Beyoncè and Adichie Force Awareness of American Culture

Most of the living world is aware of the secret album that was bestowed upon the human race in mid December of 2013 by the walking goddess who is Beyoncè. On said album, there is a track titled “***Flawless”, which features snippets of the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 TED Talk on feminism:

“We teach girls to shrink themselves to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. […] Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage, and we don’t teach boys the same? […] We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. […] Feminist: the person who believes in the social political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

[Authors Note]: The album dropped around 10:30 at night, right in the middle of finals week, but you better believe that I took an hour and seven minute break to listen to the entire album from start to finish. When this song came on, I already recognized it, as Bey had released the demo under a different title earlier that summer, but when I heard Adichie’s voice, a newly added sample, and when I comprehended she was really saying, I lost it. I screamed. I flailed my arms. I texted my best friend immediately with the track number and said, “THIS IS HUGE.”

After listening to the track nonstop for approximately three days straight, in between breaks, I learned everything and all things I could about Adichie as a writer. I listened to her other popular TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”, and immediately knew I had to read her latest book, Americanah.

Adichie’s third novel focuses on the perspective of two Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, and their experiences as immigrants in the beginning of the 21st century. Told mostly through Ifemelu’s point of view, we see more of a Nigerian in America encounter. While living in America, Ifemelu runs a sociological blog where she discusses the cultural differences and experiences of non-American Africans, African Americans, and other non-white ethnic groups living in America. Her voice comes across at times as Adichie’s own voice, as most of her topics of choice are those that Adichie has addressed in previous writings and lectures. By doing this, it reinforces the importance of topics discussed, e.g. racism, identity in one’s ethnicity and heritage, privilege based on race, class, etc.

When we do get to hear the story of Obinze’s experiences as an immigrant, it takes place in London, as he cannot secure a visa to reach North American land. He works laborious jobs for crappy wages that he must split with others that are helping him to gain citizenship in London.

The book jumps between Ifemelu’s perspective in America and Obinze’s perspective in London, but eventually they both return to Nigeria, and allowing us to observe how they both have to re-assimilate to their native country and culture.

The main focus of Americanh is on Ifemelu’s point of view, which doesn’t come across as an issue, seeing as there is more invested in the autobiographical aspect her character seems to have based on the author. Ifemelu’s story is also more interesting as it focuses on feminism, racism, and other social hot topics which have all become popular choices of debate in the media and pop culture, and rightfully so: these are ideas and thoughts that should be explained, learned, and talked about because they affect more than one specific social group.

Another hot topic this novel addresses is immigration, which is the basis of this novel, honing in on the struggles involved in trying to assimilate to a country and culture that will never give full acceptance to outsiders. Ifemelu and Obinze go through tremendously illegal and dangerous efforts to obtain visas, so that they may learn, work, and live in America and London. This novel depicts both a success story, as well as a story of defeat, because they are both very honest stories of the 21st century.

Adichie’s novel offers a fascinating glimpse of American culture through the eyes of a non American, and forces us to become even more aware of how American culture is perceived, defined, and affected by others.

Claire Larson

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