Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a long and winding love story, unavoidably about race:
“I mean ‘nigger is a word that exists. People use it. It is part of America. It has caused a lot of pain to people and I think it is insulting to bleep it out. (168) Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not those who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy. (209)
One of Adichie’s devices, which works to varying effect, is the citation of Ifemelu’s blog: 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 Ghanian. America doesn’t care. (273) Later, on the train to Essex, he noticed that all the people around him were Nigerians, loud conversations in Yoruba and Pidgin filled the carriage, and for a moment he saw the unfettered non-white foreignness of this scene through the suspicious eye of the white women on the tube. (320)
Ava DuVernay’s Academy-nominated documentary 13th exposes the intrinsic flaw of America’s 13th Amendment. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
While abolishing slavery is well and good – how did it ever happen in the first place?! – the amendment allows for the practice to continue through the penal system, a system that systematically incarcerates black males in America, a population that, only 4% of the overall population, accounts for 40% of prisoners. DuVernay outlines America’s dismal history of discrimination and servitude, citing Jim Crow laws as well as the systematic targeting of black leaders such as Angela Davis and Black Panther Fred Hampton.Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton are all indicted for the role in the morass as well as So-Called President Trump. Most insidious of all is the monetization of the mass incarcerations – corporations such as WalMart and Time Warner directly profiting from these policies – as well as the understanding that another iteration of the racist laws awaits us all. DuVernay’s film needs to be seen. Okay, so what are you doing? Watch it now!
The talking heads stare back, beleaguered, telling us of the ugliness, how unpresidential it has become. They count down the days in feigned exhaustion. Only 29 days until another president will be elected, and more importantly, when the spin cycle can begin anew and the next batch of ne’er-do-wells can be stoned.The talking heads say everything they can think of and they say it again and again – emails, rapists, locker room talk – except about how their ratings are only as good as the race is bad, that the crummier they make it, the more Viagra they sell. And so that’s what we do. We consume this reality TV, hoping that next season, in just four short years, the chosen one might appear and take care of us forever.