By definition the American Dream is “the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American,” (dictionary.com). The American Dream is something that is real and something that has been written about in many novels, such as Death of a Salesman and the Great Gatsby. The African American Experience is a twist on the American Dream.
The African American Experience which is seen in many novels, such as Fences and A Raisin in the Sun can prove that the American Dream for black people comes with greater challenges and obstacles to obtain freedom, equality, and opportunity. The African American Experience proves racial hierarchy in the “melting pot” we call home and shows a black person’s natural work ethic and lifestyle. This theory will be proven through a close reading of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
This novel shows America thorough the eyes of a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu. Ifemelu left Nigeria on a scholarship in hopes of making a better life for herself in America. She had to leave her boyfriend Obinze and her family behind. For the first time in her life she had to experience struggle and discrimination. Although this novel can be considered a heart wrenching story about love it is also is a look inside what really is happening in America.
Critics of the novel also point out Adichie’s representation of America in her novel. In an article named Girl With Curious Hair by Kathryn Schulz said that “Adichie is calling out America.” Another article named Realities of Race by Mike Peed says that “Americans can be oblivious to things that we do.” These articles prove there is a problem with how Americans treat Ifemelu. Ifemelu notices how different life is for her and how hard she has to work to prove herself in America. What the critics think that Adichie is targeting about Americans and their behavior against immigrants is actually just a part of the African American Experience.
Everything that Ifemelu goes through happens in black America everyday but is not publicized because black people have adapted to the have to work harder to get ahead lifestyle since the time we are born.
There is one theory that shows the problem with race in America which will set up the African American Experience. The first theory is the Critical Race Theory.
At its core, CRT is committed to advocating for justice for people who find themselves occupying positions on the margins – for those who hold ‘minority’ status. It directs attention to the ways in which structural arrangements inhibit and disadvantage some more than others in our society. It spotlights the form and function of dispossession, disenfranchisement, and discrimination across a range of social institutions, and then seeks to give voice to those who are victimized and displaced. CRT, therefore, seeks not only to name, but to be a tool for rooting out inequality and injustice. (Treviño 7)
Critical race theory scholars focus mainly on law and how to identify inequality and injustice in the legal system. There are also critical race scholars who “… turned to writing in the form of narrative, or ‘storytelling,’ not only as a rhetorical device for conveying their personal racialized experiences but also as a way of countering the metanarratives – the images, preconceptions, and myths – that have been propagated by the dominant culture of hegemonic Whiteness as a way of maintaining racial inequality,” (Treviño 8).
Adichie clearly uses critical race theory in her novel as a way to “convey their personal racialized experience”. She shows this through the jobs that Ifemelu experiences and the blog that Ifemelu creates. Ifemelu ‘s blog identifies the problems with race with title such as Understanding America fir the Non-American Black: American Tribalism where she states ” If you’re right you’re right, if you’re brown, stick around; and if you’re black get back,” (Adichie 184). Adichie identifies this as injustice against Africans specifically but the African American Experience proves how this is not just something the non- American blacks needs to understand but something that African Americans should be aware of as well.
The first part of the African American Experience is the Black Syndrome. The Black Syndrome how we identify ourselves as African Americans. African American identity stems from culture such as how we speak, what we wear, and how we are raised. From the moment we are born we enter into black syndrome. We are automatically different because we carry the weight of our ancestors’ struggles from slavery and the civil rights movement. We teach or boys to be careful and how it is very likely for them to be racially profiled. We teach our girls that their bodies are made differently and their different skin tones may define how pretty they are. “Dear non-American black, when you make the choice to come to America you become black. Stop arguing…So what if you weren’t “black” you country? You’re in America now,” (Adichie 220).
Ifemelu the protagonist in Americanah did not grow up with the black syndrome because she was raised in Nigeria. Therefore, when she came to America and was treated like an African American she did not understand.
