[R]ace is something that one has to learn. I had to learn what it meant to be black. When I first came, somebody made a joke about fried chicken, and people said ‘Oh my God!’ And I just thought, ‘Why? What’s the problem? What’s going on?’ If you’re coming from Nigeria, you have no idea what’s going on. When I came to the United States, I hadn’t stayed very long, but I already knew that to be “black” was not a good thing in America, and so I didn’t want to be “black.” I think there are many immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who feel that way, and will say very clearly ‘I’m not black.’ There’s the overriding desire to do well, to succeed. If it means absorbing the negative stereotypes of a particular group, then that’s fine, they do it. I think also that many black immigrants don’t realize that they’re able to be here and do what they’re doing because of the sacrifices of African Americans. They don’t know the history. I didn’t when I came. An African American man called me “sister” once, and I was like ‘No, no, no, I’m not your sister, I’m not doing that.’ It took about a year of reading, learning, watching, for me to really come around and realize that there’s a context— you know, I read African American history and I’m just amazed at how recent some of the things that happened were. I’m not talking about slavery, I’m talking about 40 years ago. But when immigrants come here they absorb stories that have no context and no history. So it’s ‘oh, black Americans are very lazy. They all live in the inner city because, you know, they don’t want to work hard.’ Sometimes you’re in a gathering of immigrants, and some of the talk can sound like you’re in Alabama in 1965.
It’s very depressing, because I’ve come to deeply, deeply admire African American history and African American people. Their story is the one I most admire, the one I’m most moved by. But then, there are different ways of being black, there are different blacks. I’ve come to very happily identify as black, and I like to joke about wanting to go back and find that man who called me sister, because I would hug him. But my experience is different. My experience of blackness is different from African Americans, and for me it’s still a learning process, because there are things that I can’t inhabit. Now I know racial subtleties, now I get it. But I don’t have the history, and it’s different.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, interview with Boston Review
what a lovely interview. she also talks about Ama Ata Aidoo, her father, James Baldwin’s description of his father, the best african fiction that arrives in her inbox. but the best part of the interview i cannot even mention, it is so good and i will spoil it by mentioning it. everyone just go read it.