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.
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