My Wealth is Determined by the Number of Modiglianis I Have

Ever since Ifemelu and Obinze made their ways to the US and England, respectively, they’d been surrounded by people of higher status, and their desire to succeed. A universal belief of success means this so called successful person possesses wealth, whether in the form of land, oil, stocks. etcetera. Okay, so by that standard, Curt, Kimberly, Emenike, and the other ladies and gentlemen Ifemelu and Obinze rubbed elbows with at dinner parties were wealthy.

These seemingly impressive characters are somehow of the “higher order” either through their work, income, or possessions. Their favorite pastimes include gloating about their success (pardon my excessive use of “success”), using verbiage to give an air of higher education, and collecting trinkets from countries formerly under imperialism.

People commonly use the amount or lack of paintings in one’s home to distinguish their socioeconomic status. What is it with paintings that gives someone the facade of having so much money that even God would ask to borrow from them? “Rich people” only buy from the dead who can no longer paint, thus displaying their superb taste for only the most “limited and original” paintings in existence.

Believe me, I’m not going to hate on the arts; it’s not the artist’s fault some guy who inherited money from his robber baron ancestors wants to impress the bookish girl with his interpretations of the meaning behind the harsh and dark lines as a way for her to sleep with him. It’s a bit hypocritical that the wealthy enjoys hoarding high art, while simultaneously letting art majors starve because they’re a dime a dozen and need a real job in order to make money. Does the wealthy feed off of the jealousy and admiration one receives of owning one-of-a-kind pieces of art that this superficiality oozes out of their skin and splashes onto the marble floors their maids have to clean?

What can you do with art other than fill up your ego and assure yourself that you’re wealthier than someone? What kind of stability does money protect and give the beholder? Financial, yes. Relationships, maybe. Mental, nope. I can’t speak for all, but the wealthy people readers find in books, namely Americanah, contain hollow, shallow bodied individuals who rely on material possession for an establishment of power. Maybe it’s a trope, but I think Adichie was getting onto something when she created lackluster individuals who had money but no way to happily spend it and be content.

When The Writer’s Block Hits In the Finale

Ahh! Americanah was an excellent book, for the most part, but I feel I can say that any reader is relieved (or feelings a sense of accomplishment) after finishing a book. I do appreciate and enjoyed the major motifs/social situations brought up in the book, but I cannot say the same for the ending. It was a trope. The ending was so disappointing that I completely forgot this book was supposed to be centered around the issue of race.

First of all, what was that, Adichie? Americanah’s ending was so predictable that I screamed in anguish after putting down the book. Viewers, please don’t argue that it was a great ending just because the “OG couple” got back together. Yes, Kosi was superficial and confrontationally-challenged about her marriage, but that didn’t give Adichie the right to try to paint her as a villain so that readers could sympathize with Obinze leaving his wife. Can you really blame someone for wanting nice things? If you’re a capitalist, you sure can’t.

I think Adichie always loved Ifemelu and Obzine together and hated writing her characters with other partners. Why else would she actually include chapters dedicated to Obinze’s life after college? Adichie needed a scapegoat and found Kosi’s flaws as a way to ensure the two got back together while facing complications, in order to add more juiciness to the story. I mean, come on! Kosi wasn’t a serial killer nor committed any heinous acts, so why can’t readers sympathize with her? She’s left with a child and a failed marriage that never should’ve happened, even if her now ex-husband was “in a bad place” when he married her.

I am in no way saying that couples shouldn’t be able to divorce, only be cautious of when you decide to marry someone. Don’t marry someone because you’ve lost hope of getting back together with your past love and because you’re finally in a new–yet unhappy–relationship. You (cough, Obinze, cough) are only hurting yourself and your partner who you don’t actually love, yet is led to believe that you love them.

As for Ifemelu, what were you thinking?! You knew Obinze was married, so how could you get mad at him for being troubled on figuring out what to do with you and his marriage? Don’t expect him to drop everything and come back to you just because you’ve returned to Nigeria. God, it’s such a cliché when two lovers are separated by distance and time, and then they meet again years later only to be with someone else (try every Nicholas Sparks book ever).

I feel that there could’ve been many better ways to handle the ending while giving Ifemelu and Obinze their happy ending, and without leaving readers thinking that it’s okay to acquit cheaters (“but they were past lovers, they’re meant to be!”).

I shouldn’t be so critical of the book; it’s just hard when the ending is only the final pages you’re left with to read and make sense of the book as a whole, yet that’s where it upsets you the most!!! I will say, Americanah did leave me “enlightened” and I shouldn’t harshly judge the novel, as it didn’t entirely revolve around Ifemelu’s relationship with Obinze. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, if you’re reading this, did you ever get back together with your college love?

