Summary: Chapter 39

At school, Dike faces racist stereotyping. His principal accuses him of hacking into the school’s computer system although he is not computer savvy. Students ask Dike for marijuana, and even the church pastor uses an approximation of AAVE when speaking to him.

Finally, Blaine returns Ifemelu’s calls. They tensely cook coconut rice together, realizing how divided they’ve become.

Ifemelu’s blog post accompanying this chapter focuses on American discomfort with race and how the language surrounding race is coded.

Summary: Chapter 40

Ifemelu now admires Blaine more than she loves him. Ifemelu reads Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, and finds it inspiring. Blaine is shocked by their shared belief in Obama, which rekindles their passion. Even their friends argue less because they are caught up in Obama’s spell. Ifemelu gets the Princeton fellowship, but promises Blaine not to move until after the election. When Obama wins the nomination, they finally have sex again.

They watch Obama’s speech on race. Blaine finds it immoral that Obama equates Black anger and white fear. Ifemelu reminds him that Obama will not get elected if he tells the truth, but Blaine is hurt.

Shan has a nervous breakdown because her book isn’t selling well. Ifemelu attempts to discuss the election, hoping Obama will make conversation easy, but Shan is ignoring the election. Ifemelu recommends Obama’s book. Shan counters that she wishes people would read her book.

When Barack Obama wins the election, Dike texts Ifemelu that his president is Black like he is. As Ifemelu watches Obama’s acceptance speech, she feels America is beautiful.

Ifemelu’s accompanying blog post praises white friends who take on the burden of explaining racism to other white people, but adds that they are few and far between.

Summary: Chapter 41

Ifemelu’s flashback ends. Aisha is still working on her hair, now upset that her Igbo boyfriend has not come to talk to Ifemelu.

Aisha asks Ifemelu how she got her green card. Aisha tried to have a green card marriage when she came to America, but her fiancé extorted money from her. Ifemelu explains that her job sponsored her green card. Aisha reveals that she couldn’t go back to Senegal when her father died because she didn’t have a green card. She hopes that her boyfriend will marry her so she can get a green card. Her mother is sick, and she wants to go to her funeral when she passes. Ifemelu promises that she will talk to her boyfriend for her and asks where he works. She makes sure to tip Aisha well, knowing the shop owner will take most of the fee.

Aunty Uju calls in a panic to tell Ifemelu that Dike tried to commit suicide.

Summary: Chapter 42

Obinze worries about how Ifemelu waited four days before replying to him. He tries to research Blaine. He even revives his Facebook account to look up more about him, even though he had deleted his account because he hated the cultivated stories of people’s lives.

Obinze emails Ifemelu about his mother’s death. Ifemelu replies a few hours later with condolences. Ifemelu explains that she is visiting Aunty Uju for a personal matter, and asks for Obinze’s phone number. Obinze replies, offering all his phone numbers. When Ifemelu does not reply, he writes her long emails detailing his time in London.

Ifemelu replies and tells him about Dike’s suicide attempt. She gives him a link to her blog’s archives and reveals that she’s postponed her return. Obinze considers visiting Ifemelu and Dike, but is interrupted by Kosi telling him that his mind is wandering.

Obinze reads the archives of Ifemelu’s blog and is shocked by how American the posts seem. He feels a sense of loss that he wasn’t with Ifemelu while she changed so much.

Summary: Chapter 43

Ifemelu wonders why Dike tried to commit suicide. She gets angry at Aunty Uju, accusing her of constantly telling Dike that he is not Black, and not telling him what it means to be Nigerian. Aunty Uju claims that Dike suffers from depression like a lot of other teenagers. Dike tells Ifemelu that she should go back to Nigeria like she planned. Ifemelu asks if he will visit her. Dike agrees.

Analysis: Chapters 39–43

Ifemelu, Blaine, and their friends all seem to agree on Obama as a candidate, but not on why they like Obama or what he represents. Ifemelu and Blaine both like Obama’s memoir, but they never discuss what exactly they glean from his memoir. Even after having complicated conversations about Obama with their friends, Ifemelu concludes that Obama makes all her friends agree with each other. One possible reason for this contradiction appears in the many blog posts Ifemelu writes on Obama that each portray a different aspect of what he represents. Obama is a complicated symbol that people project different hopes and expectations upon, and because everyone projects their own hope onto him, they all can agree on Obama as a good presidential candidate. Because Obama holds so many different expectations, he inevitably disappoints Blaine in his willingness to be pragmatic when talking about race. The real Obama can never live up to what he represents.

Shan’s disinterest in the election highlights her self-centeredness. This election has particular importance because Obama may become the first Black president of the United States, and the historical nature of the election demands attention. However, Shan focuses on her book sales, a personal problem, at the expense of paying any attention to an election that has the potential to open new possibilities for Black people in America. Her disinterest in Obama calls into question the sincerity of her joining Blaine’s protest for Mr. White, and hints that she may have participated solely to stay on her brother’s good side. Shan chooses to fight actively against racism when it benefits her or makes her look good to people she cares about, but still cares more about herself than major structural changes. This self-interest explains why she uses Ifemelu’s foreignness to dismiss her opinion instead of as an opportunity to deepen the discussion. She talks about her struggles with racism to win attention and sympathy for herself, not to explore, observe, or enact change.

Although Ifemelu has found Aisha annoying throughout the novel, Aisha’s honesty about her struggles creates a moment of connection between them because Ifemelu sees in Aisha a life she could have lived. As in many other places in Americanah , sad or difficult truths here deepen relationships and allow dialogue to move forward. Without knowing the reason for Aisha’s badgering, Ifemelu assumes her to be eccentric and annoying. Now that she understands Aisha’s desperation, she sees that Aisha is not malicious in assuming that Igbo people know each other, but is at the end of her emotional rope and grasping for any solution. Although Ifemelu now has some class privilege in America, her early days involved similar desperation. As evidenced by the struggles of her ASA friends, Ifemelu got her green card not out of her class privilege, or her birth, or her education, but because she was dating Curt. Because Ifemelu can now relate to Aisha, she wants to help her.

Dike’s suicide attempt demonstrates how much damage the baggage of being both an American African and African American has done to him. Aunty Uju’s unwillingness to tell him the truth about his father or give him any positive associations with his Nigerian roots has cut Dike off from a sense of pride in his Nigerianness. At the same time, white Americans insist on treating Dike as a Black American, projecting onto him cultural baggage that he does not know how to navigate and that Aunty Uju insists doesn’t belong to him. Even though Aunty Uju tells him that he is not Black, he is still stereotyped, as evidenced by his consistently bad treatment by school administration and his classmates assuming that he is a drug dealer. While Ifemelu lashes out in anger and admonishes Aunty Uju for never telling Dike “what he was,” she makes a reasonable point. If Dike is neither Black nor Nigerian, his identity is a double negative. He is not truly a Black American, but he does not feel Nigerian because he does not know what that means.