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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

Abstract

An examination of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah reveals a mapping of exponential growth of obtrusive racial tension which leaves in its wakes prejudice, acrimony and hatred. The article argues that despite its dialogic engagement with the possibility of harmonizing the varied characters' racial/cultural backgrounds, Adichie's Americanah's experimentation with transculturalism faded in a miasma of morbid biases and despair. This failure has a marked impact on the cultural downturn in the lives of African immigrants and other economic migrants from other parts of the world who are trapped in the social contradictions prevalent in America and England. Through concerted efforts, Adichie negotiated interracial harmony among her characters in Americanah; especially among ethnocentric characters cocooned in private world of hate, snobbishness and recherché referenced by the turbulent contemporary world. Invariably, Adichie as a transcultural writer is bounded by the need to illustrate issues which verge on individuals' intolerance for people outside their ethno-cultural or socio-political backgrounds. Nevertheless, Americanah's transcultural trope appreciates the fluidity of the present age: the confluence of global cultures, the mobility as well as nomadic nature of the 21st-century man and the need to engender a monolithic cultural outlook in a culturally polyvalent society. The paper concludes that transculturalism could only manifest in a globally differing society if the walls of ethnocentrism and racism insulating it collapse. Curiously, transculturalism in Americanah ostensibly failed due to the obtrusive racial intolerance exhibited by the varied characters who appear to have determined to cling to the divisive racial sentiments identified in their attitude.
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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
Niyi Akingbe1 & Emmanuel Adeniyi2
1Professor, Department of English Studies, University of South Africa (UNISA), City of
Tshwane, Pretoria, South Africa. Email: deniakingbe@yahoo.com
2Lecturer, Department of English and Literary Studies, Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Oye-
Ekiti,Ekiti State, Nigeria. Email: ayomercy2011@gmail.com
Received October 15, 2017; Revised November 20, 2017; Accepted November 30, 2017; Published December 09, 2017.
Abstract
An examination of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah reveals a mapping of exponential growth of
obtrusive racial tension which leaves in its wakes prejudice, acrimony and hatred. The article argues that
despite its dialogic engagement with the possibility of harmonizing the varied characters’ racial/cultural
backgrounds, Adichie’s Americanah’s experimentation with transculturalism faded in a miasma of morbid
biases and despair. This failure has a marked impact on the cultural downturn in the lives of African
immigrants and other economic migrants from other parts of the world who are trapped in the social
contradictions prevalent in America and England. Through concerted efforts, Adichie negotiated interracial
harmony among her characters in Americanah; especially among ethnocentric characters cocooned in
private world of hate, snobbishness and recherché referenced by the turbulent contemporary world.
Invariably, Adichie as a transcultural writer is bounded by the need to illustrate issues which verge on
individuals’ intolerance for people outside their ethno-cultural or socio-political backgrounds. Nevertheless,
Americanah’s transcultural trope appreciates the fluidity of the present age: the confluence of global
cultures, the mobility as well as nomadic nature of the 21st-century man and the need to engender a
monolithic cultural outlook in a culturally polyvalent society. The paper concludes that transculturalism
could only manifest in a globally differing society if the walls of ethnocentrism and racism insulating it
collapse. Curiously, transculturalism in Americanah ostensibly failed due to the obtrusive racial intolerance
exhibited by the varied characters who appear to have determined to cling to the divisive racial sentiments
identified in their attitude.
Keywords: ‘reconfiguring others’, negotiating identity, Americanah, African immigrants, Chimamanda
Ngozi Adichie
Introduction
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a burgeoning Nigerian writer who continually forges the link
between the Nigeria’s past and present. Her imaginative dexterity is referenced in her glancing
backwards to the needless Nigerian civil war in her Half of a Yellow sun (2006). A further pursuit
of this literary inquisition is foregrounded in a very clever riff on her dissection of the plight of
hapless Nigerians trapped in the miasma of racialized America in Americanah(2013). Suffice to
state that Adichie’s narrative trajectory somewhat reflects Chinua Achebe’s novelistic oeuvre.
Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities (ISSN 0975
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2935), Vol. IX, No. 4, 2017
[Indexed by Scopus & approved by UGC]
DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.21659/rupkatha.v9n4.05
Full Text: http://rupkatha.com/V9/n4
/v9n405.pdf
38 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
Especially, if one considers Achebe’s artistic commitment derived from his social engagement
with the Nigerian project in A Man of the People (1966) and No Longer at Ease (1960). Just like
Achebe’s advocacy of a global cultural tolerance in Things Fall Apart (1958), Adichie as a
transcultural writer, ostensibly pushes forward the essential thrust of global inter-cultural
relations in Americanah. Dagnino has described transcultural writers as “imaginative writers, who
by choice or by life circumstances, experience cultural dislocation, live transnational experiences
in multiple cultures/geographies/territories, expose themselves to diversity and nurture plural,
flexible identities”(1).To put it succinctly, transcultural writers, just like other “mobile writers”
(exile, expatriate, migrant writers), are transnational writers. Their writing is dialogic; it is better
read as a dialogue beyond the borders of a nation-state and across cultures to engage them in
communication process, so as to engender peace and harmony. Furthering the avowed promotion
of gains of transculturalism, Dagnino also sees transcultural works, nay writers, as works or
writers who often record and express the confluential nature of cultures, where the traditional
dichotomies North and South, the West and the Rest, colonizer and colonized, dominator and
dominated, native and migrant, national and ethnic that have thus far characterized
multicultural and postcolonial discourses are superseded.
However, the major difference between transcultural writers and writers of “literature of mobility”
is that their works replicate the nuances of cultural transactions and transformations. Put
differently, they are “mobile writers [who] distance themselves and go beyond the politically and
culturally constructed categories of the ‘migrant writer’, ‘ethnic writer’, ‘multicultural writer’,
‘Commonwealth writer’, ‘Writer of New literatures in English’ or ‘francophone writer’”(Dagnino
11). Since her first novel, Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003;Adichie has been widely
celebrated among her peers in the African literary circles. Her rise to fame and fortune as a
culturally conscious novelist has touted her as a possible replacement of the late Chinua Achebe.
Adichie’s comparison with the former derived from the similarity in their culturally-oriented
novelistic stylistics. However, aside the snippets of review Adichie’s Americanah has not yet
received wider critical evaluation in reputable journals. Nevertheless, Adichie’s earlier works
Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) and her collection of short stories, The Thing
Around Your Neck (2009), have attracted considerable critical attentions.
