“There’s a sense that, when being asked to talk about race, after you’ve written a book, you’re supposed to have the answers, you’re supposed to have the solution; and while you’re having the solution, you’re supposed to cater for the emotional needs of the people listening to you,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says.
Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Reni Eddo-Lodge, the author of novel, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race,’ were part of the Women of the World Festival, where they talked about today’s most pressing cultural issues including blogging, social media and discussions on race.
Women of the World (WOW) is a UK-based festival that celebrates the achievements of women and girls as well as looking at the obstacles they face across the world. The 2018 edition started on the 7th of March and ended on the 11th. The aim of the festival is to inspire new generations of young women and girls.
Chimamanda speaks on being black in the US, why she often writes about race and gender, among other things.
I didn’t think of myself as black until I went to the US. In Nigeria, I didn’t think of myself as black. We have many problems in Nigeria but race is not one of them, so, in Nigeria, we are busy saying, Yoruba, Igbo and all of that but we don’t do race. I went to the US and suddenly I was black and it really was a learning experience because I had come from a place where authority figures were black, where black achievement was normal. And in the US, I realized that black achievement was seen as remarkable and extraordinary. The Nigerian part of me thought it was so stupid but it was also a way for me to confront my ignorance. I didn’t know much about African-American history, so I started to read and initially, I didn’t want to be black, I didn’t want to be identified as black because I knew that black in America came with a baggage.
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And there is this story I like to tell because it is an example of my complicated feelings as a black immigrant but also an indictment of racism.
This man in Brooklyn in a store said to me, ‘hey sister,’ and my first reaction was to recoil and I was thinking, ‘I am not your sister, I have three brothers, I know where they are.’ This is me few weeks into my being in the US and years later, I thought about that and it made me feel ashamed, sad but also I thought it was an indictment because why was I running away from blackness. If blackness is benign, and I had been in the US for 6 weeks and I didn’t want that because I could tell, I watched the evening news but with reading, I started to learn and reading made me embrace this new identity and identify with it and while of course recognizing that my not being a descendant of slaves made my experience different. The things I find out racism is that some of it are just so dumb.
On writing about race
Sometimes, I do want to talk about things that I care about. So I think some fiction writers don’t much want to talk about social issues and I think that’s fine. Some people just want to focus on the heart. I have always been a very political person. As a child, I was very interested. So, there’s a part of me that likes the opportunity to talk about the things I care about. I care about race, I care about gender in particular but there are times I deeply resent my work being read as anthropology. I think it happens to women in some ways, where your fiction is often read in sort of autobiographical review, it can be very annoying. Sometimes I do interviews and they want to turn everything and make it about race or feminism. So, if a character take a glass of water, they are like, ‘wasn’t that a feminist glass of water?’