Going Back to Your Roots Without Reconnecting to Them

In Chapter 44 of Americanah, readers finally (!) get to revisit Lagos from Ifemelu’s perspective. Her experience is a lot different than when she lived there for two specific reasons: her age (obviously) and her newly ingrained attitudes from American influence.  I found it a bit odd and surprising, reading her new opinions on her homeland, at how much more hostile and unforgiving she is about the land she grew up in. Ifemelu harshly critiques a tile installer for his shoddy work and threatens to run him out of a job if he doesn’t fix the floor. It’s almost scary at how American she sounds (honestly, if you’re American, you can vouch that a lot of people are critical of smelly streets like in New York and the work people put into their jobs).

It makes me wonder if immigrants–who go back to their home country–carry new beliefs and almost forget that they grew up in their home country. My father is a first generation immigrant from Lebanon and has since visited once. He was two when his family came to the U.S. so his only Lebanese influence was from his parents, but he wasn’t uppity and stingy about the condition of Lebanon’s cityscape and work ethic in comparison to America’s when he visited. He’s proud of his heritage and tends to overlook the flaws in his native country, but he also doesn’t speak for all immigrants.

America’s heavy emphasis on a capitalist society with all parts functioning and needing to do their part in order to succeed has bled into the minds of its citizens. Ableism can in part be attributed to this mindset since people with capitalist values would tend to be prejudiced towards those who aren’t able to fully partake in “contributing to society.” Ifemelu’s quick lashing out to the man’s poor job at assembling the tiles could be one of two things: he chose not to do a very good job/was poorly trained, or her inner American, capitalist-influenced mind came out. Either way, she’s changed and it can be argued either way, good or bad.

Personally, I believe it’s a bad change. The outburst just added to her already critical view of Lagos and portrayed her as out of touch with her homeland–I guess you kind of are out of touch with your roots if you’ve been gone for a decade. People should always be grounded and realize where they’ve come from. Although it’s hard, the best way to stay in touch with your true self–especially when coming back to your motherland–is to acclimate yourself as soon as possible. You may have had to act a certain way in order to survive in one country, but you don’t need to carry those negative attitudes to the next.

Not Just an American Thing: Depression Hits Internationally

Despite being a small motif–maybe a “sub-motif” of the American culture motif–, mental illness has been brought up in Americanah through Ifemelu’s first few years living in the U.S. and, recently, with Dike’s attempted suicide. Although Ifemelu is reluctant to admit that she has depression, “Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness,” please keep in mind that depression–among many other mental illnesses–is a real thing.

Forget everything Tumblr has told you about mental illnesses (this website has had a problem with romanticizing mental illnesses in the past, which is hella messed up). According to Psychiatry.org, depression is

“a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act . . . it can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”

Although I cannot say whether Nigeria is a country that openly discusses mental health/has doctors who specialize in this kind of psychology or not, an immigrant’s disbelief to an illness just because their country has lower rates of it/never identified it among those who have it is a bit irrational. According to MedPage Today, immigrants coming into the U.S. are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. The research focused on native-born Mexicans who migrated to America and, despite some who may argue that this could be an attempt at trying to keep Mexicans out of the U.S., I firmly believe this is true, such as in the case of Ifemelu.

The specific causation of depression is difficult to pinpoint. Some people have seasonal depression, they miss the sun when it’s gone and their mood starts to dampen. I hate the winter and the dreary weather, it makes me sad for four to five months and my unhappy thoughts start to increase. But other times, it’s more long-term. Sometimes it’s attributed to a genetic predisposition, too little serotonin in one’s brain, or distressing events.

What amazes me the most, though, is one’s quick reaction to denying developing depression as others sense the onset, or one’s resorting reason as depression when they feel a little down. To those of the former, never let anyone diagnose you–or even self-diagnose–but if your friends and family notice a persistent and abnormal change in your behavior and appearance (disclaimer: you can’t always point out who does and does not have depression), then it might be a good idea to consult your doctor (see symptoms here). To the latter group, please recognize the difference between short term and long term changes in behavioral patterns; depression is a serious matter.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Depression/any mood disorders are not to be joked about. 15% of those who are clinically depressed commit suicide.

With that PSA being said, I should briefly mention how to handle friends and family members with depression (among other mental illnesses). Do not tell them they have no reason to be sad, nor try to act like you understand what it’s like being physically and mentally bogged down on a daily basis. Please be patient and caring, we can’t always help them and they can’t always control how they feel. Most of all, don’t expect those who are mentally ill to apologize for it–it’s out of their control for God’s sake.

When The Road Turns Rocky for Longer Than the GPS Said

Throughout Americanah, the issue on relationships and their worth has been brought up multiple times. Whether it’s being cheated on, the mistress, long distance, the bum, or the  unavailable; every relationship has its problems. Although relationships can be fun and exciting at first, if things start taking a turn for the worse you might need to reevaluate the importance of this relationship (whether they’re romantic or friend-related). In regards to my title, it might sound too simplistic to assume all we have to do is look for signs to guide us in our life endeavors–which is true–, but hey, it was my analogy and it’s a damn good one.

