Power, Racism, and Injustice in Adichie’s Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is about a Nigerian woman named Ifemelu who has grown up in Lagos, Nigeria and transitions into life in America. She is in love with a man named Obinze and their future plans are scattered as Ifemelu heads to America and Obinze gets stuck in London due to the post 9/11 events. Before life in America, she has never considered herself to be black and it is not until many events start to play out where Ifemelu begins to understand the role that race is going to play on her experiences in the United States. This novel not only examines how race plays major roles in identity, but also recognizes the many injustices that follow in areas such as relationships. For example, after some time in the United States, Ifemelu runs out of money and is desperate to make ends meet. She takes a job to help a tennis coach “relax” and Ifemelu is filled with guilt. She ignores any contact with Obinze. She eventually gets a job babysitting for a very wealthy family and begins to date the prosperous cousin, Curt, who provides Ifemelu with a job, a green card, and takes her on extravagant vacations. In this interracial relationship, she starts to see many examples of her race taking a toll on their relationship. Many individuals question Curt’s likelihood that he is dating a black woman. His identity thrives off of his wealth and status. Frustrated with the remarks and incidents that occurred, Ifemelu cheats on Curt and the relationship ends. This relationship could be a representation of Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic. Ifemelu represents the slave as she has reached a point in her life where she is struggling to make ends meet and is feeling ashamed for the means in which she can obtain some money. When she meets Curt, she must give up her recognition as an African American and instead start to assimilate into a life of an American African and in this way, she can assist Curt in his pursuit to help her obtain a job and green card. Curt represents the master who helps shape Ifemelu into an American African. Eventually, Ifemelu cheats because she realizes that she has given up her desire for being recognized as an African American.  Adichie exemplifies the roles that race, status, and wealth can play in identity. Ifemelu’s move to the United States provides so many instances in which her job and relationships attempt to Americanize her and thus exemplifies so many injustices based on racism. This novel provides a comparison of the roles that race and power play in identities in both Nigeria and America and I believe that Adichie stresses this comparison in order to show how systemic injustices are formed among different cultures and lifestyles.

The Secrets of a Country Club

Evan: Welcome back everyone. On today’s episode of “Yo, is this Racist” we will be hearing from a good friend of mine, Morgan, who will be sharing a scenario with us. Let’s hear more about what she has to say.

Morgan: Hey Evan! Thanks for having me today. The situation I wanted to discuss today has been taking place at my job. For the last few years, I have been working at a country club during my summer breaks. I have gotten to know who the majority of the families are and know who is a part of which friend group and who is not. There is one family that has adopted two African American little girls and they don’t come too often to the club. However, when they do come, many of the other little kids refuse to play with the little girls and oftentimes the parents do not interact with these parents. From what I have witnessed, I believe that these actions are racially motivated. What are your thoughts, Evan?

Evan: That is definitely an interesting situation and it seems as if this could be an example of racism. Before making any assumptions, let’s consult our definition of what racism is. The dictionary defines racism as “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to others”.

Morgan: Would you say that racism could be an example of Othering?

Evan: Would you remind me what it means to be the Other again?

Morgan: Yeah, I learned about the concept of the Other in my class. Basically, the Other is any person or group that is categorized as different from the One. The One is the person or group who distinguishes another individual as the Other based off of differences in power, wealth, race, among a variety of different factors. For example, I may set myself up as the One and categorize you as the Other based on different interests that we may have.

Evan: That’s an interesting claim. Based on your scenario given, I feel that not only are the African American children Othered by the other kids, but the parents are Othering the parents of these children as well.

Morgan: For sure. It is obvious that there are many injustices at play. For example, the country club operates on a prestigious level in recruiting new members. Any potential members must receive an invitation from a current member and then undergo an intense interview process. There is only one African American family that is a member at this club and they come only once a year.

Evan: Wow. That sounds intense and like there seems to be a particular status that the club and its members are looking for. Referring back to our definition of racism, we said that it involves the idea that one’s race is superior and has the right to dominate others of a particular racial group. Do you think that there is more to race that plays a role in who becomes a member at the club?

Morgan: Personally, I have come to believe that wealth and class have been the driving factors in how the country club has come to be. I think that perhaps race has just become another aspect that plays a role in the bias that the members seem to exemplify. Basically, I think many of the members have a perceived view of what an individual of high class and wealth should look and act like.

Evan: So you are saying that the key issues of wealth and class are the reasons for determining who gets invited in and why there seems to be injustices acted upon the family with the adopted African American little girls?

Morgan: Yes. I feel as if these factors are the key reasons for the bias against the other members.

Evan: Interesting take. I can definitely see what you are saying, and I too find it interesting that racism could potentially be fueled by other factors. I think that it is likely that these members associate wealth with a certain racial profile. That certainly does fit the definition of racism when it talks about “the idea that one’s own race has the right to dominate others of a particular racial group”.

Morgan: Mmhm. I think this is a never-ending cycle that will continue to persist at the country club. When the children of the members grow up to either inherit their parents’ membership or become a member of their own, I think that this bias will be engrained into who they believe a member of the club should look and be like.

Evan: Yeah, I could see how that could potentially be transmitted to the future generations at the club. I think your example is interesting in the fact that it could be representative of Hegel’s master-slave dynamic. The country club members may view themselves as the master and heavily relies on the slave, which is any member of a lower class, to validate the master and his status of wealth and class. However, I don’t see any example of having to “fight to the death” for either the master or slave here.

Morgan: Wow I did not think of just how many different ideals that this situation could fit into. Do you think that the wealth factor is the key to what is fueling the power relationships?

