Dike seems to grow up very fast, and before Ifemelu knows it he is six feet tall, with a white girlfriend and a group of white friends who all seem to admire him and laugh at all his jokes. Ifemelu imagines how successful he will be in college. Ifemelu also goes to Shan’s first “salon” and is nervous about it. Shan introduces her to her many interesting friends.
We have had many hints of Dike’s struggles with his identity and depression, but at this point he seems to be doing well. He is surrounded by white people, but he adapts well and doesn’t outwardly show any feelings of alienation or loneliness.
Shan then starts talking about her book, which is about to be published. Shan says that her editor was always wanting her to change the parts of her book about race to be something more subtle or complex and to “transcend race.” Shan asks why she has to transcend race, when race is a large and complex enough issue already, and sometimes there is nothing “deeper” to the issue—it’s just about race.
Shan mostly complains about herself, but in this speech Adichie makes several points about her own work. Americanah tackles race as its central issue without trying to disguise it or make it more palatable—showing that the issue is indeed large and complex enough to deserve a sprawling novel of its own.
One guest suggests that Shan turn her book into a novel. Shan, who is getting drunker, says that it’s impossible to write a novel about race in America. If you’re going to write respectable literary fiction about race, she says, “you have to make sure it’s so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn’t read between the lines won’t even know it’s about race.”
This is an explicit commentary on the novel itself. Adichie is taking a risk by not disguising the issue of race with lyrical subtleties. Instead she takes it on directly, and so does what many editors or writers would consider disastrous for a work of literary fiction.
Someone says that America isn’t like “this room” (Shan’s salon filled with many racially diverse friends), but Blaine says that it potentially could be, if privilege and oppression were properly dismantled. Someone suggests that Ifemelu should blog about this conversation. Shan says that Ifemelu can only get away with writing her blog because she’s African, and so an outsider to African-American struggles. Ifemelu hesitantly agrees, disliking Shan for saying that and disliking herself for “bending to Shan’s spell.” Blaine vaguely defends Ifemelu, but it seems too little and too late.
The members of Shan’s “salon” are another example of sincere human connection crossing many races and cultures. The problem is that the world outside is not like the salon, and the divisions between most people are very real and very strong. Shan emphasizes one of these divisions by casting Ifemelu as an outsider to the struggles of being African-American. This will then translate into division between Ifemelu and Blaine.
There is another blog post from Ifemelu about Obama. This is about how many non-black people say that Obama is half-white, not totally black. But Ifemelu says that race is sociology, not biology, and so it only depends on how you look. Obama looks black, and so he is black. If you look white, she says, even if you have a black or Native American ancestor, you can’t complain about racism.
Adichie makes another important point about race and prejudice here. When she can’t weave it into the plot, her arguments can then be made directly through Ifemelu’s blog posts.