It is often argued that multiculturalism is a corollary of increasing ethnic chauvinism in the
contemporary world. In the same vein, cultural differences usually delineate ethnic identity into
clearly identifiable compartments as illustrated by the thematic of racial intolerance in Adichie’s
Americanah. In the words of Patrycja Koziel, Americanah is ‘‘structured around several
intersectional issues such as retrospectives to childhood and youth life of Ifemelu and
Obinze…the reconstruction and negotiation of identity during whole migration processes’’ (Koziel
96-113). Also, Joseph Omotayo has commented polemically on Americanah in his review that
‘‘going to America is the saving card and everyone hankers after it. However, America is just a
passing phase. America wouldn’t solve anything. America wouldn’t provide resolution’’ (Omotayo
31).Correspondingly, Serena Guarracino describes Americanah as ‘‘paradigmatic…by having its two
main characters Ifemelu and Obinze struggling with the many identities they have to wear both
as Nigerians and as migrants in the US and in Britain respectively’’ (Guarracino 8).In the
contemporary world, cultural differences have continually agitated the minds of scholars, pacifists
and other peace-loving individuals over the years. Their opinion is premised on the expediency of
cultural harmony and the inevitability of peace in the world. Their concerns are fuelled by the
persuasion that, for the world to witness peace, factors ranging from ingrained cultural
intolerance, “persistent barriers of racism, fear, [and] ignorance” would need to be stamped out
(Cuccioletta 1). In addition, the denigration of other people’s cultures must end (Dobson 110).
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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
This paper, therefore, interrogates the dialectics of cultural conflicts among world’s different
civilizations and calls for a better world order structured by the ‘meliorist’ mind-set. It does this
by interrogating the ordering of racial issues in Americanah. In the novel, we see intolerance
employed as a way of developing our understanding of global racial tension. The imaging of
intolerance as a destructive phenomenon in Americanah also serves as its organizing trope in the
novel, in the foregrounding of how global communities are destroyed, controlled, or created
through self-defeating racial superiority narratives. The paper will further demonstrate how
human constructs have impeded cultural encounters, nay harmonious human relations, in
culturally polyvalent spaces of the world. Furthermore, it seeks to draw attention to the plight of
immigrants, migrants, refugees and other people with ‘nomadic’ condition or consciousness in
their host countries. In tandem with Adichie’s pursuit of transculturalism in Americanah, the
paper’s major preoccupation lies in calling for the actual creation of a global vision of
contemporary societies that jettison the objectification of the other as referenced in Appiah’s
“oxymoron of global village” (15) in countries of the world with an irreversible multicultural
status.
Conflict among Nations and Nationalities of the World
Suffice to say that series of endemic reactions against multiculturalism in the recent time are
outlined in racial prejudice discernible in America and the United Kingdom. Although, the
manifestations of racial prejudice vary from country to country, it has left the world a fragmented
global village polarized between the binary opposites of “us” and “them”, white-black dichotomy,
margin-centre and master-servant relations. Undoubtedly, racial prejudice is against the spirit of
transculturalism which fosters in people the understanding of cultures across the globe (Appiah
16). Similarly, ethnocentrism, tribalism, ethnicity and racism are still prevalent globally, with their
attendant catastrophic consequences that often impinge on the global search for a harmonious
co-existence. To validate the foregoing, Huntington, in his seminal paper, “The Clash of
Civilizations?’’, predicts a future clash and escalation of conflicts among nations and nationalities
of the world. Further, he affirms that at the centre of this conflict are the Western, Confucian,
Japanese, Islamic, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and African societies (Huntington 22-49).
This clash, according to him, will manifest along cultural lines, other than the traditional
economic or political struggles among global civilizations. To him, civilization is “a cultural
entity” or “the broadest level of cultural identity” which distinguishes humans through the
instrumentalities of language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and that “the most
important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these
civilizations from one another” (23-25).It bears remarking that Huntington’s hypothesis takes into
consideration centuries-old differences among all the afore-mentioned civilizations, and it
appears to validate the tense inter-cultural relations all over the world.
Cuccioletta (2002), for instance, avers that the present world order is in the throes of human
conflict occasioned by “misrepresentations of cultures…hatred of different cultures, [and] an
ignorance of cultures” among the people of the world (Cuccioletta 2).In the same vein, Robert
Fraser singles out language as a cultural marker and an objective element which has become “the
harbinger of violence” in race or ethnic relations, and that “the confusion between labeling and
describing, between objects and events, sometimes leads to genocide or war”(4). To situate
cultural conflicts and their extreme manifestations within the context of Rwandan genocide,
Tadjo (2002) believes that mutual suspicion, tribalism, culture intolerance, ethnocentrism,
stereotyping and scapegoating the inaccurate generalization on which prejudice is based, and
40 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
holding other people or a group of people responsible for want of success respectively (Lahey 15;
Harriman 335) actually precipitated the Rwanda war. While recounting the lamentation of an
anonymous victim of the genocide, she writes:
I am afraid when, in my country, I hear people talk of who belongs there and who doesn’t.
Creating division; creating foreigners. Inventing the idea of rejection, how is ethnic
identity learned? Where does this fear of the other come from, bringing violence in its
wake? (37)
Just like Rwanda, many countries of the world exemplify this insidious violence in their reluctance
to manage tentative cultural conflicts. Worse still, the politics of division and exclusion among
races or ethnic groups has further worsened race relations, as many ethnic chauvinists and racists
have latched on this ideology to support their views. David Hume in Morton (2008), Immanuel
Kant in Boxil (2008) and Botha in Fagbenle (2007), for instance, hinged the total exclusion of
blacks and other races, other than Caucasians, on the perceived superiority of whites over other
races, especially blacks, whom they described as a “symbol of poverty, mental inferiority, laziness
and emotional incompetence” (Fagbenle 3).
Commenting on Immanuel Kant’s Aryan racial supremacist claim in Boxil (2008), Adeniyi (2009)
posits that Kant hierarchicised the races of the world and attributed unfounded biological
characteristics to them. This, according to him, aided the mutual race hate between white-
Americans and African-Americans in the United States. The resultant effects of the foregoing
racist perceptions on cultural studies and race relations are, nonetheless, human conflicts which
manifest in form of race hate, violence and war. Obviously as witnessed in Adichie’s Americanah,
these perceptions and acrimonious race relations have always become “raw materials” for artistic
(re)creation in literature. Many writers have ostensibly portrayed strained race relationship in
their works with a view to sensitizing readers to cultural acrimony pervading the world, and
calling for solutions to it. Some of these writers include: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Alice
Walker, Tony Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, Gibson Kente, Alex La Guma, Chinua
Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, and a host of other Euro-American, African-American, African and
Asian writers who have explored the themes of inter-cultural relations and cultural conflict in
their works.
Transculturalism, Nomadic Sensibility and Ghettoization: An Exegesis of Terms
What is transculturalism? How can it be differentiated from multiculturalism and other socio-
cultural ideological postulations? What is the preoccupation of transcultural literary works, and
how can it be identified in texts? An attempt is made to answer these questions, so as to lay a
background for the explication of issues raised in Adichie’s Americanah as analysed in this paper.
