Race — and thus, racism — has always been a topic of debate the world over. In “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this topic is on the tip of lead character Ifemelu’s tongue on a daily basis. The author of a prolific race blog, Nigeria native Ifemelu speaks out against the racism she sees in America. The premise is sound — sound enough, indeed, for multiple schools at NYU to choose the book as one of the summer’s required readings. However, popular opinion holds the novel as quality only for its premise and ability to spark necessary conversations about race, not for its Zora Neale Hurston-esque prose or its actual statements about institutionalized racism. In regards to actual writing, the many readers I have talked to suggest the book falls apart. This, I would argue, is where they are wrong.
Most pressingly, it would seem as though readers have forgotten that “Americanah” is indeed a work of fiction. Ifemelu, although partially representative of who Adichie is as a person, is a purposefully imperfect character. She speaks against racism but maintains some racist attitudes. Critics of the book assert this makes her unlikable. I assert this makes her human. Much like my very real mother can be married to a black man and perform racist Chinese impersonations, Ifemelu can advocate for black rights while believing her Moroccan hair dresser is a little dumb. Does this make them racist? Yes. Does this mean they cannot still fight racism? No. No one is perfect, especially when it comes to handling the multi-dimensional beast that is race.
The second flaw of “Americanah’s” critique is believing the book is meant to be Adichie’s master thesis on race. Adichie gave us a story full of lucky coincidences and fairy tale romances that only exist in fiction. We must read it as a story, not as a professional essay. This distinction is necessary to properly evaluate the novel. Adichie can write — and she has written — more comprehensive pieces in regards to race. It is vital to acknowledge that this enlightenment was not her goal in writing “Americanah.”
Like every great work, Adichie’s novel is full of flaws and imperfections. Fortunately, that is what is most representative of life. To have flaws and incomplete experiences is to call yourself human. Personally, I believe it is rare to be as human as “Americanah.”
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email J. Metje at [email protected]