Here is my favourite scene (so far) from “Americanah” (2013), a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Ifemelu’s boyfriend, Curt, is at her apartment. He is what Audre Lorde would call the Mythical Norm: White, thin, male, young, heterosexual, well-to-do and (presumably) Christian. He looks at Essence:
“This magazine’s kind of racially skewed,” he said.
“Come on. Only black women featured?”
“You’re serious,” she said.
He looked puzzled. “Yeah.”
“We’re going to the bookstore.”
“I need to show you something. Don’t ask.”
“Okay,” he said, unsure what this new adventure was but eager, with that childlike delight of his, to participate.
She drove to the bookstore in the Inner Harbor, took down copies of the different women’s magazines from the display shelf, and led the way to the café.
“Do you want a latte?” he asked.
After they settled down on the chairs, paper cups in front of them, she said, “Let’s start with the covers.” She spread the magazines on the table, some on top of the others. “Look, all of them are white women. This one is supposed to be Hispanic, we know this because they wrote two Spanish words here, but she looks exactly like this white woman, no difference in her skin tone and hair and features. Now, I’m going to flip through, page by page, and you tell me how many black women you see.”
“Babe, come on,” Curt said, amused, leaning back, paper cup to his lips.
“Just humor me,” she said.
And so he counted. “Three black women,” he said, finally. “Or maybe four. She could be black.”
“So three black women in maybe two thousand pages of women’s magazines, and all of them are biracial or racially ambiguous, so they could also be Indian or Puerto Rican or something. Not one of them is dark. Not one of them looks like me, so I can’t get clues for makeup from these magazines. Look, this article tells you to pinch your cheeks for color because all their readers are supposed to have cheeks you can pinch for color. This tells you about different hair products for everyone – and ‘everyone’ means blonds, brunettes, and redheads. I am none of those. And this tells you about the best conditioners – for straight, wavy, and curly. No kinky. See what they mean by curly? My hair could never do that. This tells you about matching your eye color and eye shadow – blue, green, and hazel eyes. But my eyes are black so I can’t know what shadow works for me. This says that this pink lipstick is universal, but they mean universal if you are white because I would look like a golliwog if I tried that shade of pink. Oh, look, here is some progress. An advertisement for foundation. There are seven different shades for white skin and one generic chocolate shade, but that is progress. Now, let’s talk about what is racially skewed. Do you see why a magazine like Essence even exists?”
- White privilege mindset
- What if there were a Black Default?
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- being universal