Transculturalism, to start with, is a socio-cultural ideology that seeks the conflation of culture
with a view to smoothening relations and engendering what Hinnerova refers to as “the process of
dialogue” and creating a “cosmopolitan citizenship” (18).Explaining the meaning of cosmopolitan
citizenship, Appiah (2005) notes that s/he is any one or a person who is better addressed as a
cosmopolitan that often thinks that the world is a shared hometown, capable of creating the self-
conscious oxymoron of the global village. Cuccioletta, similarly, deconstructs the concept of
cosmopolitan citizenship within the context of transculturalism. According to him, it is a:
process of recognizing oneself in the other…and the citizenship [is] independent of
political structures and institutions, [it] develops each individual in the understanding
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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
that one’s culture is multiple, metis and that each human experience and existence is due
to the contact with other, who in reality is like … oneself. (Cuccioletta 9)
In his view, the power of cultural ideology lies in its ability to situate culture in the right
perspective as a unifying phenomenon, which also “places the concept of culture at the centre of a
redefinition of the nation-state or even the disappearance of the nation-state” (Cuccioletta
10).Lewis, similarly, states that the focus of the concept is to:
illuminate the various gradients of culture and the ways in which social groups ‘create’ and
‘distribute’ their meanings… seeks to illuminate the ways in which social groups interact
and experience tension. It is interested in the destabilizing effects of non-meaning or
meaning atrophy. It is interested in the disintegration of groups, cultures, and
power…[it]emphasizes the transitory nature of culture as well as its power to transform.
(24)
The concept was coined by Fernando Ortiz (Dagnino 5) in 1940s as:
a synthesis of two phases occurring simultaneously, one being a deculturation of the past
with metissage with the present. This reinventing of new common culture is therefore
based on the meeting and the intermingling of the different peoples and cultures. In other
words one’s identity is not strictly one dimensional [the self] but is now defined and more
importantly recognized in rapport with the other. In other words one’s identity is not
singular but multiple.
(http://culturemaking.typepad.com/main/2007/03/tranculturalism.html)
Coleman, in his 1994 interview with Ven Begamurde who is believed to have coined the term,
“transculturalism”, notes that Begamurde enthuses that “transculturalism assumes that there is a
process of change and of evolution which is necessary among…different cultures, and that
eventually we stop being Indo-Canadian or Ukranian-Canadian; we simply become human”
(Coleman 36-37). Begamurde is more at home with the notion that rather than an individual
getting attached to a specific culture, it is better to entrench humanity by all since
multiculturalism can foster divisions among cultures.
Nomadism is as old as the world itself. From time immemorial, individuals, tribes and people
have always traversed different parts of the world, braving the elements, conquering nature,
traversing borders in search of wealth, pleasure and other essentials of life. Nomads often move
from one place to another in search of pastures. Various historical texts, like the Scriptures,
provide account of how historical personages wander from their places of birth to different
countries in search of life’s essentials. While describing the lifestyle of nomads, Sailus (2015)
writes that nomads are people and tribes who “do not consider themselves attached to a specific
plot of land… Nomadic civilizations move from place to place and region to region depending on
variables such as climate, season, availability of water, and the movement of animal herds’’(See:
http://study.com/academy/lesson/nomadic-lifestyle-definition-lesson-quiz.html).Nomadic
people are defined by peregrination; they are people who live by travelling from place to place.
Nomadism then means anything that involves moving around a lot(See:
www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/nomadic).To further provide more thoughts on the defining
features of nomadic lifestyle, become nomad, a website designed for would-be nomads, lists the
following as the defining characteristics of nomads:
42 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
A nomad constantly changes location, switching from one place to another. Most nomads
have some kind of place that they can call home, which is usually where family or
childhood friends are located, but they wouldn’t spend more than a few months a year
there. Nor would they settle down in a new home, they just keep on changing a place,
never feeling really at home, change is home …
Being a nomad, you never really have a feeling of areal home something you’ve been
upgrading, decorating, and designing. It always belongs to someone else (i.e. a hostel,
short rental, a friend’s place) and is always temporary.
A nomad breaks away from her/his attachments before taking the journey, and stays away
from attachments while realizing this unique lifestyle… They are exposed to many
lifestyles, cultures and situations. This constant process of change is a great learning
experience, and when you learn, you become smarter. (See: www.becomenomad.com/tips-
on-how-not-to-lose-your-sanity-on-the-move)
Bothering on the politics of inclusion and exclusion in the face of increasing complexity in
identity delineation of an individual, as reflected in the lives of many characters in Americanah;
nomadic philosophy encompasses the (re)definition of one’s existence, peregrination, self-denial
or sacrifice, abstention, reflective lifestyle, reconstruction of the notion of home (as constant
change of location is “home” to nomads), self-independence and self-sufficiency. The concept of
nomadism, as used in this paper, does not rely on the pedestrian definition of a people who own
livestock and wander from one place to another with their animals in search of water and pasture.
The concept is used as metaphor of journey or peregrination of people or individuals who possess
powers to conquer geographical spaces and defy odds for the sake of cultural negotiation and
rediscovery of selfhood. To them, life is expansive to be fully captured or negotiated within a
culture, which is responsible for their shifting mentality. They believe that the expansiveness of
life makes its definition and essence culturally polytheistic, hence the concept of “nomadic
sensibility” referring to the need for self-discovery and/or (re)definition beyond or outside one’s
culture(s).Transcultural writers often project this sensibility in their works to describe the
discovery of life’s essence, not only within one’s indigenous culture, but beyond, so as to have a
glimpse of other cultures and what they say about circumstantial details of living.
In reinforcing the potency of “nomadic sensibility”, there is an identification of parallel markers
which run through cultures. These elements or markers are useful in self-definition that help in
[re]shaping man’s understanding of life’s essence. Shutting oneself inside a cultural cocoon would
definitely deprive one the invaluable insights that other cultures offer on life and existence.
Invariably, this constitutes one of the major thrusts of transculturalism, as it basically seeks the
annexation of cultures with a view to producing a monolithic and hybridized culture out of them.
Resolving Intercultural Conflict through Cultural Ideologies
In order to resolve human conflicts and engendered inter-racial, inter-cultural harmony, scholars
have come up with various ideological postulations that can address, or better still, dislodge those
human negative constructs. Practices which have served as barriers to cultural understanding or
appreciation among the people of the world include ethnicity and tribalism. However, various
cultural ideologies have, however, sprung up in the last few years to correct this anomaly. Some of
the postulations include multiculturalism, cultural assimilation or cultural integration,
pluriculturalism, biculturalism, transculturalism or cosmopolitanism and interculturality. Prior to
now, multiculturalism was seen as the solution to ethnic or racial tensions and cultural
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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
misunderstandings, but its drawbacks appear to have robbed it of its lofty ideals. Being a
governmental policy popularized in North America, multiculturalism was introduced by the then
Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau in 1970 (Grosu 103). Its major aim is to accommodate all
shades of cultural diversities in the country, while, at the same time, enable each of the cultures
to maintain its unique identity. To Grosu, multiculturalism is “the management of cultural
diversity of minority racial and ethnic groups…with a view to making the cultural groups maintain
and foster their identity” (103).
Hinnerova describes it as a “coexistence of a spectrum of various cultures within a group or a
society”(7).While the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) also
describes it as the co-existence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or
cultural groups [as] manifested in customary behaviours, cultural assumptions and values,
patterns of thinking, and communicative style”(See: www.ifla.org/publications/defining-
multiculturalism). Multiculturalism, in essence, attempts to create a “salad bowl” of cultural
traditions or a convergence of cultures for greater understanding within a state or unified society,
but without cultural inclusion. It emphasizes that each culture is to retain and maintain its
cultural uniqueness or distinction. In a sense, it encourages cultural division –a major factor
responsible for the polarization of global cultures and the enthronement of rivalry, hatred and the
extreme cases of violence and conflict among cultures.
