The struggles of Aunty Uju and Dike, read in conjunction with Ifemelu’s blog posts, highlight the ways racism makes everyday life difficult to navigate. Aunty Uju is now qualified to practice medicine in two countries, and yet white Americans still react with doubt and suspicion at the thought of her being a doctor. Dike’s sad anecdote about sunscreen demonstrates the subtle ways stereotypes can hurt black people, as Dike could have gotten sunburned. Perhaps even sadder is the desire he expresses to be “regular,” identifying whiteness as a default. Ifemelu’s blog identifies the value American society places on whiteness and also introduces the idea that everyone aspires toward whiteness. The hierarchy of racial privilege that Ifemelu observes is evident in the way that Aunty Uju and Dike face incessant racist treatment and microaggressions. Their desire to be white, then, is the desire to live without the burdens of an intensely racist society.
The incident with Kelsey at the salon is another manifestation of the white savior attitude, as Kelsey loves the idea of Africa as long as she can control the narrative around it. She asks the women in the salon questions about their countries that presuppose poverty and sexism, meaning that the polite answers they give contribute to Kelsey’s understanding of Africa as a place in need of help. She believes Things Fall Apart , which is written by a Nigerian author about Nigeria, is less honest than a book about an unspecified African country that focuses on Europe. A Bend in the River ’s lack of specificity fits a Western vision of Africa as a singular place instead of a large continent with many different countries and cultures. Her desire to have African-style braids in her hair mirrors the way she speaks about Africa with authority. The braids metaphorically take ownership of an African aesthetic despite her not truly understanding what they entail. She becomes annoyed at Ifemelu’s objection because Ifemelu is challenging her right to dictate African authenticity.
The first introduction to Curt highlights his expectation to maintain control of the world around him at all times. He claims that Ifemelu did not respond to his advances at first because she didn’t want to date a white man, which is a complete fabrication. Curt has made himself the author of their story. Furthermore, by insisting that Ifemelu was the one who worried about race, he positions himself as the more open-minded person willing to break the taboos of society without fear. Curt uses his privileges to make Ifemelu’s life easier, but always in a way that is calculated to make him look generous. Ifemelu even resents the ease he creates for her, relative to the struggles of her ASA friends, which suggests that she feels ambivalent about the privilege available to her because she’s his girlfriend. Ifemelu thinks of Curt immediately after the scene with Kelsey, both of whom exercise willful ignorance in order to invent a narrative that bolsters their sense of self. These parallels subtly reveal the controlling and self-serving aspects of Curt’s sunny disposition and eagerness to help Ifemelu.