I consider myself somewhat of an above-average bookworm. My profile on Goodreads.com (the social cataloging website that lets you keep track of books you’ve read and want to read) clocks me in at 63 books since I started my account on the site in late 2014.
From being on both sides of the fence – a freelance journalist for the last 12 years and an avid reader – I’ve come to understand a number of notable elements that span cross all literature. Virtually every book, even the most far-fetched, outlandish fantasy novel, can and often does have underlying themes that are personal and deeply relatable.
At the recommendation of a high-school classmate, I recently read a book by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “Americanah” – a fictional, coming-of-age novel that chronicles a Nigerian girl’s move to America from her native country, her struggles with race and identity there, and the reconciliation within herself of the two cultures she now shared. Having been raised in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (albeit an American territory), I could certainly identify with the cultural differences and the feelings of both longing and unbelonging that plague a person experiencing this in their teenage years.
But there was one scene in the book that related distinctly to My Brother’s Keeper – so much so that I read it, re-read it, finished the book, then went back and read that part again. And then decided to write about it myself.
At one point in the book, the lead character, Ifemelu, is in a long-term relationship with Curt, a White American who deeply and genuinely loves her, but who often questions the legitimacy of her views as both a Black person in America, and an African in America.
In one scene in particular, while visiting Ifemelu’s apartment, Curt refers to a copy of Essence magazine on her coffee table as being “racially skewed”, citing how it only features Black women. In response, she takes him on a trip to a local bookstore, without explaining why they’re going.
Once there, Ifemelu grabs a stack at random of nationally-syndicated women’s magazines and spreads them across a table. Not a single Black woman is on the cover of any of them. She then asks Curt to go through every page of each magazine and count the number of Black women he sees. Reluctantly, he goes along with it.
“Three Black women,” Curt says. “Or maybe four. This one could be Black,” he says as he points.
Three Black women – in maybe 2,000 pages of women’s magazines; and all of them are bi-racial or racially ambiguous, so they could also be Indian or Puerto Rican or something. Not one of them is dark. Not one of them looks like me. So I can’t get clues for makeup from these magazines. Look, this article says “pinch your cheeks for color,” because all of their readers are supposed to have cheeks you can pinch for color. This tells you about different hair products for “everyone”, and “everyone” means blondes, brunettes and redheads. I am none of those. And this tells you about the best conditioners – for straight, wavy and curly; no kinky…Now let’s talk about what is racially-skewed. Do you see why a magazine like Essence even exists?
Curt concedes at last, albeit without putting much more thought into it.
I wanted to share that, not to recommend the book (although I do), and not to provide makeup tips (I wouldn’t have the first clue). But to once again illustrate why The My Brother’s Keeper Scholarship Endowment exists, and especially our “What They See Is What They’ll Be” blog series.
It’s not to be racially-skewed. It’s because if young boys of color never see men of color in any of these roles – in life or in media – it forfeits them the opportunity to see what they could be as they progress into adulthood. They need to know that every doctor isn’t a White man. And neither is every engineer, physicist, chemist, astronaut, software developer or mathematician. And even if they never learn that from any other source, they will at least be able to learn it from us.