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.
Adichie makes multiple important points in this quote. Firstly, the idea of “becoming” black affirms the fact that “blackness” is not present in Africa because the racial baggage of America does not exist there. Secondly, she points to the combining of African cultures into one in America, both by whites who do not care to understand and by Africans who often feel the need to band together, as she shows in her story, in the face of American culture. Finally, the word “choice” alludes to her decision about leaving America, making it clear that the United States is not always the best place but nevertheless a place one must choose to accept along with its flaws.
When you are black in America and you fall in love with a white person, race doesn’t matter when you’re alone together because it’s just you and your love. But the minute you step outside, race matters. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t even tell our white partners the small things that piss us off and the things we wish they understood better, because we’re worried they will say we’re overreacting, or we’re being too sensitive. And we don’t want them to say, Look how far we’ve come, just forty years ago it would have been illegal for us to even be a couple blah blah blah, because you know what we’re thinking when they say that? We’re thinking why the fuck should it ever have been illegal anyway? But we don’t say any of this stuff. We let it pile up inside our heads and when we come to nice liberal dinners like this, we say that race doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re supposed to say, to keep our nice liberal friends comfortable.
For Ifemelu, the way that race in America intersects with romantic relationships is very important. While in America, she has long-term relationships with a white man and a black man, but she feels that neither really understand her experience as an African woman. This is especially true when she is in a relationship with a white man and, as described in the quote above, feels at once happy and loved but also misunderstood and dismissed by others and by Curt himself.
If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place.
At many times, it feels as if Adichie is speaking to the reader directly through Ifemelu, especially on issues of race. While some black activists profess that it is not the job of people of a certain race or culture to educate others, in this quote Adichie instructs readers to educate themselves about issues of race by asking questions and listening to the answers.
Academics were not intellectuals; they were not curious, they built their stolid tents of specialized knowledge and stayed securely in them.
Another group Adichie lambasts in her book are academics, largely through the characters of Blaine, Shan, and their friends. This group meets fairly often for parties at which Ifemelu often feels out of place and uncomfortable even though many are black and sensitive to racial issues. Still, their wealth, their American-ness, and their lack of genuine intellectualism (as in the quote above) trouble Ifemelu and perhaps lead to her disenchantment with Blaine and her life in America.
But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.
Obinze, like Ifemelu, recognizes differences between Nigeria and other African countries and the West, in this quote pointing out the differences in the architectural choices people seek out for their houses. He links these aesthetic choices to the country's history and the current moment in its economic development, saying that people of the Third World like their houses to look new rather than antique or retro because most of the wealth in their countries is new rather than inherited.
You could have just said Ngozi is your tribal name and Ifemelu is your jungle name and throw in one more as your spiritual name. They’ll believe all kinds of shit about Africa.
When Ifemelu comes to the United States, she must use the name of someone else - Ngozi Okonkwo - to find work illegally. Even though Ifemelu sometimes forgets to use this name, people don't seem to notice much, and Ginika suggests in this quote that people are gullible about names. They'll believe anything you tell them about Africa. As names are a very important part of one's identity, especially when they have cultural meanings or connections, this quote's humor covers a darker theme of illegal immigrants' lack of identity.
But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called "participation," and did not see why it should be part of the final grade; it merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words.
In the sections on Ifemelu's time at university in the United States, Adichie exposes cultural differences between American education and education in Nigeria. Besides the racial and economic issues she faces, even aspects of education that Americans take for granted like being graded and applauded for participation in class are foreign and often uncomfortable for her.
He had first been excited by Facebook, ghosts of old friends suddenly morphing to life with wives and husbands and children, and photos trailed by comments. But he began to be appalled by the air of unreality, the careful manipulation of images to create a parallel life, pictures that people had taken with Facebook in mind, placing in the background the things of which they were proud.
As Ifemelu and Obinze grow older, time approaches modern day and they must grapple with the new connection and distance between people thanks to innovations like social media. The two communicate by email after a long period of silence but are each able to carefully curate their responses, especially with regard to mentions of their significant others.
I have to take my braids out for my interviews and relax my hair. Kemi told me that I shouldn’t wear braids to the interview. If you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional.
Aunty Uju is an interesting character in that she tries very hard to adapt to American society but, likely because of the industry she enters, never seems as happy or successful as characters like Ginika or even Ifemelu. In this quote, Ifemelu and Aunty Uju discuss the discrimination black and African women face in the United States because of their hair choices.
People often told him how humble he was, but they did not mean real humility, it was merely that he did not flaunt his membership in the wealthy club, did not exercise the rights it brought—to be rude, to be inconsiderate, to be greeted rather than to greet—and because so many others like him exercised those rights, his choices were interpreted as humility.
Obinze must retreat into himself somewhat when he becomes rich quick as an adult in Nigeria. Many ironies are exposed to him, such as the recently rich still acting like obsequious beggars. Similarly, he is complimented for his humility though he does not feel particularly humble; rather, he is simply better than some of the other "hustlers" out there.
Americanah Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Americanah is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.