“How? Well, white folks don’t get treated like shit in upper class African American communities and white folks don’t get denied bank loans and mortgages precisely because they are white and black juries don’t give white criminals worse sentences than black criminals for the same crime and black police officers don’t stop white folk for driving while white and black companies don’t choose not to hire somebody because they’re name sounds white and black teachers don’t tell white kids that they’re not smart enough to be doctors and black politicians don’t try some tricks to reduce the voting power of white folks through gerrymandering and advertising agencies don’t say they can’t use white models to advertise glamorous products because they are not conserved “aspirational” by the “mainstream,” (Adichie 327).
It is a different experience being black in America. Once Ifemelu started shielding her accent thinking her life would be better she realized the black American has it even worse.
The next part of the African American Experience is The Intimidating Black. Besides the fact that you are already black and people naturally fear you because of your skin color there are those black people who are intimidating because they are smart and successful. “American employers did not like lower-level employees to be too educated,” (Adichie 139). Was it really that Ifemelu was a lower level employee or was she just considered a lower level person because she is black and a woman. It is sad that she has to dumb down her résumé because she is overqualified for but if I want woman with the same experience as Ifemelu would have applied she would get it without changing one piece of the application or résumé.
“People act funny when I’m walking to first-class line at the airport. Kind of nice funny, like you’re making mistake, you can’t look like that and fly first class,” (Adichie 331). African Americans are not seen as first class citizens but the ones who are scare the daylights out of this world. A prime example of this is The Deconstruction of Black Wall Street (ebony.com). Rich black people intimidated this world so bad that it was destroyed.
There cannot be an African American Experience without The Hair Debate. The hair debate is more prevalent for woman but also for men too. Who knew that to wear your hair as it’s naturally supposed to be would be so unaccepted in America. The hair debate in the African American Experience is so real that as African Americans we do not even notice how we go through the motions of hair. Letting people change our perceptions of what we are supposed to look like in order to fit in with the rest of the world. Kids get perms by the time they hit fourth grade like it’s a coming of age ceremony for the black women. Men with dreadlocks cannot get jobs and women with dreadlocks just added even more pressure to their job hunt. “My only advice? Lose the braids and straighten your hair. Nobody says that kind of stuff but it matters. We want you to get the job,” (Adichie 202).
For Ifemelu this advice was a blessing she took out her braids and got a job. For black Americans we just go around searching and searching wondering what could possibly be the problem because no one ever told us that our hair could hinder us from anything. People just ask us can we touch it or wow I did not know your hair could be so curly; while secretly thinking I would never hire her.
The final piece of the African American Experience is Repetitive Injustice. This part of the experience dates back to 1831 when Nat Turner rebelled against slave owners. Although most of the African American Experience we have adapted to there are pieces that we try to refuse to accept but history always ends up repeating itself. First the slaves had to rebel. Then there was the civil rights movement. There were also the L.A. race riots and now the Ferguson riots, and the black lives matter protests. “The American black knows America different from American whites; they know a harsher, uglier America. But you’re not supposed to say that because in America everything is fine and everyone is the same,” (Adichie 321).
There comes a time when we have to stand up for our rights The African American Experience allows us to come together in times of struggle. “Don’t say “We’re tired of talking about race” or “The only race is the human race” or “The only race is the human race” American Blacks, too, are tired of talking about race. They wish they didn’t have to. But shit keeps happening,” (Adichie 326).
Although we can come together the African American Experience still holds its weight because we have to keep repeating the same movements and fighting for the same changes.
Americanah definitely pulls out all of the aspects of The African American Experience. This is because it is being told from the outside looking in but the African American Experience is also shown in other novels. Fences by August Wilson shows the African American Experience through the protagonist Troy. Troy experiences Black Syndrome and Repetitive Injustice because he has to work harder the normal to help sustain his household and he has to prove his status in the work place.
In the novel A Raisin in the Sun the family moving to a white neighborhood became the Intimidating Blacks and Beneatha entered into The Hair Debate. This is just two examples of the African American Experience in other works but as you read an African American novel you will see the experience in inevitable.
The African American Experience works well with Adichie’s novel because it is told through a non-African Americans perspective. Ifemelu is thrown into The African American Experience while we are already living it. Her story calls out our need for change. Although the African American Experience makes our lives a little bit hard it ultimately shapes who we are as a people.