Apprehending Failed Transculturalism in ChimamandaAdichie’sAmericanah
It will not be out of place to infer that Americanah is a magnum opus of Adichie’s overall works, in
the sense that the overarching racial issues raised in the plot of the novel is in conformity with its
narrative dexterity which places it within the transcultural exegesis espoused by Dagnino (2012,
2013). Grounded in the thematic of the novel is transcultural concern that strikingly utilizes the
appurtenances of transculturalism for the interrogation of racism and ethnocentrism in America
and England, a feat which succinctly stands the novel out among its peers. Americanah is
preoccupied with conflation or confluence of races, cultures and people with a view to welding
them together, for the purpose of evolving a common identity without compromising their socio-
cultural peculiarities. However, as good intentioned as Adichie’s attempt at initiating a cultural
dialogue in America’s racialized society, its untrammelled practicability is up against a brick wall.
Invariably, factors such as stereotyping, racism and racial stratification ingrained in American
society continually prevent the realization of her transcultural objective in the novel. American
racial dilemma is succinctly reflected in the words of Dominique D. Fisher ‘‘nationalisms, racisms,
religious fanaticisms, and fascisms are newly revived on all sides. At the same time, the right to
difference, far from recovering a differential conception of sociocultural phenomena, has been
hijacked and now seems to provoke only suspicion’’(Fisher 91). Exploring transcultural tropes in
the novel; Adichie, through one of her characters, Blaine, sums up the essence of the ideology. To
Blaine, a political character, Barak Obama, who is contesting the presidential election in America,
epitomizes the ideal of transculturalism in view of his ancestry and exposure to different cultures:
If Obama didn’t have a white mother and wasn’t raised by white grandparents and didn’t
have Kenya and Indonesia and Hawaii and all of the stories that make him somehow a bit
like everyone, if he was just a plain black guy from Georgia, it would be different.
(Americanah 407)
44 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
The ideal of transculturalism finds expression in Obama being “a bit like everyone”, considering
his physical and psychological accessibility to varied cultures and his willingness to imbibe certain
gradients garnered from these cultures. By undergoing this transcultural gambit, he belongs to all
cultures: Caucasian, African, African American and Asian. He defines himself by these cultures,
successfully collates their nuances and subjects these nuances to redefinition within African
American cultural matrix.
Some of the drawbacks of multiculturalism could be said to have mutated into transculturalism.
Scholars nowadays prefer to use transculturalism in place of multiculturalism, because of the
inherent positivism of the former. According to Hinnerova:
Where the policy of multiculturalism does not seem to be an ideal solution to the
situation of mingling cultures, the concept of transculturalism is a better suited answer. As
a matter of fact, the more precise terms of transculturalism or interculturalism are slowly
replacing the concept of multiculturalism. (17)
One of the drawbacks of multiculturalism is that it encourages cultural division, stereotyping,
feelings of estrangement and rivalry or competition among the “salad bowl” of cultures in a given
multi-ethnic society. People in such a society relate with their distinct identities as well as their
social, religious and cultural backgrounds, rather than see themselves as a product of a
mainstream or national culture. Hinnerova has also observed that the ideology, which is a socio-
cultural manifestation of multi-ethnicity, is “harmful to multicultural ideal and produce a
ghettoization of cultures instead of tolerance and interaction between them” (14).Unfortunately,
various cultural ideologies identified above, aside transculturalism do not seem to have any
solutions to the drawbacks of multiculturalism. They could not map out sensible strategies to
tackle widespread cultural conflicts around the globe. Each of them, for instance, comes up with
their own unique postulations on how to acculturate other people by subsuming them under a
hegemonic culture. This is noted in the Frenchification of Africans or cultural assimilation policy
of France in its colonies during colonialism in Francophone Africa. The ideologies, rather than
offer solutions, end up creating issues that leave behind a trail of cultural conflicts. With
transculturalism, hope of robust global racial relations is rekindled. With it, world citizens
emerge, ethnic affiliations minimize and people traverse the globe unhindered, as cultures,
worldviews and belief systems conflate to evolve one indivisible cultural orientation through
which individuals identify and describe themselves.
To localize this hypothesis in Nigerian cultural milieu, transculturalism tends to degrade cultural
diversity conundrum in postcolonial Nigeria. Hence, rather than see themselves as Yoruba, Ibo or
Hausa, Izon, Tiv, Igala, a conflated and monolithic Wazobia culture has been invented and used
as a means of cultural identification among Nigerians. The same applies to Italian, English,
German and Jewish separate identities which could fuse into one and produce a hybrid or hybrids
of the identities, within which people of the nation-states could identify themselves. This
hypothesis, therefore, engenders one culture amidst a confluence of cultures, and nothing more.
To Obama in the text, being a metisor a hybrid of cultures gives a fillip to the quest for an
amalgam of cultures and the evolvement of a new cultural outlook that unites all. To further
establish the transcultural import of the novel, Obama’s acceptance speech after his eventual
emergence as the winner of the presidential election in America lies in the heart of transcultural
consciousness:
Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian,
Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled, Americans have sent a message
45
‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
to the world that we have never been just a collection of red states and blue states. We
have been and always will be the United States of America. (Americanah412)
Considering Obama’s speech, oneness, unity, love, togetherness and the spirit of communal
consciousness ought to define inter-racial relationship in America as transculturalism seeks.
However, many happenings in the novel indicate the contrary. Ifemelu, through her blog,
similarly notes that the simplest solution to the problem of race in America is romantic love “but
because American society is set up to make it even rarer between American Black and American
White, the problem of race in America will not be solved” (Americanah341).Introspectively, the
blogging in Adichie’s Americanah is ostensibly utilised for the shaping of public opinion.
Invariably, critical racial opinions and issues are analysed via Internet by using a blog as a
metanarrative device (Guarracino 3). As a new immigrant/migrant in the States, Ifemelu expresses
a stereotypical view about American men and their manner of eating in the public. The man from
Ohio, who boards the same plane with Ifemelu, also says black children are rarely adopted in
America, because “Nobody wants black babies in this country”(Americanah15).The same
sentiment is expressed by Emenike when he and his English wife, Georgina, host their friends at
their terraced home in Islington: “It seemed to me that in America blacks and whites work
together, but don’t play together and here blacks and whites play together but don’t work
together” (Americanah316).Outside America, Ojiugo, Obinze’s cousin’s wife, comments on the
snobbery and superciliousness of Britons who appear to hate racial contact: “English people will
live next to you for years but they will never greet you. It is as if they have buttoned themselves
up” (Americanah274). Similarly, an anonymous American, possibly a white American, posts this
comment on Ifemelu’s blog prior to the election of Obama:
How can a monkey be president? Somebody do us a favour and put a bullet in this guy.
