I absolutely love this book. I love it because it’s raw, it’s real, and it made me uncomfortable to read it. The author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, tells the story of a Nigerian woman who moved to America for university. She discusses her experience acclimating to American culture as an African, and America’s issues with race (yes, we have issues). In reading this, I reflected on my own experiences- I know what you are thinking, I’m a white girl from the Midwest, born and raised in the US, so what experiences? Valid point. I might not be qualified to talk about race or racism at all, but I do have a perspective based on my life experiences and I’m passionate about it. You are more than welcome to disagree.
First, it made me deeply embarrassed to read the author describe wealthy white women talking about their charities and poor people in ‘Africa’ like it’s another distant subservient planet, as if ‘Africa’ doesn’t have food, trees, animals, culture, families, and people just like the US and every other continent. She described how much it sucks to be on the poor charity side, rather than the superior giving to charity side. God I hope I’m not that girl that responds to someone telling me they are from a country in Africa with comments about charity. I don’t view what I do as charity- no one needs my charity. I view it as shared humanity and cultural immersion. I deeply want to understand other cultures, and connect with people from around the world.
I have friends from many countries, ethnicities, religions, ect. My diverse friendships and relationships have enriched my life, taught me about myself, helped me see the country I live in from a different perspective, and given me insight as to what it’s like to grow up in other countries. I repeat, all I have is insight, since I am, in reality, a very white girl from America.
The author describes her experience dating a white man as a African black girl in America. I dated a guy from Africa- not an African American, but an African living in American to be clear. And when I say I dated, I don’t mean that I went on a few dates, but dated him (he met my mother), the ex that shall go un-named, for about 9 months. I honestly did not notice if people looked at us in public (maybe I’m oblivious) and really don’t care, but there are examples I can easily recall where he was treated differently, and some things he said that caught me off guard.
Passing some type of police confrontation on the street in NYC in his gym clothes he said, “I’ve got to be careful, I could get shot dressed like this.” I didn’t know what to say, and my natural positive response was, no you won’t, but I’m not sure that’s true. Who am I to justify how someone else feels? The fact that a black man is afraid of getting killed because he put on a hoodie and looks ‘rough’ is a problem. I found myself thinking, how does an this super nice guy with an Ivy League education worry about getting shot because of what he looks like? Side note- education is not an indicator as to how someone should look or be treated. But still, as a white woman, I’ve never rolled out of bed slightly disheveled, put on a sweatshirt, and feared for my life. I really don’t understand fundamentally and intellectually how it’s possible for us to think that someone is truly different and assume they are a certain way because their skin is a different color, to the point where they could get injured/ accused/ convicted of a crime because of it.
There were many times at various bars when he stood there for a significantly long time to order a drink while other white customers were helped. The empty cabs that pass by, maybe not seeing us? Always with that question that went unsaid, a sinking feeling that gets heavier as the minutes pass, it is about race? There’s also the name thing- he had a tribal name from his country, and it’s terribly hard for Americans to understand or pronounce names that don’t sound like ours- like people don’t even try or just say, where are you from? I could go on but I won’t. There are more, personal examples, but I won’t go there out of respect for him & my family. So what you ask, should/ can I do about it? The author makes a statement in her book that is just beautiful in my opinion:
“The simplest solution to the problem of race in America? Romantic love. Not friendship. Not the kind of safe, shallow love where the objective is that both people remain comfortable. But real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved. And because that real deep romantic love is so rare, and because American society is set up to make it even rarer between American Black and American White, the problem of race in America will never be solved”
Now that might be extreme, and we all can’t fall in love with a person of another race, but I appreciate this statement for a few reasons. Love someone of a different race. Love them to the point where you can truly see them. Once you love someone (romantic or not) their color and ethnicity does not identify them anymore. They become an individual and you love them for who they are as a person, that includes where they came from, their personality, what they look like, their perspective and experiences. Not that I’m an expert on love, but how wonderful would it be if we could form deep relationships with people that are different from us, fall in love with each other instead of staying separate and perpetuating our differences. If my friend shares with me an experience that affected him or her deeply, about how they were treated, I hope I would listen with compassion. Why do we downplay or make excuses for how people experience racism and are treated because of the color of their skin? Maybe we should try listening to each other, and if we don’t understand, ask questions. If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s not about you. Everyone just wants to feel heard.
Certain races, religions, ethnicities are objectified and stereotyped frequently, not just in America either. Maybe the first step to a more accepting America is acknowledging that it does exist. Institutionalized racism exists in a big way and it’s powerful. Look at the cases of black men murdered by white police and all the protests that took place last year. Look at the demographics of people in prison. We have a potential presidential candidate speaking out against anyone essentially that isn’t American, spreading discrimination, intolerance, and hate. Racism absolutely exists in our culture and in many things implied, but often unsaid. It’s not easy to talk about, it’s emotional, upsetting, and sometimes embarrassing to acknowledge within ourselves. But it needs to come out. Let’s get honest. Let’s get real. No need to justify it, defend it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. It needs to be talked about in a respectful way for us to heal, and learn to live peacefully with each other.