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.
I watched the Netflix movie Mudbound, which takes place in rural Mississippi during and after World War II. It’s really good, and I suggest you watch it. Here’s my attempt at a two sentence summary (spoiler alert):
A black family works as sharecroppers on a white family’s farm, and a young man from each of these families goes overseas to fight in World War II. The movie depicts the racial climate in America at the time, but the white man that went to war was saved by a black soldier, becomes accepting of African Americans, and eventually murders his KKK-supporting father.
To me, this movie was about how culture and experience creates various Us versus Them frameworks. In Mississippi at the time, sharecropping resembled slavery in many disturbing ways, and the integration of blacks and whites was frowned upon by many. This created a clear Othering of blacks by many whites. Interestingly, we see that the two soldiers are able to become an “Us” as they were on the same side in war. Americans, no matter their race, were fighting to defeat the Germans. The white soldier becomes good friends with the black soldier as they bond over their war experiences and traumas, and he ultimately delivers justice to his father (who tortures the black soldier).
Throughout the movie, we see white police officers taking part in racist acts. The producers did an excellent job of showing that the racist sharecropping and other injustices (including lynchings) often weren’t done in secret – it was often those in power that took part in the racism. The white community controlled the narrative, and there was no where for many blacks to report the wrongdoings. Blacks were seen as subalterns, silenced, and subject to the power of whites.
When the African American soldier returns home, he realizes that the racist climate is the same as when he left. He just gambled his life for the safety of all Americans, and some of these same Americans continue to spit on him and make him exit stores from the back door. Not only did African Americans unjustly serve many white peoples’ wealth (e.g., sharecropping), but they were paradoxically seen as equal when lives had to be risked to protect America’s freedom. Despite who actually fought for it, this freedom served the whites in Mississippi and not the blacks.
I think the producers of this movie wanted to elucidate the wrongdoings of many Americans in the not so distant past. In particular, I think they wanted to show the injustice of black people who risked their lives to fight in the war and ultimately returned to racism in their home town. This was done incredibly by the producers – the black soldier is tortured by the KKK in the movie, and this was extremely powerful. Broadly speaking, the central question that this movie successfully asks is: What makes someone a part of Us and what makes someone else a part of Them/the Other?
The Help is a novel by Kathryn Stockett that was published in 2009 and later turned into a film in 2011. Set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement (1962-1964), The Help follows the story of three women (two black women, and one white woman) who come together to anonymously publish a book called The Help. The book that they write is comprised of stories about experiences of black women working as maids for white families in Jackson.
Due to the nature of the story and the time period that it is set in, it is easy to find examples of injustices, power struggles and questions of identity throughout the novel. Because it is set at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movements, race is a large theme throughout the novel. The author explores many false stereotypes about black people, including that they are dirty, lazy, unintelligent, and carry diseases. The depiction of race in the novel can be directly related to the concept of othering. The white people in Jackson are the “self” whereas the black people are the “other”. White people are contributing to the otherness of black people by believing stereotypes and treating black people as if they are worthless. For example, Minny, who is a black maid for a white woman, was unable to find a job because her former boss, Hilly, was telling everyone in town that she was a thief. In reality, Minny had not stolen anything, and Hilly was just mad at Minny for something else. Hilly completely ruined Minny’s chances of getting a job over a lie, and she did it just because Minny was black.
The Help also tackles the idea of identity in a couple of ways. The first way is through the story of Mae Belle. Mae Belle is white, and she is physically and verbally abused by her mother. Aibileen (who is black) is Mae Belle’s caretaker, and she makes sure to care for Mae Belle in a loving way and tells her often that she is loved and important. There was an incident at school in which Mae Belle drew a picture of herself and made her skin color dark like Aibileen’s. The book also follows the story of Lulabelle who looks white but comes from a black family. Both of these instances involve some sort of identity crisis. Mae Belle has only been shown love by a black person, so that seems to be how she identifies herself. She doesn’t understand why the white people around her have a problem about it. Lulabelle is stuck between two worlds. She isn’t “black enough” to be black, but she also isn’t “white enough” to be white. These situations have caused an identity crisis for both of these characters, which could negatively affect the way that they view themselves (and how others view them) for the rest of their lives.
Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care is a novel written by Augustus A. White III, M.D. Dr. White grew up in the segregated southern city of Memphis, Tennessee before the Civil Rights Act was passed. This novel tells the story of this orthopedic surgeon’s life and explores his encounters with racism.