As a junior in high school, my relationship advice/experience is at the bare minimum, three boyfriends: the first one didn’t really count, the second wasn’t much of a relationship, and the third I’m currently in–which, if I may add, I’m happy in. But that’s all beside the point. I can’t speak as someone who has been cheated on or has cheated on another, but I can offer my opinions on these situations and stories from my MOTHER’S dating escapades.

A long time ago, after graduating high school in 1980, my mother decided to marry her “mature-er, two-years-her-senior boyfriend,” Rob*. What a mistake that turned out to be. After a nine year downward sloping marriage, popping out my two half-brothers, realizing Rob was a toxic and lazy bum, my mom said, “Sayonara.”

Jump forward to the high times of the ’90s and my mom was dating Lars*, a daddy’s boy–maybe these descriptions of men are too harsh, but if the shoe fits–whose father was CEO of Medtronic. Going boating on the weekends and having a family who rented out a castles in France for a long weekend didn’t faze her simplistic ways. Lars didn’t take too kindly to sarcastic comments ergo my mom could not fully be herself in the relationship–not that she tried to change for him, she just had to restrain a part of her personality. Lest to say, it ended on an angry note: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” my mom joked one evening. Apparently he took it as her way of ending the relationship, and they lived happily ever after–without each other.

Of course there were single stages in between divorce and dating; you always need time for yourself and where your priorities lay. It’s nice to have a partner, but it’s never a necessity. My mom was 19 the first time she got married and 36 the second. Some people become too obsessed with the idea of marriage and believing their window of opportunity at having a life partner closes with increasing age, but it really doesn’t. Anyone can marry at any age, and with that being said you shouldn’t settle for less just because you’re afraid of being alone nor should you worry about never finding a new partner just because of a sudden breakup.

Loneliness allows you to be completely free to make any decision you want, along with not being responsible for another person. I won’t preach one type of relationship over the other (a relationship with only yourself versus a relationship with another person), but it is healthy to have a mixture of both in your life–the latter relationship is not exclusive to romantic types, human interaction in general can fall under this. I’m sure–hopefully–anyone can make a pros and cons list to either relationship type, but what I’m saying is that if you’re feeling mistreated or unhappy in a relationship it’s time to quit it. If you feel you’re “too much alone,” it’s time to go out into the world and interact with others.

*Name has been changed.

White Men: “We Kinda Have a Thing for ‘Ethnic’ Girls”

After reading Chapter 18 of Americanah, I couldn’t help but cringe over Curt’s overeagerness to dating Ifemelu. The fact that he mentioned he’d never been with a black girl before shows his superficiality in only looking at physical appearances–especially the color of a woman’s skin. Curt’s comment may seem as an innocent act of small talk to some, but with his self-assured attitude at assuming Ifemelu would be willing to be his girlfriend after one date, it’s a mild case of racial fetishism that leads to bigger problems for women of color.

Racial fetishism, according to revolvy.com, “involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group that is not one’s own—therefore it involves racial/ethnic stereotyping and objectifying those bodies who are stereotyped and at times their cultural practices.”

Racial fetishism is prevalent, especially by men, in today’s society and has been since the early days of European colonization. Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon displays fetishism and primitivism of five nude female prostitutes–two of who are wearing African tribal masks. Today’s examples of racial fetishism include Asian Women Date, a website where non-Asian men can meet Asian women, and the scene from Austin Powers: Goldmember where the titular character crosses “Threesome with Japanese Twins” off of his bucket list.

Men like to joke around and call this “jungle fever” (preferring to date black women) or “yellow fever” (preferring to date Asian women) when their pals discuss desiring to date one specific race/ethnicity of women. There’s a difference between having a type and blatantly saying “I’ve always been attracted to [insert specific race/ethnicity and gender here].” Those who are only attracted to a certain group of people usually carry internalized racism and stereotypes.

Men that “have a thing for Asian girls” associate women of Asian descent with being subservient, childlike in appearance and behavior, and probably kinky; Latina women as having curvaceous bodies, light enough skin, and a sassy attitude but “not too sassy as to be like compared to a black girl;” and black girls with asses big enough for twerking, nurturing, and promiscuous.

News flash, men: your attempts at being charming and acting like you’re paying minority women a needed compliment is not sexy nor impressive. The lectures on slavery in America and China going through a cycle of dynasties given to you during your high school history classes were not taught simply for you to use them at attempts of appearing well informed to non-white girls.

Another thing: never describe a girl as exotic. They are not pets, coffee, nor plants so don’t degrade them to the status of one. There are other ways do describe a girl (i.e. her personality) that do not relate to her “foreign looks.” You sound lacking in intelligence and vocabulary if you have to place a girl in the same category as a Capuchin monkey.

In short, yes, you CAN have a type without racially fetishizing, IF you can cut the knowledge crap and flirt without relying on stereotypes to continue the conversation. Happy dating!