Association. After Ifemelu firsts joins the ASA, her fellow member Mwombeki gives a spiel about how to adapt to life in America as an immigrant from Africa. Included in his speech is the statement that, “Very soon you will start to adopt an American accent, because you don’t want customer service people on the phone to keep asking you ‘What? What?’” (172). It is recognized by these young immigrants that a phase in their adjustment to America includes reaching the point where they’re so exhausted by being the “other” that they’d rather acquiesce to the anonymous voice over the phone than keep an important marker of their home culture. Not only will Africans assume an American accent, but as Mwombeki states, they will also “… start to admire Africans who have perfect American accents…” (172). The sway of the white culture in America is so much so that not only do foreigners feel the compulsion to make their accents more palatable to the average American, but doing so convincingly is seen as praiseworthy. Ifemelu herself buys into the mindset that sounding like a white American is not only easier but preferable to her natural accent. She only realizes the problematic nature of her and her fellow African students’ attitude when a young telemarketer tells her she “sounds totally American” (215) upon learning that Ifemelu grew up in Nigeria. Ifemelu wonders, “Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American? She had won; Cristina Tomas, pallid-face Cristina Tomas under whose gaze she had shrunk like a small, defeated animal, would speak to her normally now” (215). Ifemelu is wrestling with the idea that her accent being deemed “American” should equate to a “win” because Christina Tomas, the original judge of her accent, would now not speak down to her. But, as Ifemelu notes, it isn’t a true victory because to attain it she had had to take on “a pitch of voice and a way of being that was not hers” (216). Ifemelu almost plays right into one of the key mechanisms of the power structure in America that disguises assimilation (in this case, one’s accent) as a positive. In reality, when Ifemelu and her peers give up their accents they give up part of themselves– one step in the process of making their identities as “pallid” as Cristina Tomas’, a representation of bland, conformist white America.
Another way in which a white image is imposed as the ideal is through the discouragement of natural hair in the workplace, so much so that black women not only submit themselves to painful procedures in the hair salon, but deride natural hair themselves. When Aunty Uju gets the letter in the mail notifying her that she is now a licensed medical professional, after her initial happiness, she immediately expresses to Ifemelu her intention to relax her hair because “they will think you are unprofessional” (146). Ifemelu is mystified, asking, “So there are no doctors with braided hair in America?” (146) But later, when Ruth, the career counselor, tells her to straighten her hair before an interview a less naive Ifemelu doesn’t bat an eye and gets her hair relaxed in a salon. When the hairdresser irons the ends, Ifemelu experiences a piercing sense of loss from “the smell of burning, of something organic dying which should not have died…” (251). The hairdresser, downplaying Ifemelu’s physical burns, excitedly says, Wow, girl, you’ve got the white-girl swing!” (251) Ifemelu is sacrificing the vibrancy and soul of her hair, an essential aspect of many African women’s identity, for a lifeless “white-girl swing”– just because of the unwritten rule that states that natural hair is unprofessional. Just as Ifemelu’s once-dynamic natural hair is restrained into falling rigidly down her back, so too does the stringent European beauty standard limit the freedom of expression of women with ethnic hair. The notion of white hair being attractive and business-like is not only forced on Ifemelu and other African women, but is internalized and enforced by these women– the ones who are being repressed. After being told by white society that it was undesirable, Ifemelu is one of a number of women who have been empowered by going natural with their hair, learning to love her hair through the supportive, affirming members of sites like HappilyKinkynappy.com. But Ifemelu and her fellow proud wearers of natural hair in America face both subtle and overt judgments of their choice from members of their communities. When Ifemelu brings Curt, her white boyfriend, with her to visit Aunty Uju, Uju remarks to her niece, “he really likes you…even with your hair like that” (269). When Ifemelu points out that Uju would probably be “admiring my hair now” if “every magazine you opened and every film you watched had beautiful women with hair like jute” (269), Uju replies, “I am just saying what is true” (269). Aunty Uju is inadvertently aiding the enforcement of the harmful belief in the superiority of European hair– she truly believes that Ifemelu’s natural hair makes her less desirable. Aunty Uju is not merely commenting on the social standing of natural hair, she genuinely believes in its inherent ugliness, saying: “there is something scruffy and untidy about natural hair” (269). Women like the hairdresser and Aunty Uju have absorbed the sometimes implicit, but frequently explicit attitude of white culture that black hair is not only physically unattractive, but representative of unsavory character traits. The existence of the ideal of European hair, coupled with its imposition not only by white people, but by the very population which it is oppressing, combines to create a culture of self-repression that even captures Ifemelu.