Dr. White, or “Gus” as he went by as an adolescent, struggled with injustice his whole life. Whether he was facing them on his own account or watching it happen to someone else, it was occurring. A specific example of this is when Gus was trying to narrow down what colleges he wanted to apply to. He had his criteria of sports offered, good pre-med programs, and the last, “how did it treat Negroes?” This was an absurd criterion, but there was another aspect to this: Did the college even accept students of African American decent? Some colleges did not accept any Black students, while others operated on a quota system. This is an obvious injustice because even though an African American student may be just as qualified, if not more than a White student, they most likely cannot enroll in a school because of race.
Issues with power are seen throughout this book, most of them overlapping with injustices. The front flap, however, sums up the issues that Dr. White views in healthcare. It states, “The key to getting the very best medical care: be a white, straight, middle-class male.” While working as a scrub nurse one summer before he attended medical school, Augustus, witnessed a situation where a Black woman was powerless. She came to get a cancerous tumor removed by a white surgeon. The surgeon was disrespectful towards her before the surgery. During surgery, the woman was hemorrhaging, but the surgeon kept cutting and eventually let her die. There was no dignity involved. Had this been an unconscious or maybe even conscious bias of that surgeon? If the patient were a straight white male would the surgeon had explored another option?
This book certainly reminds me of works such as John Lewis’ March and MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” There are many things related to civil rights because Dr. White grew up during this time. Dr. White, in his own way was contributing to the fight for civil rights. He held a lot of the “first” positions. That is, he was the first black American to accomplish things. Dr. White wants his readers to know about the biases in healthcare, but also to know about prejudices and racism of the past and present. This work certainly inspires conversation related to injustice, power, and identity.
Jake Fortney, Emma Lykins, Jiali Sun
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.
By: ALyssa Suarez and Nathan Hiles
I’m Jordyn we’re going to talk about our systemic injustices today. This January Food Hall posted a dress code that discriminated largely against African-Americans the dress code restricted items such as saggy pants, flat billed hats, some types of tennis shoes, athletic wear. They did come out and apologize for a large part of the dress code and took a decent amount of it back. What are your thoughts on this?
Okay so believe it or not I went to Food Hall with some buddies and I own a pair of timberlands. And they’re not real worky or nasty or anything and I walked in like, I was in line for like 10-15 minutes and i got there and the guy was like “hey buddy you can’t get in” and i was like what. It was still kinda wild because it’s like because of shoes you’re not going to let me in somewhere. Like I had shoes on there was no reason for me to not be able to enter the bar at all so I do agree that the dress code is you know completely out of whack. And if you do look at it I actually had for one of my weeks I wrote a systemic injustice about it too and I completely agree because the code included I think it said ill fitting or excessively baggy clothes, work boots, athletic clothing, jerseys, sagging of pants, excessive jewelry and stuff like that. And that does you know, tend to go towards a certain race and stuff like that simply isn’t right. I completely agree with you in that being an injustice.
I have a lot of friends who have gotten in with ripped jeans, no issues, and then there are other people who get turned away. It’s just very inconsistent. Also the fact that you can’t wear flat billed hats but regular baseball caps that creates a very specific rule.
Yeah that’s pretty crazy I actually did not know that but that’s definitely something that needs to be addressed and needs to go away, that’s for sure. Alright so I’ll talk about one of mine. So a couple weeks ago me and my girlfriend we went out to a regular dinner and we set down and at the end of the dinner the waiter went straight to me to hand me the bill. And i know it’s not anything incredible and you can say it’s just being a man or being a gentleman but why did he hand me the bill? What structure is put into place because this happens all the time and quite frequently generally I do take care of the bill but we have an agreement where she pays sometimes and I have to pay some other times. But 9 times out of 10 when i go to a restaurant they’re like, “here you go, here’s your bill.” And back in the day and what I wrote was back in the day women stayed at home and it was a man’s job to provide the income. But you know obviously this changed and in a good way and it shouldn’t be the responsibility for a man to pay the bill because both men and women should be treated equally. And I do understand that sometimes it is more of being a gentleman and stuff like that but in today’s society I think this is an old tradition that needs to be changed. What’s your thoughts?
I agree I think that it’s not wrong if you do and it’s not wrong if you don’t but I think when both parties are bringing in the money. And back in the day only men worked and women didn’t have the income to pay and all that so i think it is important that it shouldn’t be all on the man. It should be considered that whoever is paying for it is paying fo r it because both parties are working. If women want equal rights in the workplace they should take equal responsibility for stuff like that.
I completely agree with you. Alright i guess we’ll move along to another one of yours.
