Americanah changed how I saw race

It took me three years to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi. I opened the book three years ago, tried to read the first five pages and stopped. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now, I was not ready.

Americanah is an amazing book about race and how American blacks perceive race from the perspective of a Nigerian woman living in America. I read books so they will hold a mirror in front of me, allowing me to see myself. This book showed me how uncomfortable I’ve been discussing race as a full grown adult. And, it awakened me to the blindness I’ve had about my own racial experiences.

In the mirror, I realized I’ve been afraid to reveal how race has impacted my life.

The protagonist in the book Ifemulu travels to America in pursuit of a better life. In her hometown of Nigeria, race is not an issue. But, upon immediately arriving in America, she realizes the color of her skin makes her black—to everyone—no matter if she is African or American.

And being black is an experience of slights, discrimination, of being less than, and of being the least of the hierarchy in America.

Americanah Author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichi

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

This book poked, agitated and even irritated me at times. Adichi writes, “American Blacks, too, are tired of talking about race. They wish they didn’t have to. But shit keeps happening.”

Those three sentences sounded an alarm in my black consciousness and I realized I’d been sleep. I realized I’d chosen to ignore racial experiences that my mind deemed too painful to appreciate.

But when the financial crisis happened…

Rewind the tape to 2008, the financial crisis had gripped the US, home values plummeted, and job security seemed like science fiction. I’d successfully run my marketing company and obtained a government contract for four successive years. My contract resulted from years of relationship building and loyalty. Near the end of 2008, rumors of the stability of government contracts began to beat in my ears like a loud rap record. So, I asked my client, “Is my contract in jeopardy?” Reassured that my contract was stable,  I continued business as usual. Then in January 2009, something completely different happened. Without warning, my contract ended. Given the typical line about cut backs and the economy, I accepted the explanation, but in the back of my mind I wanted to know, “What changed so suddenly?”

A year or so later my client admitted that a black employee who knew me didn’t want me to keep my contract.

This black employee recommended my contract be terminated.

Americanah Experience

Here I am at an event for one of my clients.

Fresh out of college, I had met this man. As a temporary employee he discussed with me his desire to obtain permanent employment. I listened to him, bonded with him and treated him well. But somehow, years later this same employee decided to do my business harm. Every year my company received commendations and additional monies to our contract and yet when an opportunity rose for my contract to be called into question, a black employee targeted me specifically.

What had I done to receive such negative treatment? Had I talked about him? Ignored him? Been unkind?

No. But my experience reflects the kinds of experiences Adichi references throughout Americanah. When the government terminated my contract, I denied it hurt. I refused to admit how much it stung for another black person to discriminate against me. I told myself, “God has a better way for me,” “This will give me more time to focus on films,” blah, blah, blah. But, I never admitted that another black person instigated the loss of my contract. I refused to look in the mirror and say that to myself. To admit it in the mirror would be akin to admitting something was wrong with me. And, what was wrong with me? The color of my skin.

I appreciate Americanah because I need to admit the pains in my life and how I’ve been hurt by race. Acknowledging these race inflicted wounds will allow me to grow and heal.

Check out Americanah… It’s worth the read. It just might be your wake up call.

Thanks for reading and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yasmin

 

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