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While re-reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, I was reminded of a quote from an essay written by Zora Neale Hurston, found in The Best American Essays of the Century by Joyce Carol Oates. In her essay titled “How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” Hurston writes about her first encounters with the idea of race, something that she never experienced growing up in an all-black community. She says, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” (116). Adichie writes of several instances in Americanah in which Ifemelu encounters the same idea that Hurston captured on the page years earlier.

One instance of this that particularly stuck out to me can be found on page 273, when Ifemelu writes a blog post titled, “To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You are Black, Baby,” which begins, “Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care. So what if you weren’t ‘black’ in your country? You’re in America now. We all have our moments of initiation into the Society of Former Negroes. Mine was in a class in undergrad when I was asked to give the black perspective, only I had no idea what that was.”  This blog post essentially captures the same feeling that Hurston’s essay did; until a colored person encounters a non-colored person, their “color” is not a determining factor in their identity or something that said person has even considered or fully realized about themselves.

This occurrence also brings to my mind William E. Cross’ Nigrescence Model, which involves five stages: the Pre-Encounter, in which the person of color has little regard for the color of their skin, sometimes also called “race neutrality”; the Encounter, in which said person has an encounter (that is not always negative) that changes how they view the color of their skin, or at the very least makes them aware of it where they likely had not been before; the Immersion-Emersion stage, in which a person of color must shatter all previous world-views about race and form a new identity, usually achieved through the immersion of themselves into “black culture” or history; the Internalization stage, in which that person must decide their own feelings about their blackness or color; and, finally, the Internalization-Commitment stage, in which said person has mostly settled their new identity. This theory is applied to all minority groups but was developed through the study of African-Americans and seems so prevalent in the reading of Americanah, particularly in today’s society.

The idea of race is truly that–an idea–but the lived experience of both American and Non-American people of color is proof that this idea, which is so prominent in American culture, is not only toxic but seriously harmful to its non-white citizens. The fact that there is an entire process that non-white American citizens go through to accept the color of their skin is sickening, and the people who argue that racism is no longer prevalent are the same people who have not experienced it and therefore do not care about it. Americanah is an eye-opening novel that not only provides proof of Chimamanda Adichie’s talents as a writer but also a simultaneous fictional and first-hand account of the very thing that so many people deny in our culture. On page 135 of the novel, Ifemelu says, of Aunty Uju, that “America had subdued her.” Americans, particularly white Americans who do not face the same struggles as the characters in this novel, have both a civic and human duty to prevent this suppression. Or, at the very least, we need to educate ourselves about it so that we may attempt to prevent it.

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