In a recent interview with French journalist Caroline Broué, best-selling Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked a series of offensive questions that made jaws drop in real life and on social media everywhere.
She was asked if people in Nigeria read her books and whether or not there are any bookstores in Nigeria.
It took me a moment to process the sheer arrogance, ignorance and derision behind these questions
You didn’t even need to see the video footage of the interview to feel the sense of superiority oozing from Broué’s pores.
Imagine being a seasoned journalist and asking something like that?
And imagine that you, as a journalist, are so skewed by the negative perceptions of a country that you couldn’t be bothered to check your bias and do some actual research instead?
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According to Refinery29, the question was posed at a Night of Ideas event which is held by the Institut Francais and takes place annually.
Broué not only used this opportunity to ask a question that’s rooted in anti-African rhetoric, but she took it one step further and doubled-down on her racism by adding that when people in France think about Nigeria, they automatically associate it with Boko Harem and violence.
She then demanded that Chimamanda provide the audience with a different insight and perception as she imagines that this idea of Nigeria can’t be the sole representation of the country.
How Adichie kept her composure in the face of those questions is beyond me, but to her credit, she delivered a verbal smack down that left no doubt that Broué was being called out on her rhetoric and resulted in a round of applause from the audience.
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In a video clip of the interview, Adichie responds by saying that she thinks it “reflects very poorly on the people of France that you have to ask me a question like that.”
???????? #Chimamanda! Sometimes, you need to call out this buffoonish #ignorance for what it is. Yes to dialogue & sensible questions, but not veiled #racism. You're a #journalist #CarolineBroue. For #LaNuitDesIdees , here's 1: Read a #book on #Nigeria . #France #Africa #clapback https://t.co/neoX8eQ2jo— Mari-Anne Chiromo (@MariAnneChiromo) January 27, 2018
WATCH: French Journalist to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Does Nigeria have bookstores?
The problem as Refinery29 rightly points out, is that sweeping statements like this assumes that Nigerians aren’t educated and that there is no way that African countries like Nigeria could possibly be cultured enough with the means and appetite for bookstores.
As if we have to defend that we are not shithole countries.
It’s dismissive of the rich African culture that’s imbued in the heart of the country and places Nigeria, and Africa, by association in the position of being an “other” entity, while upholding the so-called “standards” of Western Imperialism.
The very fact that she immediately associates Nigeria with terrorism is indicative of someone who doesn’t want to see Nigeria as a country that’s multidimensional and culturally diverse. And well-read.
In fact, as the Guardian points out, the danger of this view point brings to mind Chimamanda’s TED talk about reducing stories about Africa to a singular narrative that often reduces literature about Africa and African countries to stories that are enshrined in themes of poverty, terrorism, war and death.
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Caroline could have easily done a Google search to find out that there are in fact a wealth of bookstores in the country. In fact, a quick search yields numerous results for both bookstores and online book retailers.
I find it deeply, deeply ironic that a person from a first world country who has the privilege of interviewing literary giants does not, by her actions, seem to believe in the power of words and books as a gateway to knowledge.
Many bibliophiles read widely and diversely because it not only offers readers the joy of escapism, of falling into the heart of a different world and viewpoint, but it’s also educational in that it gives us glimpses into a cultural experience from that specific author’s point of view .
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That experience is only further enhanced when the author writes about her own home country in a way that’s nuanced, immersive and complex. No one has ever accused Chimamanda Adichie of being one-dimensional.
Another problem with this line of questioning is that it often puts the onus on the author to educate and dismantle the ideas that are being brought forward.
Authors and people from marginalised groups shouldn’t have to educate others on subjects that are rooted in their pain, oppression or that serves to show them up as being lesser simply because of the country they come from. Unless they really want to, that is.
This line of questioning is also something a white author would almost never have to answer, so the idea that she’s looking to get Adichie’s perspective on her home country is a poorly disguised attempt that's not rooted in genuine interest.
Dear #CarolineBroué there are bookstores in #Nigeria. Surprised? Well, I lived there for 3 years, went to school there, made friends there, and even learnt African History at my Lycée Français Louis Pasteur, Lagos.... How about that?!? #ChimamandaNgoziAdichie ??— Dany Verissimo Petit (@DanyVerissimo) January 30, 2018
No one is denying that Nigeria and the rest of our continent doesn’t have problems. Chimamanda herself isn’t all that perfect either (those transphobic comments she made a while back certainly resulted in quite a bit of backlash) but if Broué can operate under the assumption that Nigerians don’t read and that all there is to the country is terrorism and dusty roads, then I’m going to go right ahead and assume that she’s a poor journalist and has never read or understood any of Chimamanda’s books.
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