How Intersectionality Influenced Ifemelu’s Decision

“Intersectionality” sounds like one of those clunky words you hear (and immediately dismiss) in discussions about race — until you figure out you need it. There are many kinds of oppressive institutions in the society, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, etc. Suffering any one of them is already unfortunate. However, the more unfortunate scene we often see is that these oppressions are interconnected. People suffering one are very likely to suffer the others, and the fact that they suffer more than one of the oppressions has rooted in their mindset and influences their way of behaving and making decisions. Ifemelu’s decision of ceasing contact with Obinze serves as a good example.

During her stay in the US, Ifemelu met great difficulty in finding a proper job. She began suspecting herself after several failures. She screened all the possible reasons in her brain, including being a foreigner, being undereducated and inexperienced, being a black woman, speaking with accent, etc. She became sensitive and vulnerable with all these thoughts deep in her mind. One example is her homesickness. As described in Chapter 15, “The crisp air, fragrant and dry, reminded her of Nsukka during the harmattan season, and brought with it a sudden stab of homesickness, so sharp and so abrupt that it filled her eyes with tears.” (P177) Another example is her drastic reaction when hearing that Kimberly was not hiring her. “Ifemelu wanted to fling the phone away. Keep her in mind. Why would Ginika even repeat such an empty expression, ‘keep her in mind’?” (P185)

Freaked out by the failures, Ifemelu had to take the job offer from the tennis coach. She didn’t want to take this job at first because she wasn’t sure about what it was about and had the intuition that it might be sex-related. However, rent was due and the disappointment of not getting hired by Kimberly needed to be consoled right away. After helping the tennis coach to “relax” himself, Ifemelu felt ashamed. She felt bad about herself getting aroused by the coach, but she felt even worse that she had to take such kind of a job to afford her own living. Ifemelu might think she was betraying Obinze as well as her own pride. She felt humiliated and wanted to escape. Therefore, she decided to cease contact with Obinze.

In a nutshell, in Chapter 15 of Americanah, Adichie didn’t explicitly point out it is the social oppressions that make it so difficult for Ifemelu to find a job. She rather implied how the idea of the oppressions has laid shadow in Ifemelu’s mind. The problem of intersectionality in Ifemelu’s mind really tortured her. It first led her to accept the job of helping the tennis coach relax, which she actually didn’t want to accept at first, and led her further to the decision of stop replying Obinze. Apparently the problem destroyed Ifemelu’s self esteem and self-confidence. She had to adjust her expectation again and again. Stop replying Obinze is actually Ifemelu’s way of rebellion. She hated the situation she was in and thought an Ifemelu like this was not worth loving. Therefore, she chose to avoid Obinze, not allowing him to see her upset and embarrassed.

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