The influence afforded to the white people around Ifemelu by the collective thinking that they are average allows them to generalize about Ifemelu’s personal story (as well as other African immigrants,) causing Ifemelu to feel emotionally abused. Overwhelmed from yet another failure to secure a job that she was more than qualified for and faced with being late with her rent yet again, Ifemelu’s frustration comes to a head when she tells off her roommate Elena for allowing her dog to eat her bacon. Elena responds with a smirk on her face, “you better not kill my dog with voodoo” (187). Ifemelu, feeling “acid in her veins,” almost hits Elena before retreating to her room, curling up on her bed, and contemplating what she had almost done. She realizes that she had not wanted to slap her roommate because of the lost bacon “but because she was at war with the world, and woke up each day feeling bruised, imagining a horde of faceless people who were all against her” (187). Elena’s thoughtless use of an offensive stereotype is the last straw for Ifemelu who has been experiencing the pokes of many small microaggressions since landing in the United States–leaving her “bruised.” The constant barrage of white people in Ifemelu’s life asking her and her fellow members of the African Students Association, “How bad is AIDS in your country” and telling her, “it’s so sad that people live on less than a dollar a day in Africa” (170)– essentially assuming that is her story– leaves Ifemelu feeling as if she’s not valued. One day, before the bacon incident, a “credit card preapproval, with her name correctly spelled and elegantly italicized” comes in the mail; Ifemelu feels “a little less invisible, a little more present. Somebody knew her” (162). Ifemelu feels so unnoticed and lonely from the white Americans lack of interest in her life that just for her name to be acknowledged means something to her. People like Elena who don’t even try to get to know Ifemelu and just lump her into their preconceived and ignorant notions of an African immigrant are exercising power obtained merely from being not the “other.” Ifemelu feels as if she is not being seen as an individual, that the “horde of faceless people who were all against her” are looking inward to their own preconceived notions and reflecting outwards their ill will.
The power of the ordinary white American is shown through the understated enforcement of the American accent and the degradement of the African accent. Ifemelu is mortified when Cristina Tomas judges her based on her accent, and despite disliking American accents, adopts one. Ifemelu is not alone– her peers in the African Students Association say that they themselves get so tired repeating themselves that they take on fake American accents. But the sway of the prevailing idea of the superiority of the American accent is so much so that students look up to people with flawless fake accents. Ifemelu reclaims some of the power she has given up by faking an accent when she reverts back to her Nigerian accent– by speaking in her own voice she is recovering a piece of herself that she had lost by conforming to the authority of white mainstream society. Just as Ifemelu loses part of her identity when she changes her accent so to does she cede part of herself when she relaxes her hair. The iron relaxing her hair burns away a living part of herself–all in service of reaching the American beauty standard of European hair. And just as Africans admire a well executed American accent, they themselves value the white ideal for appearance, and enforce it themselves as seen through Aunty Uju’s surprise that Curt would find Ifemelu’s natural hair attractive. By going natural, Ifemelu again regains the power she relinquishes when she relaxed her hair. The inconsiderate stereotyping of Ifemelu’s life by her white peers makes her feel as if she isn’t viewed as her own person leading to her depressed and volatile emotional state. The sense of security gained attained through feeling absolutely normal allows the white masses to attempt to bend to their will African immigrants, leaving people like Ifemelu battling to keep intact vital parts of their identities.