So CelebrateOne is an organization in Columbus. They focus on decreasing the infant mortality rate. They have a list of high priority neighborhoods and they have found that African American infants have a mortality rate of 2.5 times that of a white baby. There are many factors that contribute to that but one of them is the overall lack of resources for new parents to raise their children. A lot of items in these high priority neighborhoods there are not a lot of grocery stores it’s a lot of gas stations that sell food and it’s like drug mart type places and the food is more expensive. So not only do they not have access to a lot of the stuff they have to pay a higher price and then they can’t get out of a poverty system. And a lot of the women don’t have access to birth control and what they need to provide for their kids and so it all just attributes to that.
And are you saying that’s in like the area where the low income families are generally like the stores and stuff are generally higher priced than if i go say to Kroger in New Albany or something like that.
They have generally said that it’s not like Kroger is more expensive there it’s more just like they don’t have it and so basically if you go to buy milk at CVS it’s going to be more expensive than if you do at Costco.
Yeah I completely agree. Yeah I mean that definitely makes sense you know why these places aren’t in these areas is kinda concerning. It kinda looks at why? And you know they think “I’m not going to make as much money there” but that becomes a problem when you’re isolating areas from other areas based on income or race or anything becomes a problem. I completely agree that was a good one. Alright so I’ll move on to another one of mine and this was my main one this was what I wrote for our last week’s blog post and I was talking about the systemic injustice in our criminal justice system. And i think there is a lot but one i went into specifically is the money bail system. And essentially the thought process is that people have to pay a certain amount of money to get out of jail until their court date and then when you go back to your court date you get the money back. Well what happens if you can’t pay? If you think about it and you know what happens, you stay in jail. And this is highly impactful to the lower class people who simply can’t afford to make bail. Why is it right to say that a person who has money can get out of jail and then another person who doesn’t has to sit in jail until their court date? It is really targeting the lower class people. And I was looking into it, I have statistics but I’d have to pull them up. Generally if you are falsely accused of something (I forget the exact statistic) but there are people who are falsely accused for these crimes because you know until your court date you are innocent until proven guilty is what its called. And these people are innocent, sitting in jail, that could possibly be proved innocent so they just sat in jail for however much time for absolutely no reason. And I do think this is a major issue and upper class people are given a major advantage for having money in their pocket. I think a new system needs to be put into place that doesn’t focus on social classes determining being put in jail or not.
I completely agree and I think even when bail is set at half a million dollars but you’re a multimillionaire you either have access to it or you have it in your bank account. Where it’s set at $100,000 for someone else most people don’t have that laying around and it does create a major injustice because you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty but if you’re forced to be in jail you are basically being wrongfully accused it just isn’t fair.
And I completely agree, let’s move on to another one of yours.
So I actually was in a conversation with some people and we were talking about suburbs of Columbus and everything and there were some older people in the conversation and they were talking about an area that has become a little more run down and it was becoming more diverse and they were like “oh it’s time for wite flight” and that’s just not really acceptable in today’s society. I think that we are creating a more diverse culture and it shouldn’t be a term that we commonly use and it shouldn’t be a term that is viewed as positive. There shouldn’t be a need for it.
Can you define white flight? I’ve actually never heard of it.
It’s when an area becomes more diverse and then all the white people move.
Really? Well that doesn’t sound right. I completely would agree with you and I think that phenomenon needs to be addressed. So it’s literally like a group of people a diverse culture are living together and then the caucasion just bounce from there leaving it strictly a minority area.
Yeah i definitely don’t see how that is right. WHy do you think that happens? Do you think it’s like a racial backing behind that?
Yeah the term basically implies a racial issue like they want to be only around each other and that is what leads to it.
Well interesting because i’ve honestly never heard of that term. That’s definitely something that i will look into after this conversation is over. Well thank you very much i will go ahead and move onto one of mine.
Alright so me and my dad were having a conversation and my dad is kinda naive, the man he is. And I was like I do think there is still a decent wage gap between women and men that needs addressed. And he was like ya know today i think it’s not that bad. So I did some digging and I found out that he was completely wrong. So in just Ohio, I learned that Ohio has the 14th largest wage gap in the nation. In just Ohio women are paid $10,000 less than men on average. And you know, how is this right? Supposedly we live in a society that promotes gender equality yet there is still a $10,000 wage gap and it doesn’t really make much sense. Men in Ohio just for being a man are given a strong financial advantage just for being a man.
I agree. And I also saw something recently that was saying how much the minority wage gap difference is. And it’s significantly lower as well than like a Caucasian male in the same position.