Send him back to the African jungle. A black man will never be in the white house, dude,
it’s called the white house for a reason. (Americanah404)
This isolation and negative name calling of the blacks by the whites in Americanah further
deconstructs the term “ghetto” or “ghettoization” and extends its meaning beyond the semantics
of communities or state of existence of the neglected, the poor, or the dregs in the society to the
culturally ostracized other in the United States and England. Wacquant describes “ghetto” as a
social-organizational device that “denotes a bounded urban ward, a web of group-specific
institutions, and a cultural and cognitive constellation (values, mind-set, or mentality) entailing
the socio-moral isolation of a stigmatized category as well as the systematic truncation of the life
space and life chances of its members” (1). To him, stigma, constraint, spatial confinement, and
institutional encasement are four elements that shape the destiny of a ghetto, noting that it is a
Janus-faced term that justifies the “confine and control” authority of the dominant category, as
well as the “integrative and protective device” (5) of the dominated category. Most importantly,
Wacquant contends that multicultural and transcultural functionality of ghetto is nuanced by its
“potent collective identity machine” and a “cultural combustion engine”, because it “sharpens the
boundary between the outcast category and the surrounding population by deepening the socio-
cultural chasm between them”– (multiculturalism), and because it “melts divisions amongst the
confined group and fuels its collective pride even as it entrenches the stigma that hovers over it …
[in such a way that] spatial and institutional entrapment deflect class differences and corrode
cultural distinctions within the relegated ethno-racial category” (transculturalism)’’(7).
Furthermore, Wirth (1928), Drake and Cayton (1993) posit that transcultural proof of
ghettoization is reflected in the welding together of Christian and Sephardic Jews under:
46 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
an overarching Jewish identity such that they evolved a common ‘social type’ and ‘state of
mind’ across the ghettos of Europe … and America’s dark ghetto … accelerated (by)the
socio-symbolic amalgamation of mulattos and Negroes into a single ‘race’ and turned
racial consciousness into a mass phenomenon fuelling community mobilization against
caste exclusion.(Drake and Cayton 8)
Crane, while describing ghetto in his study of the epidemic theory of ghettos, submits that
“ghettoes are neighbourhoods that have experienced epidemics of social problems” (1). Also,
Whitehead situates ghettoization within racialised urban demography, and describes the term as
referring “not only urban areas wherein the majority of the residents are African Americans who
are poor, in poverty, or in extreme poverty’’ (5). The residents of these inhabited enclosures are
not only marginalized but are physically isolated and consigned to poor residential areas.
Whitehead has also observed that such identifiable physical isolation is essentially characterized
by the distancing of Racialized Urban Ghetto (RUG) residents. Residents are quarantined from
the suburban locations where jobs are being created, and the racial isolation imposed by
segregated housing patterns. He simplifies the complexity of ghetto nomenclature by highlighting
its features to include: high rate of poverty, unemployment, educational mismatches, social
disorganization and ecological deterioration, social and cultural isolation, among others.
Accordingly, in ghetto enclaves social exclusion and isolation impede racial interaction, in as
much as “contact or sustained interaction with … individuals or institutions that represent
mainstream society is hindered” (Whitehead 19). The fear of being dominated by immigrants in
Britain forces English people to talk about the influx of immigrants and migrants into Britain
from countries created by it. Suffice to say that in the view of Anthony Clayton, the modernist
racial prejudice currently witnessed in the United Kingdom is derived from the British colonial
pattern of stratification. It is a pattern that ‘‘prefers to see people in compartments’’. Such a
compartmentalisation creates a structure that leaves Asians as traders, Arabs as junior officials
and Africans, indigenous or mainland, as labourers (Clayton 24).This Western-racial pattern,
without doubt, is a major factor that impugns the essence of transculturalism in Americanah:
The wind blowing across the British Isles was odorous with fear of asylum seekers,
infecting everybody with the panic of impending doom, and so articles were written and
read, simply and stridently, as though the writers lived in a world in which the present was
unconnected to the past, and they had never considered this to be the normal course of
history: the influx into Britain of black andbrown people from countries created by Britain.
(Americanah 299)
Boubacar, the sable-skinned Senegalese Yale professor, makes a comment that shows that he, too,
resents Americans, their cuisine, just as Americans resent Africans and their culture. In a way,
mutual resentment subsists between the two races or continents. According to him:
“I came to America because I want to choose my own master… If I must have a master,
then better America than France. But I will never eat a cookie or go to McDonald’s. How
barbaric!” (Americanah388)
Aunty Uju also complains about the dose of racism meted out to her son, Dike, by his school
principal. He is accused of hacking into his school’s computer network – an offence he never
commits. Dike’s response to the accusation underscores the depth of race hate and resentment
borne against blacks in American schools: “You have to blame the black kid first”
(Americanah400).To further emphasize the tense race relations in America, Ifemelu writes in her
blog, under the topic, “Understanding America for the Non-American Black: A Few Explanations
of What Things Really Mean”:
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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ame
ricanah
1. Racism is complex Many abolitionists wanted to free the slaves but didn’t want black
people living nearby. Lots of folk today don’t mind a black nanny or black limo driver. But
they sure as hell mind a black boss. What is simplistic is saying “It’s so complex.”
2. Diversity means different things to different folks. If a white person is saying a
neighbourhood is diverse, they mean nine percent black people. (The minute it gets to ten
percent black people, the white folks move out.) If a black person says diverse
neighborhood, they are thinking forty percent black. (Americanah402)
It is remarkable to realize that stereotyping, race hate, ignorance of other people’s cultures and
fear of domination work against the realization of transculturalism in Adichie’s Americanah,
hence the failure of transcultural ideals becomes essentially glaring in the portrayal of the
aforementioned evils in the novel’s spatial setting.
