When Ifemelu first registers for classes, a white girl named Cristina Tomas sits at the registration table. She speaks very slowly to Ifemelu, who at first thinks Cristina has a speech defect, until Ifemelu realizes that it is because of her own foreign accent: Cristina Tomas doesn’t think she knows English. Ifemelu “shrinks” in this moment of shame and condescension, and after that she starts practicing an American accent.
Ifemelu now feels her identity and personhood being “subdued” just like Aunty Uju’s is. The oppressive power of white America, as personified by Cristina Tomas, wears Ifemelu down until a moment like this makes her suddenly feel valueless. So she starts to change herself in order to fit in better.
Ifemelu finds her classes easy, but is confused as to why there is so much importance given to “participation,” when it is mostly just students taking up class time talking about things they don’t know about. Ifemelu is a communications major, and she makes friends with a girl named Samantha who lets her borrow her textbooks, as Ifemelu can’t afford to buy them all.
Adichie comments on the differences in education in America and Nigeria. Adichie herself has several degrees (in both Nigeria and America) and has taught university classes, so she has an insider’s knowledge on this subject.
Ifemelu wants to learn more about American culture, and Obinze suggests that she read American books. He suggests a James Baldwin book for her, and she is intrigued by it. She reads all the James Baldwin she can find at the library, and finally starts to understand Obinze’s love of language and literature. At the same time the books teach Ifemelu about “America’s tribalisms—race, ideology, and religion.”
Ifemelu does at least start to experience a connection with American culture through this new love of literature. James Baldwin is a famous African-American writer who wrote boldly about racism, and Ifemelu is now starting to identify with his experiences.
Ifemelu finds herself using more American slang and “participating” in class just like the other students. She takes a film class, where they discuss the show Roots. The few black students in the class (including Ifemelu) argue about whether the word “nigger” should have been bleeped out, and whether it should ever be used by black people in general. Finally the white professor meekly changes the subject.
Adichie gives more observations and examples about the complexities of racial issues in America. Different black students disagree about the same subject, and there is no clear-cut answer to anything. Adichie seems to mostly advocate listening to each other respectfully.
After class one of the students, Wambui, (who is Kenyan) introduces herself to Ifemelu and invites her to the African Students Association. Ifemelu goes and the members all talk about the insensitive questions they get asked all the time. They also mock Africa, but Ifemelu senses that there is a homesickness in their mockery, a longing “to see a place made whole again.” Ifemelu feels a little more at home here.
Mwombeki, a Tanzanian student who reminds Ifemelu of Obinze, gives Ifemelu and some other new students a “welcome talk” about America and its strange customs. Mwombeki suggests that they make friends with African-Americans, in a spirit of solidarity, but to make sure to have African friends too to keep perspective. He points out that Africans generally go to the African Student Association and African-Americans go to the Black Student Union. He suggests making friends with immigrants of other races too. Ifemelu thinks of Dike, and wonders if he will be considered “African-American” or “American-African” when he goes to university.
Mwombeki gives a humorous address, but he also has advice for feeling less alone and out of place. Ifemelu has learned that America can be a harsh and prejudiced place, but there are many others in similar situations and they can then form their own community within the community. As Dike grows up he does indeed struggle with his identity, as an African raised in America, as one of the only black students at his school, and as a child without a father.
Ifemelu has more job interviews, but even the ones she thinks go well don’t hire her. One day Aunty Uju calls her to say that Dike was found in the closet with a girl, “showing each other their private parts.” Aunty Uju is appalled, though Ifemelu reminds her that everyone is curious as a child. Uju says that she is going to move to Massachusetts with Bartholomew, to have a new start and get Dike away from the “wild children with no home training.” She is going to marry Bartholomew.
Aunty Uju continues with the tendency that Adichie has pointed out—for immigrants to idealize their home country as purer than the sinful and modern America. She also starts to echo Jane in disparaging African-Americans as having lots of “issues” that Africans don’t share.