I learned more about environmentalism from Barbara Kingsolver's novels, and about misogyny and the ethics of scientific developments from Margaret Atwood, than I did from any textbook or lecture. I can add Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's latest novel, Americanah, as another brilliant, instructive work of fiction, this time with regard to race.
Adichie incisively critiques, among many other things, U.S. American culture. She does not leave liberals or progessives out of her critique. Adichie's deft criticisms take the form of a love story between two Nigerian immigrants, one of which came to the U.S., while the other chose Great Britian. Ifemelu, who chose the U.S., began a blog about race, sharing her experience as a "Non-American black." In her hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, Ifemelu never considered herself "black;" rather, she became black when she moved to the U.S. Snippets of her blog posts are interspersed throughout the novel.
Adichie's work helped me realize that the struggle to end racism and to confront white privilege and white supremecy is quite frankly not about "me" or "my feelings" as a privileged white U.S. American. Here are some lines I wanted to share:
"Racism should never have happened and so you don't get a cookie for reducing it."
"Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black."
[Said to a white U.S. American:] "Race doesn't really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don't have that choice."
"To have money, it seemed, was to be consumed by money."
"If you’re telling a non-black person about something racist that happened to you, make sure you are not bitter. Don’t complain. Be forgiving. If possible, make it funny. Most of all, do not be angry. Black people are not supposed to be angry about racism. Otherwise you get no sympathy. This applies only for white liberals, by the way. Don’t even bother telling a white conservative about anything racist that happened to you. Because the conservative will tell you that YOU are the real racist and your mouth will hang open in confusion."
"In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters."
"[S]ome are lucky to have that white friend who you don’t need to explain sh*t to. By all means, put this friend to work. Such friends not only get it, but also have great bullsh*t-detectors and so they totally understand that they can say stuff that you can’t. So there is, in much of America, a stealthy little notion lying in the hearts of many: that white people earned their place at jobs and schools while black people got in because they were black. But in fact, since the beginning of America, white people have been getting jobs because they were white. Many whites with the same qualifications but Negro skin would not have the jobs they have. But don’t ever say this publicly. Let your white friend say it. If you make the mistake of saying this, you will be accused of a curiosity called 'playing the race card.' Nobody quite knows what this means."
"In America, you don’t get to decide what race you are. It is decided for you."
For more from Adichie, check out her Tedx talk: We Should All Be Feminists.