Afropolitanism for Black Women: Sexual Identity and Coming to Voice in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah

Abstract: In discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning novel Americanah, this article aims to expand Taiye Selasi’s concept of Afropolitanism. This term holds that Africans of the world “must form an identity along at least three dimensions: national, racial, cultural—with subtle tensions in between,” and my article proposes to include a sexual identity category. Considering the ongoing racist stigmatization of black sexuality in Western societies, I want to suggest that Selasi’s conceptualization of Afropolitanism, while potentially open to expansion, is currently incomplete. It is crucial for female Afropolitans to form a racialized sexual identity as well. Drawing on black sexuality scholarship as well as insights regarding theories of intersectionality, I argue that through the detailed exploration of the protagonist Ifemelu’s sexual identity, Americanah broadens the concept of Afropolitan identity construction for black heterosexual women. Ultimately, the novel insinuates that becoming a full subject is only possible when female racialized sexual experiences are consciously lived through and confronted, so that the voices of female Afropolitans can emerge.

In her latest book, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,1 Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie comments on her reasons for advocating publicly for feminism and gender equality:

[A] writer had accused me of being ‘angry,’ as though ‘being angry’ were something to be ashamed of. Of course I am angry. I am angry about racism. I am angry about sexism. But I recently came to the realisation that I am angrier about sexism than I am about racism. Because in my anger about sexism, I often feel lonely. Because I love, and live among, many people who easily acknowledge race injustice but not gender injustice. (qtd. in Brockes)

Although it raised feminist questions and critiqued sexism, Adichie’s fictional work is best-known for creatively tackling issues of racism, the most recent example being Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In this novel, Nigerian student Ifemelu immigrates to the US to attend university and find a job, leaving her high school boyfriend Obinze behind. Being confronted with the American conceptualization of blackness and racism for the first time in her life and failing to find work (even illegally), Ifemelu initially struggles to make ends meet. Her financial situation leads her to experience sexual abuse at the hands of an employer and results in her breaking off contact with Obinze. Shortly after, Ifemelu finds work as a babysitter and begins to date a white American, Curt. Following their breakup, Ifemelu starts a blog about her observations on race in America which remains her main source of income during her stay in the US and throughout her relationship with Blaine, an African American. After thirteen years abroad, Ifemelu closes her successful blog and returns to Lagos, where she is reunited with Obinze.

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