Yeah so i think all these things need to be addressed and you hear so many things that “were promoting gender equality” and this and that and the other yet you know behind the scenes there is still this large wage gap that you don’t really hear too much about unless you do research on it. I definitely think that men are given an advantage in the workforce than women. I think people should get paid based on the job that you’ve done and their work ethic towards it. Gender and race should have nothing to do with the amount of money you do on the job.
I agree. Well it was great hearing your thoughts on all of this.
It was great hearing yours too.
Kristin: Welcome to this week’s episode of “Yo, Is This Racist?” podcast. Also, let’s welcome our guest, Pam! Pam brings us a personal story regarding one incident of her many encounters with racism.
Pam: Hey everyone. It’s good to be here.
Kristin: So, since no one knows Pam, I’ll give you a little bit of a background on her. Pam is a middle-aged, African American woman. She has worked in the local school system’s school nutrition services for 18 years. Let me clarify a little- by local I mean Rowan County, North Carolina.
Pam: Thanks, Kristin. Indeed, I have worked in school nutrition services since 2002. Since then, I haven’t worked in the same school. I’ve worked at high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. The story I am going to share with you involves a middle school in the eastern part of the county. The geographic location is a key factor as well because it seems as if the county is segregated. The eastern and western parts of the county have a very low Black population.
Kristin: Ah, yes it does. I’ve definitely noticed that. Especially since my upbringing was in the eastern section. Well Pam, I’m ready to hear your story and I’m sure our listeners are, as well.
Pam: This particular incident happened in 2003. That day, as I said, I was working in a middle school. I was working on the serving line; you know, serving food to the students. I had just finished serving a class, so my line was empty. The other line still had students in it. So, I waved for some of those kids to come to my line. I mean, our job is fairly simple, get the kids through the line as fast as we can so they have time to eat. However, the boy that was paying attention to me and saw me wave, turned his head and ignored me. His teacher, who was in line supervising her class, says to the back half of the line, “From Nicholas back, y’all go over to Miss Pam’s line.” Nicholas turns to his teacher and responds with, “I ain’t letting no n***er touch my food.”
Kristin: What?! That is insane. So what happened?
Pam: Well, the teacher immediately took him out of the line and he went to the principle’s office. I’m assuming he got suspended because I didn’t see him for a few days. The next week, I got a written apology from him explaining why what he did was wrong and that he was sorry.
Kristin: He should have been made to apologize to you face to face.
Pam: Yea, you’re right. But, it is what it is.
Kristin: So, this is not a question of whether or not this was racist. This was for sure racist. And this coming from a middle schooler. So, the boy was between 11 and 14. So why do you think he said this, Pam?
Pam: I think for young children, this is a reflection of their raising. It’s what they are around and it’s what they are exposed to. I mean, how else would they learn something like that?
Kristin: Absolutely. If you had to give me a definition right now of racism, what would it be?
Pam: Geez, you put me right on the spot!
Pam: If I had to give a single definition, I would define racism as a learned concept that allows a person of a certain race to think they are better and too good to associate with people of another race.
Kristin: You say single. Why?
Pam: I think there is no one single definition. I think racism is a multitude of experiences, attitudes, and beliefs. The definition can be different from one person to another based on these things.
Kristin: Very true. Okay I’m Going to go back to your story and the boy’s punishment of a probable suspension and an apology letter. This incident occurred 39 years after the Civil Rights Act and 40 years after MLK Jr wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I think we still see racism in America in part because of the “white moderate” MLK described. Yes, there are laws in place for racial equality and a punishment for this type of behavior years ago would be nonexistent. However, there is obviously a lot of racism in America still- whether direct or indirect. It seems to be a cultural thing for people in the South. I feel like an establishment for education, such as the middle school, should be instilling in these kids acceptance of others and a lot of other things that I won’t get into right now. For me, this is where the white moderate falls into place. Just because white people don’t deal with racism and inequalities, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. They can say, “Racism is bad,” however, is that all they are going to do? Teach the children factual information and show them how being Othered impacts people.
Pam: I think being “blind” is a real problem, like you said. If racism were impacting a white male or someone like that who doesn’t necessarily have any obstacles, this would be a problem and there would be a solution.
Kristin: Well, I could go on and on about this. However, we are running out of time here. Pam, it was great speaking with you. I’m glad you came on the show.
Pam: Me too. I hope everyone can just look at how they are presenting themselves around their children and be a good role model. If you hear something unjust, say something. Don’t let it just go in one ear and out the other.