Blogs on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ by Shani Thompson, Eleanor West and Neeti Rao

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How Does A Poor Black Woman Categorise Oppression? – by Shani Thompson

In Taylor Dunn’s blog post a few weeks ago, she compared the social status of women and slaves, which provoked reflections on how the dual subjugation of female slaves pits sexual oppression against racial oppression. How might an individual categorise oppression when facing more than one kind? By how many or how few people it affects, or by which aspect of their identity is threatened the most? Can oppression be ordered? These considerations have resurfaced for me while reading Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, in which protagonist Akunna leaves her home in Nigeria to start a new life in America. We see quite often how she is judged, questioned and stereotyped as a result of being Nigerian; however we also see how she is sexually harassed as a result of being a woman.

We discover that Akunna roots for gameshow contestants in this order ‘women of color, black men, and white women, before, finally, white men’ (p.121). First, this mode of categorisation puts her sympathies with women of colour at the top of the hierarchy. Next, it separates female identity into two ethnic groups; white women and non-white women. Finally, it gives a higher level of importance to being black than to being a woman – although contestants who happen to be both are at the top of her list, black men are placed above white women, as opposed to the two groups of women being situated above the two groups of men, regardless of ethnicity.

This ‘Thing’ around Akunna’s neck may be a metaphorical noose that represents her bleak, isolated, dispirited experience of America as a Nigerian, a woman, and a working class immigrant. Or perhaps – as a Nigerian first, a woman second, and a working class immigrant third. But I doubt that categorising oppressed identities is so simple.

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Who Am I? Blog by Eleanor West

Finding your own identity is something that many of us struggle with. Who am I? What do I see? What do other people see? However, if you’re an immigrant, like we see in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, these questions can be complicated by the stereotypes surrounding your homeland, and you are often misrepresented. Moving to America, as Akunna does in the text, is seen as a way to improve your life, but Akunna is often subject to questions that are ‘a mixture of ignorance and arrogance’.

Furthermore, the ignorance that surrounds people of colour and immigrants means that women especially end up sexualised and objectified. Akunna faces the threat of sexual assault because she is vulnerable. When she gets a boyfriend later on, there is the implication that he finds her attractive because she is “exotic” in his eyes. Despite the sexualisation of women of colour, Akunna ‘knew by people’s reactions that you two were abnormal’, as for some reason, sex is not strange, but a real relationship is.

With immigration being such a hot topic in today’s society, it is important to think about Adichie’s narrative as something representative of the way many immigrants live their lives. Not illegally, lazily, or through committing crimes, but like Akunna; she moves for a better life but ends up struggling with maintaining her cultural identity whilst also being objectified and misrepresented as a woman of colour, and as an immigrant, in modern America.

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‘Because you are a girl’ Blog by Neeti Rao

So, just because I am a girl you are going to stop me from doing what you think is not meant for girls? You are going to mute me? Girls have gone through this oppression and still do because of the societal terrorism which dictates a set of rules and a way of life which only applies to women. It gets worse because there is no explanation provided as to why a particular action cannot be performed by a girl? What is it that a penis can do and a vagina cannot? Both make a baby, both need to be present in order to produce a new life which means that both are equally important. Then why is it that women are stopped? Why is it that women have to constantly face this notion of ‘you can’t do it because you’re a girl’? Yes, we can. We could always. But we were stopped. Not anymore, as more girls are now becoming independent women and are standing against the societal oppression. Women are stopping injustice and are encouraging curiosity, questions and hope amongst other women – something which is much needed to empower women to let them freely and openly say ‘we can do it’.

 

 

 

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7 responses to this post.

  1. I thought it was excellent how Eleanor’s points out that in ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’, ‘sex is not strange, but a real relationship is.’ It’s so incredibly disturbing that that is the case; almost as if to say that after a woman of colour has been sexualised and otherised, her value decreases to the point where you can’t connect with her as a real person.

    The opening point in Neeti’s blog about women being controlled by ‘you’ makes me wonder if ‘you’ refers to patriarchal society, work colleagues, the guy down at the chip shop, or somebody in a position to influence that woman personally, like family. However the way this blog is written is a bit confusing; women and men are equally important but they are not the same – yes both are needed to create a new life, but each interact with and provide for that new life differently. Also, however subverted this may be, men are under certain types of social pressure as well, although I totally agree it’s not the ‘societal terrorism’ women experience, as Neeti puts it.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Yasmin on November 16, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    With regards to Shani’s post, I also noticed how Akunna categorised contestants she ‘roots’ for in the order of race first, gender second. I thought it was interesting to note how Akunna speaks for all African immigrants when she says that. This speaks to how race is always predominant in the race for equality, even gender equality.

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  3. Posted by Ashley Foley on November 16, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    In regards to Shani, I also find it interesting how Akunna is judged throughout, ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ specifically by her boyfriend (a white male). It is hard to tell whither he is sexual fetishizing her because she is Nigerian or because she is an attractive young women. It makes your question the true meaning of their relationship, if he is with her because of her identity as Nigerian.

    I do agree with Neeti that there is no explanation as to why a girl cannot preform certain actions. That when we question why it is believed a girl is less cable the only answer we receive is, ‘because your a girl’. I believe we are progress and taking it into our hands to create a more logical answer to that questions that is, ‘Yes we can’.

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  4. Posted by Afshan on November 16, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Both posts manage to raise questions regarding the position of women in society and lead me to think of the many versions of feminism in the world. Indeed priorities for everyone are different and especially through Akunna’s mindset, it shows that even those who encounter prejudice are bias when deciding who they root and show support for.

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  5. Posted by Neeti Rao on November 16, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    I agree with the points made by Eleanor in terms of sexualising and objectifying Akunna because she is the ‘Other’ in a new setting. ‘Other’ – because she is a woman or because she is a woman of colour? Women are usually the subject of objectification and are sexualised but in Akunna’s case, her lover is fascinated by her roots as an African – her culture, her language, her skin. Not her gender, her body, her existence as a woman. So what is the fascination of? The woman or the culture that the woman belongs to? The culture which was somewhat created by the patriarchy and the patriarchy which oppressed women like Akunna.

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  6. Posted by Kristine Aasland on November 17, 2016 at 11:59 am

    What struck me when reading the short story by Adichie was the changing narrative and changing emotions surrounding America. The main character’s journey and stay is by her friends and family in Nigeria treated as the greatest opportunity. ‘[You] won the American visa lottery’, they say, and start dreaming up a future for her. (p. 115) What Akunna then discovers is that the US might not be the land of dreams for everyone. As is pointed out in the blog posts above, there is something around her neck. What was supposed to be a better existence, has turned into a sadder and possibly more oppressive life, it seems. Akunna encounters many problems in America but has no one to turn to. Her boyfriend does not understand her at all, and it seems as if Akunna wants to keep the American dream alive for her family and friends.

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  7. While reading ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ it is unclear what the actual thing is. Is the thing her race and the colour of her skin which poses problems for her as she settles in a new country? Or is it her gender, and being a woman who is constantly facing pressures from a patriarchal society

    Reply

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