Nomadic Trajectory: Living in Snatches Outside Home
Many of the characters in Americanah display nomadic sensibility they peregrinate from one
place to another and from one job or mode of existence to another. They break away from
attachments and switch lifestyles or locations at will in search of peace, fulfilment, greener
pastures and happiness. Adichie expresses this sensibility in the novel through her authorial
intrusion to capture the mood of Obinze who abandons his widow, professor-mother and his
country to live a life of an immigrant ready to commit an illegality in order to secure a National
Insurance number in England:
They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well-fed and watered
but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else,
eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were now resolved to
do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from
burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty. (Americanah317-318)
Almost all of Obinze’s friends, just like many other nationalities (the Senegalese hairdressers, the
Ethiopian and Caribbean cab drivers) in the novel, exude nomadism. Emenike moves to England
from Nigeria and ends up marrying Georgina, a white attorney. Kayode DaSilva, Ginnika, Ifemelu
and Aunty Uju move to US, Iloba to UK, and many other characters who swell the population of
African, Hispanic, Asian immigrants in America and England. Though the movement of some of
these characters from their original home countries to their host countries may be “permanent”;
however, they still have spiritual or psychological attachment to their home countries. This is
because their minds sometimes wander away from their host countries and become overwhelmed
with the nostalgic memories of their places of birth. Toyin Falola calls this category of people
“transnationalists who talk about their … homeland and their new adopted homeland… [and]
carry multiple personalities of transnationalism in one body”(61). Quoting W.E.B. Du Bois, Falola
notes that the people are individuals with, “two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings;
two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn
asunder” (61).Many of these characters take time off to comment on social media about
happenings at home. They monitor closely the social and political events back home, and always
add their own voices to discourses on issues affecting their countries, though not physically
present or travel home physically. Even if they travel physically, it is for a short time. However,
their minds always engage in psychological journeys and trips to the nooks and crannies of their
home countries in search of solutions to the myriad of problems confronting these countries. To
48 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
this category of immigrants, their nomadism is psychological or spiritual. Ifemelu’s comment
about Bartholomew as a representative of this category of people is instructive:
He had not been back to Nigeria in years and perhaps he needed the consolation of those
online groups, where small observations flared and blazed into attacks, personal insults
flung back and forth. Ifemelu imagined the writers, Nigerians in bleak houses in America,
their lives deadened by work, nursing their careful savings throughout the year so that
they could visit home in December for a week, when they would arrive bearing suitcases of
shoes and clothes and cheap watches, and see, in the eyes of their relatives, brightly
burnished images of themselves. Afterwards they would return to America to fight on the
Internet over their mythologies of home, because home was now a blurred place between
here and there, and at least online they could ignore the awareness of how
inconsequential they had become. (Americanah139)
Obinze’s mother, too, expresses nomadic sensibility when she says that “One day, I will look up
and all the people I know will be dead or abroad” (Americanah269). The power or fear of
temporality that runs through her statement further underpins the nomadic lifestyle of some
characters in Americanah. Her statement creates an impression that life is ephemeral, only death
makes it definite. Besides, life journeys between the trajectories of temporality and eternity. It
switches location, and is in constant search of purpose and meaning. Apart from their
peregrination from Nigeria to the West, Aunty Uju, Ifemelu and other characters switch from one
American or English city to another, as well as from one job to another in pursuit of better living
conditions. They similarly switch from one marital/love relationship to another. Ifemelu resigns
from the American company where she works as a public relations officer to start a blog, and
eventually returns to Nigeria to work as a magazine columnist. Her physical nomadism may have
come to an end upon her relocation. However, her nomadic love relationship and switch of job do
not terminate with her relocation from America to Nigeria, as she switches from one love
relationship to another, just as she quits one job for another.
Ifemelu maintains a cyclic nomadic love relationship as reflected in the way she detaches herself
from her first love, Obinze; dates a rich white man, Curt; cheats on Curt and flirts with another
white American living in her hostel. She has an almost-enduring relationship with Blaine; leaves
him eventually and moves to Lagos, Nigeria, only to meet Obinze again; sleeps with him, has a
misunderstanding with him; meets another Nigerian-America returnee; till Obinze finally
abandons his wife to live with her. Transculturalism can be said to have been enhanced through
Ifemelu’s legendary sexual nomadism as her relationship with them gives her an opportunity to
“experiment” with love and sex with people of diverse social and cultural backgrounds. She
possibly engages in sexual switch with a view to negotiating purpose of love and seeking
originality in sex and love relationship, though this nomadic experience has its inherent dangers.
At the commencement of her blog, which she tags, “Raceteenth or Curious observations by a
Non-American Black on the Subject of Blackness in America”, Ifemelu uses the motif of sex and
romantic love as a possible solution to race issue in America. She writes:
The simplest solution to the problem of race in America? Romantic love. Not friendship.
Not the kind of safe, shallow love where the objective is that both people remain
comfortable. But real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and
makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved. And because that real deep
romantic love is so rare, and because American society is set up to make it even rarer
between American Black and American White, the problem of race in America will never
be solved. (Amereicanah341)
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‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
It is pertinent to note that Ifemelu posts this on her blog after severing relationship with Curt. She
actually refers to him in the post as “The Hot White Ex”. This suggests that her romantic escapade
or “sexual experimentation” with Curt enables her to taste the beauty of other culture, albeit
sexual, hence her recommendation of this nomadism as a panacea to racism in America. Aunty
Uju’s nomadic love relationship begins in Nigeria. She jilts her boyfriend, has an affair with an
army general, the father of Dike her son, and marries Bartholomew, a Nigerian accountant in
America, out of frustration. She leaves him, and eventually marries Kweku, a Ghanaian medical
doctor. Curtis, Blaine and other characters have their own share of nomadic sensibility too.
Perhaps Blaine’s younger sister, Shan, best sums up the trajectory of nomadic love relationship:
What doesn’t Shan do? She used to work at a hedge fund. Then she left and travelled all
over the world and did a bit of journalism. She met this Haitian guy and moved to Paris to
live with him. Then he got sick and died. It happened very quickly. She stayed for a while,
and even after she decided to move back to the States, she kept the flatin Paris. She’s been
with this new guy, Ovidio, for about a year now. He’s the first real relationship she’s had
since Jerry died … She’s really a special person. (Americanah362)
Nomads often seek new beginning; they are an embodiment of satisfaction and dissatisfaction,
happiness and sadness, peace and war. Their lives are a bunch of irony; they seek, yet they don’t
find. However, they are always on the move, thinking and charting a new course for their lives.
That is why Ifemelu is confused about starting a new beginning elsewhere without her boyfriend.
Although she has just secured a new opportunity elsewhere when she is given the University of
Princeton research fellowship, and goes there alongside Blaine to inspect her new apartment,
Adichie writes that:
She felt admiration and disorientation. She liked her apartment, off Nassau Street; the
bed-room window looked out to a grove of trees, and she walked the empty room thinking
of a new beginning for herself, without Blaine, and yet unsure if this was truly the new
beginning she wanted. (Americanah406)
All these characters in Americanah maintain a cycle of peregrination punctuated by switches in
location, love relationship, job and lifestyle. The overarching effect of their peregrination is that it
affords them the privilege of becoming better persons equipped with cultural knowledge and
ability to appreciate the uniqueness of every culture to which they are exposed. If they are
cocooned in their own culture without having access to other cultures, “culture ignorance” will
subsist in them; this will equally hinder harmonious race relations, culture contacts or trans-
cultural relations. In essence, the peregrination enables them to see and define themselves in the
light of other cultures, rather than maintaining a monocultural identity. Uncertainty, persecution,
loss, discrimination are some of the problems faced by nomadic people while wandering about
looking for pasture for their cattle. Similar problems shape Adichie’s characters, as many of them
have a running battle with racism, stereotyping, hate, oppression and deportation. The snippets of
racial upheaval experienced by these characters have significantly dramatize ‘‘a disjuncture
between the possibilities of global culture and the trans-national fantasies and failures’’ (Wilson-
Tagoe 98).Obinze, for example, is deported before his sham marriage with Cleotilde is conducted.
At Heathrow Airport, he meets other Nigerians ready to be deported, while some still insist on
returning to England. In her blog entitled, “Travelling While Black”, Ifemelu writes that:
Let traveling black folk know what the deal is. It’s not like anybody is going to shoot you
but it’s great to know where to expect that people will stare at you. In the German Black
Forest, it’s pretty hostile staring. In Tokyo and Istanbul, everyone was cool and indifferent.
