“Blacks actually don’t WANT it to be race.
They would rather not have racist shit happen.
So maybe when they say something is about race,
it’s maybe because it actually is.”
I recently led a Faith & Race book group at our church and I chose the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Emphasis is more on race than faith, I suppose, but if you’re looking for a book that explores issues of race in modern day America that also happens to be an enjoyable story in its own right, this is the one for you.
Be forewarned, though, this book is not for the RUFOH (racially-unaware-faint-of-heart)*. If you are of the “it’s all good / we’re post-racial / check out our President” persuasion, this book will be a bitter pill to swallow. But if you are interested in pressing into issues like immigration, race, class, and privilege, and doing so via a well-told story, you won’t be disappointed.
Here are 7 things that our book group discussed and some of the corresponding context & quotes that informed our discussion:
How White folks are unaware of their own culture
“The problem is you think everyone is like you. You think you’re the norm but you’re not” (pg 112).
Africa as a country rather than Africa as a continent
Americans seeing Africa as some sort of homogenous exotic land of half-starved sun-baked people (p 13, 160, 163, 173).
Unawareness of history and context by the dominant (ie White) culture in the US
“Maybe when the African American’s father was not allowed to vote because he was Black, the Ugandan’s father was running for parliament or studying at Oxford… I just think it’s a simplistic comparison to make. You need to understand a bit more history…” (pg 208).
Dangers of being colorblind
- People aren’t seen.
“ ‘Dike is just like one of us, we don’t see him as different at all.’ What kind of pretending is that? …my son sticks out, so how can you tell me that you don’t see any difference” (pg 212)?
- In a misguided attempt to make up for the fact that people are NOT colorblind; that they do, in fact, see our skin color, Ifemelu changes the way that she speaks so that at least she will sound like a White American. But again, the problem is still that she isn’t actually seen.
“Only after she hung up did she begin to feel the stain of a burgeoning shame spreading all over her, for thanking him, for crafting his words “You sound American” into a garland that she hung around her own neck. Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American? She had won; Cristina Tomas, pallid-faced Cristina Tomas under whose gaze she had shrunk like a small, defeated animal, would speak to her normally now. She had won, indeed, but her triumph was full of air. Her fleeting victory had left in its wake a vast, echoing space, because she had taken on, for too long, a pitch of voice and a way of being that was not hers” (pg 216).
The invisibility of Black women and Asian Men
“You see, in American pop culture, beautiful dark women are invisible. (The other group just as invisible is Asian men. But at least they get to be super smart.) In movies, dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively. They get to dish out wisdom and attitude while the White woman finds love” (pg 266).
Where Have All the Racists Gone?
“In America, racism exists but racists are all gone” (pg 390).
“Don’t preface your response with “One of my best friends is black” because it makes no difference and nobody cares and you can have a black best friend and still do racist shit” (pg 404)
“How can I be privileged? I grew up fucking poor in West Virginia. I’m an Appalachian hick. My family is on welfare.’ Right. But privilege is always relative to something else. Now imagine someone like him, as poor and as fucked up, and then make that person black… The Appalachian hick guy is fucked up, which is not cool, but if he were black, he’d be fucked up plus… Appalachian hick guy doesn’t have class privilege but he sure as hell has race privilege” (pg 429).
Have you read Americanah? What did you think? Would enjoy hearing your thoughts!
*I make up my own acronyms sometimes.