Throughout the past two years there has (finally finally finally) been international, in-depth conversation on the value of black lives. Let’s kick off the book breakdowns by extending that conversation to the value of black souls.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was been a great read long before her definition of feminism was featured on that one song by that the lady with all those sparkly unitards; Americanah was published thirteen months before ***Flawless dropped and fifteen months before Michael Brown’s death was recorded on a smartphone.
This is not a book about depression. This is a love story, an immigration story, a survey of otherness. But mental illness has an important, if seemingly brief, role– protagonist Ifemelu directly acknowledges depression in the last pages of Chapter 15 and neatly transitions into her new babysitting gig in the first pages of Chapter 16. I didn’t count– frankly, it’s a long book and I was hungry– but I would wager that the word “depression” appears three or four times in the entire novel. For comparison: the “depression” has already popped up three times in the first 150 words of this post.
I ate my sandwich and wondered about this for at least ten minutes– something about the novel’s approach to depression felt so familiar– before choking out a cuss and Googling Michel Foucault.
Before tonight I hadn’t reread Foucault in at least three years, so I hope all the English majors will forgive me for the simplification; basically, he glued together the Deconstructionist Movement by coming up with the idea that knowledge is only discussed by language; knowledge is created by language. Ideas do not exist until we put them into words. Depression, like Lord Voldemort and Cher, is constructed by being named.
Ifemelu doesn’t call herself depressed. “Depression is what happened to Americans”. She was merely “a little tired and a little slow”.
Panic attacks have no name in Kinshasa.
Can you remember the word for “depression” in your native language?
Here’s the thing, though. You don’t have to say Lord Voldemort’s name for him to Avada Kedavra you straight to hell. You don’t have to say the word “depression” out loud for it to knock you on your ass. Refusing to give a title does not negate the symptoms. I think most of us learn this the hard way. I definitely did.
Ignoring the label isn’t doing us brown folk any favors and being denied the label can devastate the course of someone’s life. So while we honor Rosa Parks and demand the protection of black bodies, let’s also demand the value of black souls. Your mind matters, too.
Watch a video about Michel Foucault and quote his crazy ideas impress your professors or that one pretentious asshole at your friend’s Christmas Cookie Decorating party. Read Americanah as soon as possible. Tip your waiters, support your local book stores, and comment below, or Santa will stuff your stocking with coal and toothpaste.
(Okay, he probably won’t do that. But you should still comment, y’know, just in case).