In an event at the Quai d'Orsay, an annual Night of Ideas held by Institut français, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made news when she was asked a seriously inappropriate question that has sparked a conversation on racism and imperialism. Adichie is no stranger to difficult conversations on racism and culture, but this latest incident highlights how much work we still have ahead of us.
As The Cut writes, this is how it all went down: Caroline Broué, the French journalist who led the interview, asked Adichie initially if people in Nigeria read her work. After a response of "They do shockingly,” Broué proceeded to ask the author if there are bookstores in Nigeria.
It was here that the audience couldn't hide their visible shock, so Broué asked again. "You were talking about single stories, now when you talk about Nigeria, in France, unfortunately, there is not much said about Nigeria. But when people talk about Nigeria it’s about Boko Haram, it’s about violence, it’s about security,” Broué pressed. “I should like you to tell us something about Nigeria which is different, talk about it differently, and that’s why I am saying, ‘are there bookshops?’ Of course, I imagine there are."
The exchange has since been posted online, and it has illuminated important points about the kinds of interactions that people of colour in the public eye have to navigate. The line of questions that Broué presented to Adichie was inappropriate, at best, and rooted in anti-Blackness at worst, because they hindered on assumptions that Nigerians would be less educated and less interested in literature than other people.
These comments, though they may seem innocent to someone unfamiliar with their harmful undertones, remind us of the necessity of diversity expanding further than representation. Physical representation of more diversity is getting better on-screen, but many people of colour still have to navigate harmful microaggressions and daily struggles of violence rooted in racial oppression. That has to change.
Adichie's interview at the Night of Ideas has been a necessary reminder for many of us that the work is still not done. In the video below, watch how it all unfolds. The questions begin at the 37-minute mark.