Evan: Most definitely. I especially think that when wealth is used in order to achieve a higher status or used to get what is desired, then the potential of power is directly correlated with the funds.

Morgan: So what do you think Evan, do you think that the scenario I described was representative of racial injustice?

Evan: After our discussion, I think that this situation resulted from the factors of social rank, wealth, and a bias of what an individual of these values should look and be like. Therefore, I do think that racial tendencies were present and fits the definition that we discussed earlier. The definition stated that racism was a “belief that inherent differences among various racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement.” In this case, I think that the achievement is the status of belonging to a country club and has the necessary funds to do so. You really do get to see first-hand how wealth can have such a widespread effect on others!

Morgan: Yeah I do! I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for having me and providing insight into what defines racism, further dissecting the concept of the Other, and seeing just how often these aspects can take place in our day to day life.

The Coronavirus and its Impact on Injustices (Morgan Marquez)


Within the past few months, the outbreak of the coronavirus has been a health concern especially in China where the majority or root of the outbreak has occurred. Ever since this spread of the virus, individuals have been taking precautions to ensure that the virus is contained, and that other people do not become infected. At Ohio State, there is a large population of students from China and other countries who have been wearing masks. This precaution is a part of the culture that is commonly used in order to prevent the spread of disease. However, there have been many instances of racial injustice toward these students. For example, it seems to be that the coronavirus is directly correlated to those from this culture and many individuals have avoided contact with these students if they are coughing, wearing a mask, or even just based on their ethnicity. This is an example of systemic injustice because it is a prejudiced belief that these students are more likely to be infected because they are from China or apart of the mask-wearing culture. On twitter, a student tweeted about a Chinese girl who was wearing a mask at the library. She wiped down her table and told this student that she did not have the disease and that it was safe for him to sit next to her and did so because she believed that the student was afraid of even just sitting next to her.

As of March 3, 2020, the Arnold Sports Festival has been cancelled for all spectators due to a fear of the threat of the coronavirus. As spectators are no longer allowed to attend the event, there are also less than 20 participants from other countries that will also not be allowed to compete. Competitors from China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan will not be allowed to compete because the coronavirus has had a serious impact in these countries. I believe that large cancellations like this play a role in contributing to the mass hysteria that has grown with the coronavirus and I think that it is going to continue to grow. The fear about this virus is causing people to take extreme precautionary measures and I think these actions will continue to contribute toward the systemic injustices toward individuals from these countries or those who ethnically represent the countries that have been hit the hardest with the coronavirus. Link: 

The outbreak of the coronavirus has caused people to “other” individuals who are wearing a mask or represent an ethnicity whose country has been hit the hardest with the virus. deBeauvoir states, “Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other…against itself. If three travelers chance to occupy the same compartment, that is enough to make vaguely hostile ‘others’ out of all the rest of the passengers on the train” (1). Americans and others have been cancelling trips, flights, and other travel plans and taking precautions. However, these precautions have tended to lead to injustices and othering against individuals due to a newly developed mass hysteria and fear.



The Critique of Colonialism

As a reminder from week 2, colonialism is an example of domination where one nation or group exerts economic and political control over another nation. Colonialism has been a common practice that can be found in a multitude of examples throughout history. However, the terms “colonialism” and “imperialism” are often used interchangeably. The root of colonialism is “colony”, a Latin word meaning farmer. Therefore, colonialism is often linked to a transfer of people to a new territory. “Imperium” is another Latin word that means, “command” and may include the means at how a nation exerts control over another nation. The practice of colonialism is often critiqued, and this critique may occur due to the way that colonialism can easily shift into a practice of imperialism.

The colonizer often exerts their beliefs, morals, and values onto the colonized nation and its population. The Colonial powers often attempt to justify their actions and values based on a belief that these ideals should be used in order to provide better education and civilization to the colony. However, certain attitudes of cultural, religious, and racial ideals are viewed negatively.  For example, European colonialism in Africa can be argued to be have yielded very negative effects that are still seen in Africa today. The Europeans came to Africa in search of slaves that they could provide for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The domination that the Europeans exerted over the individuals in Africa could be equated to extreme violence.

However, in an attempt to justify their actions, Europeans sought to claim that these measures were necessary in order to bring order to higher civilization and education among society. One viewpoint indicates that, “colonialism is predicated quintessentially on race” (Ndobegang, 633). The idea that race is the apparent reason for one nation to exert control over another nation is why colonialism can be viewed so negatively. Equating race to status and role in society leaves a society to be solely based on discrimination, violence, and inequality. The Europeans came to Africa in search of finding slaves that they believed would bring a better quality of life to the populations that relied on slaves for labor. As they encroached on Africa’s territory, it brought along a justification for the violence and racial injustices that followed.


Works Cited:

S. D. Fomin & Michael M. Ndobegang(2006)African Slavery Artifacts and European Colonialism: The Cameroon Grassfields from 1600 to 1950, The European Legacy, 11:6, 633-646, https://www-tandfonline-com.proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu/doi/full/10.1080/10848770600918224.

Kohn, Margaret, and Kavita Reddy. “Colonialism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 29 Aug. 2017, plato.stanford.edu/entries/colonialism/.

Omolewa, Michael. “THE HISTORY OF COLONIALISM IN AFRICA–REVISITED.” The Journal of African American History, vol. 94, no. 2, 2009, p. 248+. Gale Academic Onefile, https://link-gale-com.proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu/apps/doc./A206692962/AONE?u=colu44332&sid=AONE&xid=b7560051.