Americanah contains a realm of awareness when it comes to critiques relating to body image, appearances, and identity. This involves Ifemelu struggling to find her place in society when arriving in America as she learns the different ways of Western culture in which people express and identify themselves. An important motif that has shown up so far in the book and specifically caught my attention is hair.
Hair has already proven to be an important recurring symbol in the book. Hair has created an important distinction between Ifemelu and her mother because while Ifemelu chooses to leave her hair natural, her mother doesn’t hesitate to chop it all off to fit in at the church. Ifemelu is a strong-willed independent person who doesn’t just naturally choose to conform to society, which is why I admire her so much. This isn’t to say her mother isn’t a strong character though, I believe she is strong in her own ways, but still not nearly as strong as Ifemelu.
Back to the topic of hair, Ifemelu recognizes and understands the history and culture behind her hair. When she is in the beauty parlor, Aisha and the other girls judge her for not using relaxers and instead leaving it natural. Ifemelu, being the strong woman she is stands up for her hair, as she knows the history that lies between each curl. This is important in understanding why Ifemelu must return to Nigeria. America doesn’t allow Ifemelu to keep her traditional customs and tries to force her to conform, which is understood through the people she knows in America and through her various blog posts. I will discuss this further in depth in a later post.
Hair has created many issues in our current society. This issue is known as cultural appropriation and it is when one culture steals from another culture without adopting or understanding the background behind a cultural symbol. Until recently I, myself, did not realize the symbolic meaning behind hair. Reading this book, discussing with my friends, and doing online research have opened my eyes to this issue in a whole new lens. Black people today still wear their hair in styles like braids, cornrows, and dreadlocks to commemorate these traditions. This is directly incorporated in racism against blacks in America.
White people wearing their hair in these styles is offensive because of the long struggle blacks had to show their history and culture. Even though white people may think they comprehend the struggles that black people in America have faced through the years, it doesn’t matter because they really can’t. White people aren’t learning the background behind the dreadlocks, they just wear them to be in style. This is appropriation, not appreciation. There are many other ways white people appropriate black culture including adopting the n-word, acting in the film industry, and wearing certain clothing items. Regardless of the form though, it is all wrong and it needs to stop.