I was recommended Americanah my Supervisor at work who got talking about this book when she saw that I had had my box braids installed. An imagery that relates to scenes within the book.
Americanah an illuminating book by black feminist, writer and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for those of you who are unaware of Adichie, her renowned TEDtalk featured on Beyoncé’s song Flawless. Americanah won Adichie the 2013 National Book Critics Fiction award (insert link), focusses on one woman’s unapologetic view of race and what it means to be black in America, Nigeria and Britain. Telling the story through a complicated love story and various flashbacks from within a black hair salon, to Nigeria to various states in America, Americanah tells the tale of Ifemelu a young Nigerian who emigrates to America to study at University.
For me Americanah confirmed what I had always known occurred in America when it comes to race as it is everywhere to see from the blogs, Twitter Timeline and international news, but Adichie’s writing is even more brutally visual. In no way is this honesty as clear than in several humorous yet sobering blog posts penned by the main female character, Ifemelu, on her race blog entitled “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black”. A few of my personal favourites:
- “if you are a woman please do not speak your mind as you are used to doing in your own country. Because in America, strong-minded black women are SCARY.
- “If you are telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you… don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy.
- “American racial minorities- blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Jews- all get shit from white folks, different kinds of shit but shit still.”
- “sometimes they say ‘culture’ when they mean race. They say a film is ‘mainstream’ when they mean ‘white folks like it or made it”’ when they say ‘urban’ it means black and poor and possibly dangerous and potentially exciting. “Racially charged” means we are uncomfortable saying ‘racist’."
- “Here’s the thing the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist.”
Then there’s the frank, donts for non-black people interacting when interacting with American Blacks:
- “Don’t say “I’m color-blind” because if you are color-blind, then you need to see a doctor.
- “Don’t say “we’re tired of talking about race” or “the only race is the human race” (I see this one A LOT on the TL)
- Don’t preface your response with “One of my best friends is black because it makes no difference and nobody cares and you can still have a black best friend and do racist shit”
- Don’t say “Oh racism is over, slavery was so long ago”. We are taking about problems from the 1960s not the 1860s." Come on the daughter of a slave is still alive today!
What I really liked about Americanah is how relatable nearly all of the main characters and all of Ifemelu’s experiences are to me. For example, take Laura, the sister of the family Ifemelu babysits. In the book, whenever in the presence of Ifemelu all she talks about are subjects that she believes Ifemelu will be interested in, subjects that only focus on Ifemelu as a African woman. With comments such as “I met a lovely Nigerian Doctor who was well spoken” or “you are so privileged compared to the millions who live on less than a dollar a day back in your country”. We all know a Laura to a varying degree. For me, my Laura took the form of a middle class, white, male law graduate who only took the time to speak to me to discuss how his former roommate made the most splendid Fried Chicken. I kid you not.
Then there is the unnamed telemarketer character who compliments Ifemelu’s accent, “wow, cool you sound totally American” after she states that she has lived in America for three years. As if the backhanded compliment “you speak so well for an immigrant” should be acknowledged with pleasantries. Again a real life example, my former work colleague who grew up in Dubai before moving to England told me that whilst she was having a lengthy conversation with another non-black female she was told “wow you speak really good English”.
And finally there is a female character the mother of a public schoolchild described as “... one of those black people who want to be the only black person in the room, so any other black person is an immediate threat to her”. Yet another example is one of my friends who faces this current tension in her workplace. There are countless relatable examples in the book, honestly I urge you all to read it and compare your personal experiences with the fictitious Laura, Unnamed telemarketer and insecure black person.
Overall, the book made me cry, laugh out loud and nod my head enthusiastically in agreement with Adichie’s observations on race, class, sexism and politics. I honestly could not put the book down, it really helped fill my mundane commute journeys. For everyone reading this post, women, men, black, white this is a very poignant and important book. It will be informative to those who already get it and understand the complexities that surround being black in America and in the UK, and educational for the #alllivesmatter folk who need a little schooling on the importance of #blacklivesmatter.
I would rate this book a solid 8/10 I loved the constant changing narrative, the fluidity of Adichie’s storytelling and the credibility of the characters. The book does not come across forced and the story is very memorable. I will definitely be recommending this book to friends and family.
What did you think of the book? Could you relate to the experiences mentioned? Even if you did not like the book or identify with any of the characters, let’s discuss on Twitter. Mainly because I like to talk (lol!) but also because I like hearing new thoughts and opinions.