Superiority and Oppression Through Religion

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A large part of Americanah‘s chapter 3 is centered around Ifemelu’s memories of her mother and religious practices. She watches her mother go through several churches and mental changes before settling on a faith. Many of the churches that the family passes through oppress or demean groups of people through their religion. Everyone deserves the right to practice any religion they want, but using religion to justify oppression is unethical and inappropriate.

Misogyny is present throughout the religions. As Ifemelu’s mother cycles through churches, she changes her practices and behaviors based around what each church believed. Although they all believed in the same God, they all interpreted His word differently, and it always degraded a group of people. As a member of Revival Saints, her mother starved herself, refrained from dancing or relaxing her hair, and changed her entire demeanor to fit the preaching of the church (51). Later, she stops wearing jewelry because of the teachings of Miracle Spring (52). In Sister Ibinabo slut shames Christie in the name of religion, and Christie is thankful for it (61). That twisted image of God and religion is harmful and disturbing to the mentality of these developing girls. Comments like that, especially when they come from a religiously influential figure, can inflict lifelong mental damage.

The practices of one of the churches that Ifemelu’s mother attends carries overt classist tones. Their faith in God gives the members of the faith a false sense of superiority over poorer people. The belief that their God is “not a poor God” seemingly entitles them to wealth and prosperity over lower-class people (53).

In today’s world, religion is a sensitive subject. Religious hatred and fear is widespread, and many people hold prejudices based solely on an individual’s religion. Many people don’t realize that the actions of a few members of a faith do not define the rest of the believers. Radicalized Muslims do not represent the Islamic community as a whole, just like the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent the beliefs of all Christians. There is nothing inherently dangerous about believing in a higher power. In the end, faith is only dangerous when people twist it to fit their own agenda.

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Embracing the Curl: How Natural Hair Helps Reclaim Identity

In her novel Americanah, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie introduces us to Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman living in America who has decided to move back home. As she travels to get her natural hair braided before her trip, we are given powerful and important observations on race, size, and love. Our protagonist does not hesitate to describe people as fat, but she does not connote it in a cruel way. This is a relevant issue, as body-positive communities online are trying to tear down the stigma around the word “fat”. It is an adjective, the same as “funny” or “tall”, but a culture centered around body-shaming has turned it into a curse word. The way Ifemelu addresses terms like “curvy” and “big-boned” (7) resonated with me, as I know many people who have struggled with weight and self-acceptance, and have personally experienced it as well. It is important to remember that there is no wrong way to have a body.

 

On a similar note, the first chapter of this book puts a lot of emphasis on natural hair. Ifemelu is questioned by her hairdresser as to why she chooses to keep her hair natural rather than relaxing or straightening it (15). Even from another African woman, Ifemelu receives judgement for letting her hair be and refusing to conform to more modern standards of beauty. The fact that she brings her own comb to the braiding salon shows that this type of subtle oppression is an everyday occurrence. Today, traditionally African hairstyles are claimed and renamed by white culture. Bantu knots have been turned into “mini-buns” and credited to Marc Jacobs, rather than recognizing the history behind them.

“Afro” is a widely used term that has lost its true meaning. As a white woman with 3A curls, I have had people refer to my hair as an Afro – which it clearly is not. Misuse of the term has distanced it from its roots. Natural hair itself is taken from its wearers; people often touch natural hair without permission. They do not have the right to violate an individual’s privacy simply because their curls are distinctive. By wearing her hair natural, Ifemelu bravely invites judgement while making a statement about who she is and reclaiming a bit of her culture and identity.