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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[…]

Just as Africa is often looked at a homogenous whole, Black America is too often described as a uniform identity.


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Question: Is "Black America" misunderstood?


Uzodinma Iweala: I think yes, there is a way that society looks at “Black America” or Black Americans as just this one thing. I don’t think there is enough understanding of how diverse Black America actually is. You know I could list a number of incidents that would suggest . . . you know that . . . It’s the same way that people actually treat Africa, you know, to a certain extent. People just think Africa is this one thing. So if you’re from Nigeria, then you’re the same as somebody from Kenya; not realizing that within Nigeria, right, we have 250 different ethnic groups, right? Two hundred and fifty different languages. And it’s the same here in the United States. I mean okay, so everybody speaks English; but being Black American isn’t the same thing for everybody. And I think the fact that that doesn’t get as much play, and that doesn’t get acknowledged as much in this society is to the detriment of both Black Americans and the society as a whole. So I think . . . I mean I think that definition needs to be changed. I think that attitude and idea needs more . . . needs to be blown open a bit more and needs to be explored. And I think you see it happening more and more these days. But I still think there is this general attitude that, oh, it’s just this set of people. It’s this . . . you know, like they all behave the same. They all act the same. They all . . . You know and things have changed, and are changing and are getting better. But I still think there’s that attitude that needs to be attacked and blown open.


Question: How would you descrive your experience as a Black American male?


Uzodinma Iweala: I really don’t like questions like that, but . . .  I mean because I would experience . . .  I would describe my experience in the states as a person before anything else – a person who happens to be these different things.  And so I don’t . . . I don’t know that there’s actually an answer to that question that would be fulfilling.  So I think I’m just gonna skip it.


Recorded on: 10/7/07



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