This novel explores the immigrant experience of two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze. Adichie documents Ifemelu's experience immigrating to the United States for university and then establishing a work life for 13 years before moving back to Nigeria. Adichie outlines Obinze's struggles immigrating to the US to be with Ifemelu, subsequently settling on a life in Britain, which is taken from him when he gets deported back to Nigeria. With humor, candor, and honesty, Adichie highlights the experiences of Black immigrants in Anglophone countries, two of which notoriously treat immigrants poorly, and Black individuals even worse.
“Understanding America for the Non-American Black: American Tribalism
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. Intermarriage is discouraged an 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 the 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!). Americans assume that everyone will get their tribalism. But it takes a while to figure it all out.” Americanah, p. 227
Ifemelu's description of American Tribalism highlights the intersecting issues constantly present in American society, yet many of which go unnoticed by those of us living within it. Using this excerpt as a guide, we can begin to develop a better understanding of the hierarchy of identities, and how we may use this hierarchy to develop a more inclusive environment, particularly in the classroom.