In Shanghai the staring was intense, in Delhi it was nasty. I thought, “hey, aren’t we kind
50 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
of in this together? …And then another friend says, ‘Native blacks are always treated worse
than non-native blacks everywhere in the world”. (Americanah379-380)
Ifemelu’s travelling tales present the upheavals that often greet migrants/immigrants, especially
blacks due to the colour of their skin. Another issue that faces Adichie’s characters is immigration
issue and their efforts to circumvent it. Immigration law, in Adichie’s view, is a human construct
which poses a great danger to transcultural ideal. Apart from preventing unhindered movement
of persons, it also prevents or limits racial contact and possibly heightens ignorance of cultural
practices of other people. Aisha, one of the Senegalese hairdressers, laments her inability to
attend her father’s funeral or see him before his death, because of her immigration papers,
“Last year. My father died and I didn’t go. Because of papers. But maybe, if Chijioke marry
me, when my mother die, I can go. She is sick now. But I send her
money”(Americanah415).
She flirts with an African American so as to use him as a decoy to regularize her immigration
papers, but it doesn’t work out, hence her intense effort to marry Chijioke, an Igbo casual worker
in America, who probably has a permanent resident status in the country. Many of the characters
decide to compromise and sacrifice many things in order to remain in their adopted homes. Just
like nomads, they endure the hardship that comes with nomadism, while those who cannot cope
with the stifling situations return to their real homes that itself is a further proof of nomadic
sensibility.
Towards a Configuration of “Other”
The configuration of Other in Americanah is in two forms: the geographical ostracism of blacks or
the poor from white Americans, and the resentment of Other by another Other. A funny scenario
of Otherised Other is presented, indicating a victim victimizing another victim. Labelling or
configuration of others is further stressed beyond the geographical separation and grouping of
people together in a place. As used here, it also implies using utterances, taking actions that
pigeonhole the deprived, the less privileged into a category rooted in helplessness. When
stereotypical views or utterances are made about people, a ghettoization of such people has
occurred, because the action may remind them of their vulnerability and place them
psychologically within the walls of helplessness, hopelessness, poverty, crime, grime and social
vices that shape their ghettoized existence. In one of the posts on her blog, Ifemelu interrogates
the American demography as well as social cum geographical stratification that shapes life in the
US. According to her, “Why Are the Darkest Drabbest Parts of American Cities Full of American
Blacks?” (Americanah358). The implication of this poser is that the vulnerable, mostly blacks, and
a few Hispanics, are (deliberately?) ghettoized in America with a view to preventing racial
contact, especially with white Americans. The location of Mariama African Hair Braiding is also
indicative of deliberate ghettoization policy in the US. Adichie writes:
but it would look, she was sure, like all the other African hair braiding salons she had
known: they were in the part of the city that had graffiti, dank buildings and no white
people, they displayed bright signboards with names like Aisha and Fatima African Hair
Braiding, they had radiations that were too hot in the winter and air conditioners that did
not cool in the summer, and they were full of Francophone West African braiders, one of
whom would be the owner and speak the best English and answer the phone and be
deferred by others. Often, there was a baby tied to someone’s back with a piece of cloth.
Or a toddler asleep on a wrapper spread over a battered sofa. Sometimes, older children
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stopped by. The conversations were loud and swift, in French or Wolof or Malinke.
(Americanah19-20)
Beyond geographical ghettoization of African-Americans (African immigrants or migrants in
America, as different from African Americans), this sentiment is further heightened in Ifemelu’s
post, entitled, “Understanding America for the Non-American Black: American Tribalism”. She
believes that those categories of class, ideology, region and race subsist in America, and that each
of the categories “ghettoizes” another:
In America, tribalism is alive and well. There are four kinds class, ideology, region, and
race. First, class. Pretty easy. Rich folk and poor folk. Second, ideology. Liberals and
conservatives. They don’t merely disagree on political issues, each side believes the other
is evil. Inter-marriage is discouraged and on the rare occasion that it happens, is
considered remarkable. Third, region. The North and the South. The two sides fought a
civil war and tough stains from that war remain. The North looks down on the South while
the South resents the North. Finally, race. There’s a ladder of racial hierarchy in America.
White is always on top, specifically White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, otherwise known as
WASP, and American Black is always on the bottom, and what’s in the middle depends on
time and place. (Or as that marvelous rhyme goes: if you’re white, you’re all right; if you’re
brown, stick around; if you’re black, get back). (Americanah218)
Ghettoization as a by-product of migration has been carefully examined by Paul Tiyambe Zeleza
as one of the factors and forces that perpetuate migration.Through the phenomenon,
international migration has come to be seen as an integral part of globalizationor
‘‘transnationalism’’(Zeleza 12). Ghettoization is a major consequence of migration as it often
triggers uneven development between countries and the ‘‘unequalizing inscriptions of class, race,
gender, and nationality among the migrant themselves’’ (Zeleza 12). Ghettoization in America
unobtrusively manifests itself when the white Americans/Britons give poor jobs to blacks/denying
them access to good jobs. Though there are exceptions to this rule. Nevertheless, ghettoization
operates in different layers in Americanah, especially when one considers cases of African
Americans (Other) looking down on Africans (another Other) or “inter-Other hatred”, and African
immigrants or migrants making racist remarks about other Africans, “intra-Other rivalry”. The
South African woman, who comes to Mariama’s salon to braid her hair for instance, typifies intra-
Other rivalry. Entrenched in her comments on Nigeria, its people and film indicate the
inculcation of her deep-seated hatred for Nigeria. The pile of films she sees in the salon only
serves as an outlet for the release of her vituperation and repressed anger against her or her
country’s perceived enemies. The conversation between her and Mariama reveals this bottled-up
hatred, which essentially constitutes a hindrance to the spirit of transculturalism:
You sell Nigerian films? she asked Mariama.“I used to but my supplier went out of
business. You want to buy?” “No. You just seem to have a lot of them.”“I can’t watch that
stuff. I guess I’m biased. In my country, South Africa, Nigerians are known for stealing
credit cards and doing drugs and all kinds of crazy stuff. I guess the films are kind of that
too.”… “Yes, Nigeria very corrupt. Worst corrupt country in Africa. Me, I watch the film
but no, I don’t go to Nigeria!”... “I cannot marry a Nigerian and I won’t let anybody in my
family marry a Nigerian, Mariama said, and darted Ifemelu an apologetic glance. “Not all
but many of them do bad things. Even killing for money”. (Americanah219)
The foregoing scenario is about African Other(the poor Senegalese braiders, the South African
woman whose son is beaten in school because of his African accent) resenting fellow Africans and
attributing negative stereotypes to them. This is also reminiscent of embedded attitude of African
52 Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, V9N4, 2017
Americans towards African immigrants. They unconscionably look down on Africans as Other,
and not “Us”, despite their pitiable occupation of the lower rung of the American race ladder.
