‘And even with your hair like that?
‘It is like jute! There is something scruffy and untidy about natural hair.’
Those were Aunty Uju’s advice to Ifemelu on the subject of african hair.
Our prototype for what a beautiful woman is, very often comes from our society: toned, skinny, tall with long legs, calorie-counting , few pounds lighter, 50 shades lighter and of course long straight hair either brazillian weave or Peruvian– the criteria is the length . The battle is far worse for black girls like myself, who are on a relentless mission to achieve good hair. Inky Hair strands that requires just a dollop of relaxing cream and a blow –dry or straightener to achieve a ‘swish’ straight out of a TV commercial.
There is no doubt that Chimanda Adichie has unapologetically opened the curtain on this platform again for a discussion on black hair and beauty. She follows in the footsteps of Comic Chris Rock who draws his inspiration from his five-year old daughter for the documentary ‘Good hair,’ a sideways look at the mysteries and taboos surrounding black hair culture. Adichie masterfully tucked this ‘odd’ topic between the ostensibly romantic love, race and immigration theme of this novel.
Ifemelu, in ‘Americanah’ asked Obinze
‘Aren’t we going to kiss?’
It’s love at first sight; the kiss that seals their teenage love and brings them closer. He- joins the debate club because of her, she- joins the football club and the tennis just to watch him play. She likes that he wears their relationship like a bright coloured shirt.
‘Americanah’ reads in first person, as we follow Ifemelu, a young girl who leaves her childhood sweetheart Obinze in Nigeria, to study in America. Over the subsequent decade, before she returns to Lagos, embarks on her self-discovery through the lens of race and immigration as they become central to her life; Ifemelu discovers what it’s like to be a non-American Black in America. While Obinze, struggles to communicate with her and didn’t succeed in obtaining the green card he anticipates, instead settles for a harrowing stint working illegally in London before an attempted sham marriage leads to his deportation back to Lagos.
Back in Lagos things sort of get better, but his new prosperity builds on kowtowing to the local big men. Things only really start to look up when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, now an “Americanah”, newly estranged from her home country, but not without new perceptive about it.
There are descriptions of cornrows, braids, shiny straight weaves, box braids, comb-overs, natural afros, corkscrews, coils, russet waves and TWAs (Teeny Weeny Afros). And to style them? Pomades, irons, relaxers, oils, butters, moisturisers and creamy conditioners.
For most black women, wearing their hair natural doesn’t come without the accompanied doubt,could it affect their career if employers consider it untidy, or too different and sometimes political.
Ifemelu receives advice from Ruth about a job interview;
‘My only advice? Loose the braids and straighten your hair. Nobody says this kind of stuff but it matters. We want you to get that job.’
There are, perhaps, one too many of Ifemelu’s blogposts and a few extra scenes here and there that could have been edited, but part of Americanah‘s appeal is its immense, unconstrained heartbeat. The reader is drawn emotionally drawn in to feel Adichie’s passion and belief that pumps through each paragraph.
So many elements of the award-winning Adichie is woven into the books which some would say mirrors her own life, living in between Nigeria and US.
This book will spark debate and bring the complex relationship between black women and their hair to the mainstream, however it fails to highlight the obsessive preoccupation of ‘ ALL WOMEN’ with weave irrespective of colour and background, as this subject has its root deep with self-esteem of women in general. A woman’s beauty is fragile and should be discussed with sensitivity.
Here I am with my own natural hair journey, with the familiar pressure to conform, yet finding my personal beauty ideal is a real quest and thinking what would Ifemelu do?
I couldn’t decide which one of the three cover below is my favourite.