Who (And Who Isn’t) Home in the African Diaspora
In the essay, “Rethinking the African Diaspora: Global Dynamics,” Ruth Simmons Hamilton writes that, “those who have a strong connection to – and sense of – Africa as homeland often form networks with others who share in this, building alliances based on similar experiences and worldviews and shared circumstances in the African Diaspora” (Hamilton 3). It seems important to note that these bonds that form between individuals who view “Africa as a homeland” require a lot more than a similar skin pigment or continent of familial origin. Rather, Hamilton poses a second requirement for these “networks” among people of the African Diaspora to form: the alliance must be “based on similar experiences and worldviews and shared circumstances in the African Diaspora.” With this scholarship in mind, the characters’ ultimate romantic fates in both Adichie’s novel Americanah and Haile Gerima’s film Teza makes a lot more sense. While Ifemelu’s relationship with Obinze seems a bit more promising than Anberber and Azanu’s, both narratives end in productive unions of people who share the same homeland, be that union a life together or the creation of a new life. Both of these ultimate relationships signify a return to the homeland for Ifemelu and Anberber in order to create a more finished Diasporic journey for the characters.
Rita Kiki Edozie’s essay, “African Perspectives on Race in the African Diaspora: As Understood by Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah,” extrapolates on how authors use romantic plot points to make much larger points about one’s connection to their homeland in the African Diaspora. For instance, Edozie writes that, “Adichie also articulates her theme through Ifemelu’s many relationships — with Obinze, Curt, and Blaine respectively (one a fellow Nigerian, the next a white American, and the last an African American)” (Edozie 69). By putting her protagonist, Ifemelu, in romantic contrast with two different diasporic experiences (that of a “fellow Nigerian” and that of “an African American”), Adichie communicates more about Ifemelu’s own diaspora experience than she could have without these partners as a backdrop. Even extrapolating on Ifemelu’s experience with a “white American” brings clarity to Ifemelu’s journey. While the most important thing to note about Adichie’s narrative decisions here is that Ifemelu chooses Obinze at the end of the novel, her experiences with people outside of her diaspora ultimately draw her closer to someone with the most similar diasporic experience to herself: Obinze, who just so happens to share her homeland.
Although Blaine and Ifemelu ultimately share the same race in America, they have very different ideas of home. Blaine is fundamentally American. Not only is he a professor at Yale while Ifemelu is still struggling to gain her footing in America, but he also has fundamentally different struggles from Ifemelu in relation to his Blackness. To Hamilton’s point, Blaine and Ifemelu have very dissimilar “experiences and worldviews and shared circumstances in the African Diaspora.” Therefore, they have less of a shared network, than, say, Ifemelu and Obinze do. For instance, Edozie writes that, Adichie reserves her most introspective analysis of the African/African-American relationship for the love-story plot about Ifemelu and Blaine described by Adichie as a complicated love that Ifemelu has for Blaine because while admiring and learning from him about race and the African-American identity, she also resented him. Blaine represented African-Americans’ ‘racial’ righteousness, she thought. He expected her to feel (about race) what she didn’t know how to feel (Edozie 75). One way in which Ifemelu lacks a shared worldview and network with Blaine because of their different experiences in the African Diaspora is through political discussion. Edozie writes that, “in one scene, Blaine’s pretentious sister, Shan, would say of Ifemelu, ‘Because she’s African; she’s writing from the outside. She doesn’t really feel all the stuff she’s writing about … if she were African American, she’d just be labeled angry and shunned” (Edozie 76). This circumstance is a very literal example of how not having the “similar experiences and worldviews and shared circumstances in the African Diaspora” can alienate people of the same perceived race. But in a more realistic sense, this alienation among members of different parts of the African Diaspora represents how white supremacy functions, alienating members of similar oppressed groups who would be a stronger force against white supremacy if they had the structural freedom to unite.
The importance of a shared diasporic experience to Ifemelu becomes even more clear at the end of the novel, when she reflects on her previous relationships just before Obinze shows up at her door. Through these reflections, Ifemelu comes to terms with her time in America, her place in the Diaspora, and what the idea of a homeland means to her. Adichie writes that, “she was reaching back to her past. She called Blaine to say hello, to tell him she had always thought he was too good, too pure for her, and he was stilted over the phone, as though resentful of her call, but at the end he said ‘I’m glad you called” (Adichie 586). Blaine, in this example, represents Ifemelu’s relationship to America at different times in her diasporic journey.
