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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Americanah’ author talks about racism in America and her experiences

Chimamanda adichie

The Nigerian writer says "America is a country that is steeped in racism" and recounts her own personal experience in the home of the brave.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie opens up about her work, her experience as
a black woman in the American educational system and liberalism in
an interview with, David Remnick, Editor of The New Yorker.

In
2013, the Nigerian author published her fourth novel titled ‘
Americanah’ – a story of identity, natural hair, love and race. In
a Huffpost live interview, in explaining the uniqueness of the book, she said: ”this is
what I like to call my f*ck you novel”
.

It’s that sense of writing
from a place of freedom and wanting to do what I wanted to do. I
think I say that because in comparison to ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’
the book before it, I didn’t have the sense of duty, I didn’t feel
constrained by a kind of burden which of course was sort of self
made but is still there. The burden of getting it right [in terms
of history]. I felt just deeply responsible
”, she said in her
interview with Remnick.

 

Adichie who published her first novel in
2003 has published four novels so far: ‘Purple Hibiscus’ (2003), ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ (2006), ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ (2009)
and ‘Americanah’ (2013).

With Americanah I was free, I wanted to
break the rules, I didn’t want to be dutiful. I wanted to write
about my take on America and much of it was about race
”.

‘Americanah’ follows the story of a young Nigerian woman,
Ifemelu, who move to the United States to attend university.

 “Much
of the writing about race I found to be dishonest. I would read
some fiction and I would be like ‘No’, and it seemed to me also
quite ideological, that idea that you know the sort of thing that
race is just a social construction, all of that,
” Adichie said.

ALSO READ: 10 things you should know about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 In 1996, the
writer moved to America to go to university. She discovered the ‘blackness’ of America, something she had not considered while she
was in Nigeria. This came to her as a surprise.

Racism I found funny, absurd, infuriating”, she said.

She went on to reveal her first experience of racism.

The first
time I wrote an essay in my class, my very first essay and at the
time I used my initial and my last name and my last name could be
anything some people tell me sometimes it could be italian. So the
professor came into the class and said who wrote this essay? And he
called my name and I raised my hand and he looked surprised and
even though it was a very small moment, that’s when I knew what
being black meant, it meant that you’re not supposed to write the
best essay in class if you are black it meant that black
achievement is considered so rare
”.

And I was so irritated by that because for me growing up in
Nigeria, black achievement is ordinary. And there was a part of me
that wanted to say this man – really I was saying it in my head “you’re stupid
””.

 

Adichie who shuttles between Nigeria and the
States shared another incident where she tried to escape the
stereotype of ‘blackness’.

I remember once a black guy referred to
me as sister and my first reaction was "No, no, no, I’m not your
sister
"".

She also talked about embracing this new identity.

I remember in
college I was in a class and I was the only black person and I
remember somebody saying the black girl, and I thought oh that’s
what I am the black girl – that’s thrust on you but I think it kind
of that internalizing of that identity you need to do consciously
and I did that by reading African American history by trying to
understand because I really didn't understand America. I didn’t
understand in the my first two weeks why the two black people in
one of my classes got offended when somebody said something about
watermelons
”.

 

The author is known for speaking up on issues regarding politics,
feminism (gender) and race. During her interview, the New Yorker
Editor asks her about not putting up “with liberal can’t and jargon
on subjects of feminism or race at all despite politics
”.

I almost
think that the left is creating it’s own decline, I think the left
doesn’t know how to be a tribe in a way the right does. The left is
cannibalistic, it eats its own. This isn’t going to sound very kind
but people on the left, there’s something to be said of course
ideals and I believe very much in that. But I think when one speaks
about politics, sometimes there can be a kind of an extremist idea
of purity. And it's so easy to fall afoul of the ridiculously high
standards set there. And there is often also a kind of self
righteousness – I mean you follow the rules and if you don’t, you’r
e cut down very quickly
”.

She recounted one of the times this
happened to her when she made a comment about transwomen.

I don’t
remember the question but what I did say was I think transwomen are
transwomen and I think there is a difference between transwomen and
women who are born female. And apparently in liberal orthodox you
are not supposed to say that because in the quest for
inclusiveness, the left is willing to discard a certain type of
complex truth and I think there’s a quickness to assign ill intent
”.

ALSO READ: Author clarifies her statement on transwomen

 

Following her comments, she shared she received emails and flowers
from friends because of the backlash.

Initially I didn’t think
anyone would take it seriously because I thought surely – I sort of
feel the space I occupy in the world is one that is of course for
inclusiveness and of course I couldn’t possibly be suggesting that
trans women are not part of feminism which apparently is how it had
been seen. But I think it was simply that I didn’t use the language I
was supposed to use,
” Adiche said.

My publishers were inundated with interview requests, people who
were like does she want to take her words back now and I just
thought – what?  I did public events where there was a woman
who stood up and lectured me about how I was killing trans women,
how I had no compassion and how I needed to shut up.

"The response
is not to debate, the response is to silence and I find that very
troubling. I guess I’m just a person who thinks that the answer to
that speech is more speech in general
”.

 

Faith Obadan Photo

Faith Obadan is an Associate at Meets Media, a digital journalist who reports on Pop Culture and some other section of our website.

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