Intersectionality Versus Love

Intersectionality” sounds like one of those clunky words you hear (and immediately dismiss) in discussions about race — until you figure out you need it. Race, while it shouldn’t define a part of us, is an element that makes up who we are. It can be a part of how we feel, think, and act. In Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie we see how intersectionality of race and gender effect the most important emotion: love.

“She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size.. “

Love is an answer, it’s not the answer. We always try to find something in our lives that is a quick fix, a quick single answer, a quick solution. This, however, isn’t the case. Life is more complex and layered than we initially think as an innocent child. It requires growth and maturity from multiple sources, not just one powerful one. A plant needs water to survive, but this doesn’t mean that’s the only thing it needs to grow. In Americanah Ifemelu breaks off an intense love with Obinze, because she realized that she needs to mature in her life before she can truly be in love. It becomes clear that the reason for breaking contact with Obinze when she comes to America isn’t for her absence of loving him, but because she needs to grow as an individual as she questions the intersectionality of her race and gender before she is able to love herself, then him.

“You ever wonder why he likes you looking all jungle like that?”

In the novel you get this sense of transformation from Ifemelu feeling comfortable with herself around Obinze, then when she experiences a new American culture that makes her have a Fanon “third person consciousness” about herself she loses her love and her identity. Thus, she can only truly love again once she understands who she is. This exemplified by her sexual encounter with the tennis trainer, as she felt her gender to make her feel like an inferior sexualized object. This caused her to lose love for herself as those around her began to see her gender, or race in the case of the man at the market who makes a racist comment about Ifemelu’s “jungle” nature to Curt. Both these show how both gender and race coexist as ways that people define her and see her. In America the simplification and objectification from the people around her make her lose her identity.

“If you don’t understand, ask questions. If you’re uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It’s easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here’s to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.”

This was extremely powerful concept as Adichie shows how intersectionality not only marginalizes the person in the eyes of another, but marginalizes themselves in their own eyes. Because of the society around us, we aren’t able to feel comfortable or even know who we truly are. We look in the mirror of what society makes us and we question who we really are when we don’t see ourselves looking back. It is imperative that we see the errors in society, so that we are able to truly able to fight back against the negative concepts that are pushed onto people. It is up to us to create our identity, not those who look at us.

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