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Who's in the Video
Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision[…]

Iweala talks about the perspective his parents gave him as well as the duality of being a Nigerian American and a black American.

Question: How does your dual perspective inform your view of the U.S.?

Uzodinma Iweala: For me at least, I don’t take anything for granted is the way that I feel. Because you see . . . you see multiple ways of living. You see . . . your explicit . . . I think what happens here is that people get so used to this idea of . . . of . . . of America as a place where anything and everything should happen. And you know where . . . As Americans I think we’re a very entitled bunch. Or we, you know . . . And I think that’s . . . Having seen that that’s not the case around the world, you’re very aware of that. And I think everything here then takes on a new meaning. That’s not to say that . . . that . . . that . . . I mean like you know, when you say something like that, people tend to say, “Oh well you think you’re better than everyone else.” That’s not it at all. I mean I think everybody still falls into that. And I would say that I’m just as entitled . . . or I feel just as entitled and probably behave just as entitled as the next American, as the next person here. I think at the same time having the ability to step out, right . . . having the ability to be in another place and see how people perceive you as an American. And then not just see, but also actively participate in that perception of America is really . . . is a self-check. It’s a way of looking your behavior as a member of this particular society or this particular culture. And I think it leads to . . . For me at least, I feel like my life is completely enriched. I mean being Nigerian obviously, or being a Nigerian American also means that I am a Black American, which is also another set of perspectives. I mean obviously given the history that Black Americans have in this society, it’s different for me because I’m not . . . you know I’m not . . . my family doesn’t go generations deep here. But you still experience the same things, and you still have that . . . that outlook, and you still have that way of seeing how things are put together in this society. And I think, you know having . . . Again, being in a weird way also not really being in, because you’re part of this . . . of . . . you are a Black American, right? I am a Black American, but at the same time it’s a different version, right? And it’s a multiple . . . it’s a different version. It allows . . . I think having those different versions of being a Black American allows multiple perspectives and, you know, different analyses of what being a Black American means. I think all too often this society has too monolithic a definition of what a Black American is. And I think having . . . you know being a Nigerian American, being black, being African adds to that definition, at least in my own case, right? And I think it helps in the larger sense if, you know, for all the people who are Black Americans from this part of the country, or from that part of the country; if you’re a Ghanaian American; if you’re a Nigerian American; if you’re a Caribbean American; to add nuance and structure to that definition of Black American, and to allow people to see that it’s not just one thing. It’s not just one culture, but it’s a multiplicity of cultures. And that’s important both for the recognition of that set of people as full citizens and also for the . . . for the . . . for the country as a whole.

Recorded on: 10/7/07