There it was again, the strange naivete with which Aunty Uju had covered herself like a blanket. Sometimes, while having a conversation, it would occur to Ifemelu that Aunty Uju had deliberately left behind something of herself, something essential, in a distant and forgotten place.
But Kimberly’s unhappiness was inward, unacknowledged, shielded by her desire for things to be as they should and also by hope: she believed in other people’s happiness because it meant that she, too, might one day have it. Laura’s unhappiness was different, spiky, she wished that everyone around her were unhappy because she had convinced herself that she would always be.
Ifemelu was surprised that he seemed to recognize the ego of others, while blinded in the fog of his own.
They were similar, all of them, their clothes nice and safe, their sense of humor nice and safe, and, like other upper-middle-class Americans, they used the word “wonderful” too often.
Ifemelu gazed at them. There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have. To take “charity” for granted, to revel in this charity toward people whom one did not know – perhaps it came from having had yesterday and having today and expecting to have tomorrow. She envied them this. […] Ifemelu wanted, suddenly and desperately, to be from the country of people who gave and not who received, to be one of those who had and could therefore bask in the grace of having given, to be among those who could afford copious pity and empathy.
He was always thinking of what else to do and she told him it was rare for her, because she had grown up not doing, but being. She added quickly, though, that she liked it all, because she did like it and she knew, too, how much he needed to hear that. […] There was something in him, lighter than ego but darker than insecurity, that needed constant buffing, polishing, waxing.
He believed in good omens and positive thoughts and happy endings to films, a trouble-free belief, because he has not considered them deeply before choosing to believe; he just simply believed.
Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American?
His use of “they” suggested an “us”, which would be the both of them.
She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.
To them, she was interesting, unusual in the way she bluntly spoke her mind. They expected certain things of her, and forgave certain things from her, because she was foreign. […] To understand this was to realize that Curt and his friends would, on some level, never be fully knowable to her.
It was the sort of shirt Bartholomew would buy; it reminded her of his friends she had met one weekend, a Nigerian couple visiting from Maryland, their two boys sitting next to them on the sofa, both buttoned-up and stuff, caged in the airlessness of their parents’ immigrant aspirations.
Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness. She was not suffering from depression: she was merely a little tired and a little slow. “I don’t have depression”, she said. Years later, she would blog about this: “On the Subject of Non-American Blacks Suffering from Illnesses Whose Names They Refuse to Know.” […] Nobody in Kinshasa had panic attacks. It was not even that it was called by another name, it was simply not called at all. Did things begin to exist only when they were named?
Ifemelu stood by the window while Aunty Uju sat at the table drinking orange juice and airing her grievances like jewels. It had become a routine of Ifemelu’s visits: Aunty Uju collected all her dissatisfactions in a silk purse, nursing them, polishing them, and then on the Saturday of Ifemelu’s visit, while Bartholomew was out and Dike upstairs, she would spill them out on the table, and turn each one this way and that, to catch the light.
“It’s a novel, right? What’s it about?” Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about one thing. […] She could have blogged about Kelsey, too, this girl who somehow believed that she was miraculously neutral in how she read books, while other people read emotionally.
Oppression Olympics is what smart liberal Americans say to make you feel stupid and to make you shut up. But there IS an oppression olympics going on. American racial minorities – blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Jews – all get shit from white folks, different kinds of shit but shit still. Each secretly believes that it gets the worst shit. So, no, there is no United League of the Oppressed. However, all the others think they’re better than blacks because, well, they’re not black.