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.
By Kimberly Johnson
In December 2019 graduate student teaching assistants at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) went on a wildcat strike, a strike without union authorization, calling for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their stipend. Many of the students say they are spending 50% or more of their ~$25,000/year stipend on rent monthly, meaning they are severely rent burdened. The graduate students started with a grade strike, withholding grades from the courses they taught in the fall quarter, but they are now on a full teaching strike. The COLA strikes have spread throughout the University of California school system as well! UC Hastings’ AFSCME 3299 vote to authorize a strike with 89% support last week, representing the UC Hastings School of Law students. Graduate students at UC Los Angeles striked for one day this past Thursday. Some graduate students at UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara are striking, and graduate students at UC Berkeley have said they are strike ready upon the support of other departments. UC San Diego graduate students are set to begin a grading strike on this upcoming Monday. Thursday, March 5th there was a COLA day of action across the UC system schools during which UCSC strikers and their supporters blocked the entrances to UCSC and in-person classes were cancelled.
SPREAD THE STRIKE #UCSCstrike #cola4all #COLAstrike @payusmoreucsc @cola4all @ucd4cola @payusmoreucb @ucsb4cola @UCR4COLA @UCM4COLA @ucla4cola @ColaUcsd @UCSF4COLA @uci4cola pic.twitter.com/5eyctrLJ5d
— COLA Agitation Committee (@SpreadtheStrike) March 5, 2020
[Image description: a tweet from Twitter account COLA Agitation Committee that reads “SPREAD THE STRIKE” and then mentions all the COLA accounts across the University of California system. There is an attached image of UCSC strikers blocking an entrance into University of California Santa Cruz.]
During the course of the UCSC wildcat strike the university has threatened the graduate students with firings twice and followed through with this threats, firing about 54 graduate students and telling dozens more they would not be hired for the spring quarter on February 28th. This has not deterred the strikes, but it has been particularly alarming for international students. International students on student visas are not able to get non-university jobs, and without university jobs international students will be forced to pay tuition and/or living expenses out of pocket to maintain full-time student status. Without full-time student status their visas will be revoked. In early February the university reminded international students of this, a clear intimidation tactic.
Intimidating workers with threats to their residency/immigration status is not new or unique to the university, it is extremely pervasive in the US. It is particularly utilized in workplaces that employ undocumented workers. It is not always explicit or aggressive, often employers just rely on fear of speaking out and subsequent retaliation to get away with treating workers unjustly. Polly in The Leavers experiences this when she works at the nail salon that does not pay her for the first 3 months she was there and expects her to pay to be trained. This is clearly illegal, but her boss knew it was unlikely Polly would say anything or be able to do anything about it.
“The Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60) of the mid-nineteenth century between Great Britain and China left China in debt. Floods and drought contributed to an exodus of peasants from their farms, and many left the country to find work.” During the 1850s, a large amount of Chinese immigrants had begun immigrating to the United States to work as a cheap labor in the gold mines, garment factories, building railroads, and taking agriculture jobs. Thus, the local plantation owners were seeking cheaper labor forces, which created a tension between white labors and exotic labors.
In 1882, the United States government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was the first significant law restricting immigration of a certain group into the United States. “Many Americans on the West Coast attributed declining wages and economic ills to Chinese workers. Although the Chinese composed only 0.002 percent of the nation’s population, Congress passed the exclusion act to placate worker demands and assuage prevalent concerns about maintaining white racial purity.”
In 1892, the Geary Act was passed to extend the ban on Chinese immigration for additional ten years and in 1902, the Chinese immigration was made permanently illegal until 1943 with the passage of the Magnuson Act. Due to the effectiveness of legislation, the Chinese immigrants population dramatically declined.
Note from Caroline: while the Magnuson Act allowed a small number of Chinese immigrants into the country with restricted rights, race-based restriction of immigration was not outlawed until 1952, and restriction based on nationality was not outlawed until the Hart-Celler Act in 1965, which we heard about last week. It’s also worth noting that immigration from other Asian countries was strictly controlled as well, and Asian immigrants and their American-born children in general faced substantial discrimination. (In fact, at the time the Magnuson Act was signed into law during World War II, most of the U.S.’s Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were detained in internment camps.)
“U.S. Immigration Timeline.” History.com Editors, 21 Dec. 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/immigration-united-states-timeline. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020
“Chinese Exclusion Act.” History.com Staff, 24 Aug. 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/chinese-exclusion-act-1882. Accessed 1 Mar. 2020.