The idea that Blaine was, “too good, too pure” represents how Ifemelu looked at America before actually leaving Nigeria. For example, during “that triumphant ritual that signaled the start of a new life overseas: the division of personal property among friends,” one of Ifemelu’s friends tells her, “you know you’ll have any kind of dress you want in America” (Adichie 122-3). At that time, before Ifemelu ever set foot on America’s East Coast, her idea of America was like how she thought of Blaine: “too good, too pure.” However, as her conversation with Blaine goes on, he sounded “stilted over the phone,” just as America seemed rather unwelcome to her. She could not, in fact, have “any kind of dress” she wanted in America. However, despite how “stilted” and unwelcoming America was on her arrival, the country still preached maxims about being a nation of immigrants, inviting all into Lady Liberty’s open arms. In this sense, even though America might not actually feel welcoming to a lot of people in the African Diaspora in reality, the country still claimed to be “glad [she] called,” just like Blaine.
On the other hand, Ifemelu’s final narrative interaction with Obinze represents her relationship with Nigeria as her homeland. She and Obinze have the most similar diasporic experience of her romantic partners. For instance, Obinze arrives at her home and says, “Ifem, I’m chasing you. I’m going to chase you until you give this a chance.’ For a long time she stared at him. He was saying what she wanted to hear and yet she stared at him. ‘Ceiling,’ she said, finally. ‘Come in” (Adichie 588). Obinze says he was “chasing” Ifemelu, just as returning to where she considered home, Nigeria, chased her throughout the novel. The phrase, “for a long time she stared at him,” represents how Ifemelu felt upon returning to Nigeria. For a “long time,” it took her awhile to adjust to returning to her homeland, even though it was, in fact, “what she wanted.” The familiar phrases Obinze and Ifemelu use with one another in this interaction further assert the fact that they represent the return home for each other. He calls her “Ifem,” something none of her other lovers called her. And in turn, she refers to Obinze as “Ceiling,” their old, incredibly intimate nickname. The comma in “Ceiling,’ she said, finally,” even elongates the amount of literal time it takes her to take him back, perhaps suggesting the long journey back to Nigeria that this book takes both of them on. Out of every partner or character that Adichie contrasts Ifemelu against, Obinze has the most similar nature of “a strong connection to – and sense of – Africa as homeland.” Therefore, it makes sense that Adieche would use him to represent her ideal “network,” building a romantic alliance “based on similar experiences and worldviews and shared circumstances in the African Diaspora.”
Similarly, in Gerima’s Teza, the protagonist also has the most success in a relationship with someone from his homeland. Anberber tried to have a relationship with Cassandra, away from home, but they had very different perspectives of the world. He never communicated with Cassandra that he was ready to be a father, and therefore that child never came to be. Cassandra thought bringing a child into such a cruel and racist world would be cruel, but Anberber did not agree. However, Anberber ends up having a child with Azanu, someone who mirrors his experience in the African Diaspora. Not only do Azanu and Anberber share a homeland, but she also represents the feeling of isolation that Anberber feels upon returning home. Azanu lived in exile, and, in a sense, so did Anberber when he comes back from Germany. She represents the feeling of alienation that he feels from his homeland after having so much trauma in his hostland; and, in that sense, Azanu represents Anberber’s current perception of home. The successful birth of his second child (and the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the event in the film) suggests that Anberber has completed his journey. While he did not create life in Germany, he created it upon returning home, thus ending his journey and starting a new one for his new child.
In Gerima’s Teza and Adichie’s Americanah, the protagonists’ ultimate romantic relationships represent the diasporic return to the homeland. Ifemelu and Anberber both experimented with dating people with less similar diasporic experiences than themselves, and in both narratives the characters that they were closest with at the plot’s end represent home. While Obinze is Ifemelu’s only major romantic prospect who shares her homeland and the one who most nearly mirrors her experience in the African Diaspora, Azanu represents Anberber’s emotions about the return to the homeland, hence why it was her that he has a child with rather than Cassandra. In both of these narratives, Hamilton’s assertion rings true: “those who have a strong connection to – and sense of – Africa as homeland often form networks with others who share in this, building alliances based on similar experiences and worldviews and shared circumstances in the African Diaspora.” The final relationships in both Teza and Americanah support the idea that Hamilton’s closest “networks” in the African Diaspora require “shared circumstances in the African Diaspora.”
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. Anchor Books, 2014.
Conyers, James L. The Black Family and Society. Transaction Publishers, 2015.
Gerima, Haile, director. Teza.
Hamilton, Ruth Simms. Routes of Passage. Michigan State Univ. Press, 2003.