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The novel Americanah by the young woman Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an author from Nigeria, tells the story of Ifemelu who immigrates to the United States to pursue her university education. The novel follows the life of Ifemel in both Nigeria and America. Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love when there's a military dictatorship that makes many people flee their home, Nigeria. In America, Ifemel deals with the history of injustice in their society. Around the same time, Obinze heads to London after he has been refused a visa to America, where he is deemed an illegal alien. When his visa expires, he returns to Nigeria as a very rich man. In the United State, Ifemelu succeeds and is now famous due to the blogs she writes about the experience of Black Americans, also known as the Negroes by the whites (Adichie 24). In this case, the novel Americanah is examining the blackness in America, Nigeria, and Britain. Adichie is examining ruthless of the whites and the beauty of Nigeria and United state of America. This paper will examine the theme of race and racism in the three countries, the United States of America, Nigeria, as well as Britain.
In the beginning, the theme of racism is portrayed when Ifemelu is travelling to another state to look for African women to do her hair for they know how to do in an African style. She gets on the train where she wonders if the rest of the passengers are aware of her lifestyle and the blog that she is doing about various observation about American Blacks. On the way, Ifemelu is interviewing people randomly and finds out that racial issue is their main opinion. Ifemelu says that she is from a country where race is not an issue, "I did not think of myself as black, and I only became black when I came to America" (Adichie 46). This quote shows that she has discovered about the attitude of Americans towards the blacks. The white people are slim, but the black people are fat, but this is not a big deal to Ifemelu though a man in a grocery is calling her fat woman. In America, Ifemelu is much satisfied with her success on the blog, and at the same time, she is having an American boyfriend known as Blaine. However, she is longing to go back to Nigeria after a rude stranger in the supermarket insults her. She also wants to leave Blaine after realizing that he cannot give her all that she wants in life. In the salon, Ifemelu finds the women playing the Nigerian movie on their television. It is here in the salon that she explores how women from different African countries are struggling in America. They are considered as the second-class citizens, and they find out that American is not a paradise as they used to imagine but rather it is a place full of hatred. In this case, the issue of race discrimination is very clear, since the Americans are discriminating people who have dark skin. Also in the salon, Halima who is attending Ifemelu gives her a special smile that is only given to their fellow Africans. She goes ahead to praise Ifemelu because of her beauty, "But look how pretty it is, wow, girl; you have got the white-girl swing" (Adichie 74). Ifemelu does not like the compliment, but she let it go. Cultural criticism and racial commentary are seen during the interaction of Ifemelu with Aisha who says that she wants to introduce Ifemelu to her two Igbo boyfriends.
In England, Obinze is suffering racism as he is facing the African immigrant problem. Even though he is well educated, he is working on menial jobs for survival. He learns that he has to build up a new identity whenever they go to a Western country no matter their class in their countries of origin.' White people have been getting jobs because they are white' (Adichie 96). Many people are changing their personalities after immigration from Nigeria for them to fit in the western culture. For example, Nicholas and Ojiugo have changed their identities and adjusted to England life practically. Obinze is also ready to change his identity for him to secure a job in England since he has to be a legal citizen in England. After some time, Obinze quits the job as a toilet cleaner and finds another one in a detergent-packing warehouse where he is fired due to downsizing. He gets another job to work with white people who are calling him a laborer. He falls and njures his knee, and one of the co-workers sarcastically comments "his knee is bad because he is a knee-grow' (Adichie 117) In this case, Obinze discovers casual as well as socially-ingrained racism in England in the same way Ifemelu finds in America. He is so much expendable as a worker, and he feels invisible as well as an illegal immigrant as he works under someone else's identity. For some time, Obinze experiences racism, and dehumanizing work conditions, but after some time, he finds a co-worker who respects him as a real person. Here, he experiences more of English culture without being fear as he used felt earlier. During this period, Obinze finds Nigel who turns to be a real friend because he treats him with respect. Nigel friendship with Obinze is an example of real human connection across racial as well as cultural lines. This shows that even though there are differences, the sense of kinship between black and immigrants exists in England. In England, Obinze meets his old friend Emenike who is embracing the England culture. During his visit to Emenike's family, Obinze meets other Nigerian guests who argue that America is full of prejudice and does not respect human rights.
The author is criticizing the American culture by introducing the black hair as an important symbol. Racism is also criticizing racism in Nigeria although it is not as widespread a in America. Ifemelu remembers that when she is in Nigeria, the issue of racism is not a big deal. She remembers her friend Cult who is pretending to understand it but it is for a short time. Eventually, the issue of racism is affecting their romantic relationship. The racial criticism as well as cultural is applied in the daily life of Ifemelu. Brain's sister Shan admits that Africa is not caring about the race. Back in Nigeria Ifemelu cannot get an apartment easily because she is an Igbo that shows that prejudice is still high in Nigeria. Racism is still ingrained in Nigeria as it is in America. Ifemelu's father's landlord is demanding two years worth of rent because he is an Igbo. Ifemelu meets her old friend Priye in Nigeria who has grown into the Lagos culture of greed and materialism, and she is planning to wed his boyfriend not because she loves him but because he can maintain her. She goes ahead quoting the rule of life in Lagos 'You do not marry the man you love. You marry the man who can best maintain you' (Adichie 124). Priye is not seeing anything wrong with marrying someone she is not in love with as long as he is taking care of her. Ifemelu is examining all the intricacies of race and culture in her blog that is foreign to a Nigerian. She discovers race when she goes to America as she tells her friend Doris who asks her about her race blog. In the end, Ifemelu is happy to be back in Nigeria where there is no racial discrimination as compared to America. She reunites with her first love Obinze though he is now married. Ifemelu loves Obinze so much that 'she realized, quite suddenly, that she wanted to breathe the same air as Obinze" (Adichie 164) She finds success in Nigeria which is a kind of victory over her ongoing restlessness as well as the struggle for identity. She is also comfortable with herself living as both an American and a Nigerian. Racism is very evident in the paper as depicted by the characters in the book. In Nigeria, Ifemelu does not think of herself as being black. Although there is a racial hierarchy in the Nigerian culture, the light-skinned people and the mixed-raced are considered more attractive and people use lightening products to make their skin lighter. In America and England, Ifemelu finds out that race is a much pervasive part of live. When she discovers the evils due to racism, she starts considering herself as black because she does not want to adapt to America's complex racial politics.
In conclusion, Adichie has very well brought out the issue of race and racism theme in the three countries that Ifemelu and Obinze have visited. In Nigeria, the issue of race is not very disturbing because Ifemelu realizes that she is black while in America. Racism is also depicted in England since Obinze does not get a good job simply because he is black. The only kind of job he gets is toilet cleaning, which is very disgusting and does not suit him. In this case, racial discrimination is very high in the western nations and they have no space for black people. There are many examples of racism incidents that Adichie is pointing out in this novel. For example, when Obinze is mocked for scraping his knee, and he is considered as the "knee-grow" since they think that the white Curt could not be dating Ifemelu. The novel is about racism and its humanizing effects on its victims and the perpetrators. However, many are overcoming it through the romantic love as well as close friendship they have with their friends. Adichie has observed race and racism in the three countries in three perspectives.
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Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Americanah. 1st ed. London: 4th Estate, 2016. Print.
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