So I want to talk about what Shan says about her memoir, “Why do I have to transcend race? You know, like race is a brew best served mild, tempered with other liquids, otherwise white folk can’t swallow it,” as well as something that one of my classmates said in seminar today that Americanah is tempered with other plot lines and romance that aren’t about race, and how she felt that diminished the novel’s impact.
I feel like I understand what Shan is saying, but also I disagree. I think that part of what makes Americanah so impactful is that it’s so easy to relate to. I think Adichie smartly writes Ifemelu as someone that her readers can connect with and it humanizes her. Ifemelu has flaws; she’s depressed, she pushes those she loves away sometimes, she’s independent and smart and longs for something more but can’t place what it is. Ifemelu is in many ways more similar to her American peers in college than she is different, despite being Nigerian and experiencing a bit of culture shock. I think it’s important to write books and have TV shows and movies and comic books that are not about race, and just like any other form of media, but feature characters that aren’t white.
Now on the other hand, I don’t think this is what Shan is trying to do with her memoir. She wants to write specifically about how race has impacted her life and draw attention to the unspoken racism that is still rampant in society. I think this is a smart move for the purpose of Shan’s memoir, and she was rightfully upset that her editor wanted her to tone down the emphasis on race. However, I think Adichie writing Americanah wanted to do some of the same thing as Shan, and certain passages do emphasize race and how Ifemelu and Obinze and the people they interact with are affected by their race alone. I think other parts of the novel want to keep Ifemelu relatable to the white reader. I do think that Adichie waters down the racial statement that the novel could have made, but she does this intentionally to make the novel more appealing to white readers and to emphasize that not everything has to be about race, but sometimes it just is. Obviously being from Nigeria is not the only event in Ifemelu’s life.
I think this really circles back to white peoples’ question of what to do about diversity. For a long time, I think we’ve been taught (not even just with race, but with disability too especially) to ignore it. Pretend it isn’t there, or at least don’t vocalize that you’ve noticed. This is bad because usually we will just be quiet and awkward around non-white people. But then people swing too far the other way, and ask people “oh, where are you from?” or possibly worse/more racist things and fixate on their differences. I think we should embrace, but not dwell on, diversity. Be interested and aware that we all aren’t the same, but really, we should treat everyone equally.