Ifemelu’s African American room-mates often maltreat her. For instance, when Ifemelu complains
about Elena’s dog eating up her slice of bacon, Elena, tells her: “You better not kill my dog with
voodoo” (Americanah179).Perhaps to achieve transcultural ideal under the current situation, both
African Americans and American Africans should have evolved a black identity capable of ending
their misery, but this fails due to persistent inter and intra-Other hatred or rivalry. Essentially, to
create an awareness of transculturalism among African, Caribbean, Indian or Pacific blacks,
Ifemelu sounds a note of warning to non-American blacks in her post, entitled, “To My Fellow
Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby”. She writes, “Dear non-American Black,
when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m
Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care” (Americanah255).Most poor or odd jobs in both
America and England are reserved for the vulnerable African American, American Africans or
non-American black population. This, in a way, shows the ghettoization of this category of people
towards picking up poor jobs, irrespective of their educational qualifications. They are at the same
time denied opportunity of getting good jobs. Obinze, for instance, has a stint with a company in
England where he is:
covered in white chemical dust. Gritty things lodged in his ears. He tried not to breathe
too deeply as he cleaned, wary of dangers floating in the air, until his manager told him he
was being fired because of a downsizing. The next job was a temporary replacement with a
company that delivered kitchens, week after week of sitting beside white drivers who
called him “labourer”. (Americanah, 290)
Ifemelu too, has an encounter with a white coach, who wants her employed as a hireling for an
odd job of “keep[ing] [him] warm”, because he needs “some human contact to relax”
(Americanah181).White Americans, who are mostly responsible for the ghettoization of other
races, demonstrate the denigration of African Americans and American Africans sufficiently in
the novel. White American’s reluctance to embrace mutual relationship towards non-white
people of other races sufficiently recalls Arjun Apparadurai’s mockery of global culture as fluid
and unfortunately compromised by ‘‘the historical, linguistic and political situatedness of
different actors: nation states, multinationals and diasporic communities’’(Apparadurai 295-
310).The whites make stereotype racist remarks, segregate and discriminate against people of
other races in the novel. However, it will not be reasonable to heap the entire failure of
transculturalism on whites alone, since the blacks (African Americans, Africans or American
Africans), Hispanics, Asians as well as other races in the text exhibit different levels of racial
stereotyping. For example, white Americans look surprised each time they see Ifemelu and Curtis
holding each other wondering why the rich white American should descend so low going out with
a black woman. Curtis’ mother seems not to like the relationship between her son and the African
woman, but has no choice because she has been mounting pressure on her son to get married.
Laura’s racist remarks about Ifemelu, her country and Africa, and odd jobs given to Africans, like
the one given to a beautiful Ghanaian woman “with the shiniest dark skin,” “who cleaned the
ladies’ toilet”(Americanah273)justify racial practices in the novel. Nevertheless, examples of racial
stereotyping in the unconscious of white Americans about Africans abound in the novel. For
instance, the comments credited to the Senegalese Yale-professor, or Ifemelu, or the Senegalese
hair braiders, and many other non-white Americans and non-African American characters in the
novel showcase mutual hatred that shapes cultural relations in America.
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ichie’s Americanah
Conclusion
The paper has argued that transculturalism could be achieved if all the factors hindering its
realization are addressed. Transculturalism is, by nature, only one option among alternatives that
include pluriculturalism, biculturalism and multiculturalism. But of the lot mentioned
transculturalism stands out exceptionally, especially in its advocacy of cross cultural relations and
the fostering of harmonious relationship among cultures in a polyvalent society. The paper has
further illustrated Adichie’s attempt at creating a mesh of cultures exemplified in her adoption of
a broad based characterization across spectra of cultures involving nationalities of differing
countries of the world. Interestingly, her characters come from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas,
and the rest of the world, and they partake of cultural negotiations and contacts. But failure of
these cultural trade-offs is a corollary of Huntington’s (1993) prediction premised on cultural
conflicts. Cultures do clash, and the end results are what pervade the entire gamut of Adichie’s
Americanah. Arguably, Adichie has significantly idealized transculturalism as the ne plus ultra of
human wisdom and solution to cultural conflicts. Even though transculturalism in Americanah
offers absolute respite from tensions created by cultural conflicts, if one considers its lofty
objectives which unquestionably dwell on idealism, most of the ideals entrenched in its locus may
be difficult to achieve in most human societies. Much as Americanah calls for cultural contacts
and inclusion among nationalities and nations of the world, its acceptability and operations could
drag for years. Nevertheless, Adichie undauntedly preaches meliorism and seeks an end to racism,
ethnocentrism, tribalism and ethnicity in the novel. The paper concludes that if doggedly
pursued, Americanah’s thematic of global cultural trade-off via transculturalism may be the model
for the turbulent contemporary world crowded with cultural conflicts, rather than the prevailing
cultural seclusion or ostracism that clearly negates the intent and spirit of transculturalism.
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55
‘Reconfiguring Others’: Negotiating Identity in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah
Niyi Akingbe is currently a Distinguished Academic Fellow with the Department of English Studies
at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He is a Professor of Comparative Literature in the
Department of English and Literary Studies at the Federal University Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria.
He received his Ph.D from the University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria, where he studied Protest
Literature. His scholarly interests include: Comparative Literature; African Literature; cultural
studies; music-in-literature; Protest Literature; intersection of Literature and film studies. His work
has been published internationally in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States. His
articles have appeared in Matatu; Tydskrif vir Letterkunde; Nordic Journal of African Studies;
Muziki:Journal of African Music Research; African Studies Monographs; Imbizo; Brno Studies in
English; Alizes:RevueAgliciste de la Reunion; Neohelicon; California Linguistic Notes; Transnational
Literature; Afrika Focus; Journal of Poetry Therapy(JPT);Epiphany; Diversite Et IdentiteCulturelle
En Europe; Journal of Poetry Therapy; Venets:Belogradchik Journal for Cultural Heritage and Folk
Studies; South African Theatre Journal (SATJ), Commonwealth Journal of Youth and Development;
Journal of Musical Arts in Africa and other reputable journals on African Literature. He has also
published two books: Social Protest and the Literary Imagination in Nigerian Novels (2011) and
Myth, Orality and Tradition in Ben Okri’s Literary Landscape (2011). E-mail:
deniakingbe@yahoo.com
Emmanuel Adeniyi is a lecturer in the Department of English and Literary Studies, Federal
University Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. His publications have appeared in reputable journals of
literature, multicultural and African studies. E-mail: ayomercy2011@gmail.com
... While Adichie's Americanah has hardly been subjected to autobiographical analysis, it has attracted a range of criticism, including diaspora experiences, identity at the cross-border, interculturality, love, language and identity, and narratology (Arabian and Rahiminezhad 2015;Austin 2015;Seiringer-gaubinger 2015;Koziel 2015). Niyi Akingbe and Emmanuel Adeniyi (2017) investigate the identity of Adichie's migrant characters and discover that each of the characters struggles over an identity which is shattered by social interactions and engagements in his or her efforts to belong to the new society. A look at these migrants shows that each character faces the conflict emanating both from within the character and his/her environment. ...
... Racism is a compelling issue that African-American writers like Wright, James Baldwin, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison have often tried to deconstruct in their writings. Akingbe and Adeniyi (2017) contend that the aforementioned "writers have ostensibly portrayed strained race relationship in their works with a view to sensitizing readers to cultural acrimony pervading the world, and calling for solutions to it" (Akingbe and Adeniyi 2017, 40). The reason for this abiding commitment may not be unconnected to their aspiration to have the social evil redressed. ...
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