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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Police Brutality: ‘Language Has Failed Me’

The Nigerian novelist says she’s at a loss of words when it comes to the rash killings of black men and women by police in America.

If you tore through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, then you’ll likely recall that the protagonist Ifemelu had a blog wittily named “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-­American Black.”


There she muses on her observations of America’s racial dynamics from her perspective as a newly arrived Nigerian.

The Nigerian novelist started a blog called “The Small Redemptions of Lagos,” where she further brought Ifemelu’s voice and insightful social commentary to life for her fans.

“The blog in Americanah—I wanted it to be funny. I wanted to poke fun, because I think many of the ways race manifests itself in this country are actually quite funny so I hoped that people would laugh,” Adichie tells The Atlantic, co-host of at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday.

Mary Louise Kelly, The Atlantic’s contributing editor, asked Adichie what Ifemelu would write in light of the rash of police killings in America in recent years.

“I think what’s going on now just doesn’t give me room for humor,” Adichie says. “I think that I’m so emotionally exhausted by the murders that I don’t think I could find any space to wrap humor around what’s been happening in the past one year, two years.”

Us, too—it’s getting absolutely maddening and monotonous.

The Grammy-nominated, literary icon goes on to explain:

It’s not just that you shoot a man who’s unarmed, it’s that you handcuff him when he’s clearly dying. There’s something about it that’s so unforgivably inhumane and to think that his race is part of the reason ... I really do think that one of the terrible things about racism in this country, is there’s a sense that blackness isn’t really seen as fully human in many quarters. I think that’s why these things happen. I think that’s why a man who is dying is handcuffed, that’s why a boy who is dead is left on the street for hours. It makes me wonder: What’s happened to that part of us that is good?

It’s understandable that Adichie would practice self-care during this increasingly perilous time plagued by senseless police violence—she hasn’t blogged since November 2014, which marked when the St. Louis County prosecutor announced that a grand jury decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson, a few months after he gunned down Michael Brown, and left the unarmed, 18-year-old’s lifeless body on the pavement for hours (for the crows to pluck like strange fruit). The verdict triggered the Ferguson riots.

Music
Photo: Courtesy of Emerald East

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