“It Is Obscene.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Pens Scathing Essay, Calling Out Her Detractors And The Cancel Culture

“It Is Obscene.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Pens Scathing Essay, Calling Out Her Detractors And The Cancel Culture

Following her BlackBox interview where she promised that she was “preparing a call-out speech where I’m going to name names of people who’ve told lies”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has written a detailed essay that not only blisters two of her most prominent detractors but calls out the conduct of young people on social media “who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion”, who she says are part of a generation “so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow”.

Titled It Is Obscene, the essay was published by the renowned novelist and feminist on her website on Tuesday night. It attracted so much attention that her website temporarily crashed.

The essay goes into her interactions with two unnamed writers who attended Adichie’s Lagos writing workshop. Both later criticised her on social media for her comments about transgender people and feminism in a 2017 Channel 4 interview, saying “a trans woman is a trans woman”.

At the time, Adichie rejected the claim that she did not believe trans women were women, saying: “Of course they are women but in talking about feminism and gender and all of that, it’s important for us to acknowledge the differences in experience of gender.”

Adichie was subsequently named in the author biography of the first novel by one of the writers. Quoting from emails sent at the time, Adichie’s essay recounts how she asked for her name to be removed from the book, detailing further attacks on social media and how “this person began a narrative that I had sabotaged their career”.

Last year, the non-binary transgender author Akwaeke Emezi tweeted that two days after their novel, Freshwater, was published, “[Adichie] asked that her name be removed from my bio everywhere because of my tweets online. Most were about her transphobia.”

Adichie writes in her essay that she was “very supportive of this writer”, because she believed that “we need a diverse range of African stories”.

“Asking that my name be removed from your biography is not sabotaging your career. It is about protecting my boundaries of what I consider acceptable in civil human behaviour,” writes the author of Half of a Yellow Sun.

Following the furor caused by the essay’s publication, Emezi posted a video on Instagram which partially responded to Adichie’s essay. “I am not going to read what home girl wrote and do like a blow-by-blow rebuttal of it, because I am not even going to read it. Because it doesn’t affect my life,” they said. “I am just going to poke my head in, remind us that we matter, that we are important, that our worlds are fucking bigger than anything that these people can ever imagine and that we don’t ever have to be legible to them. We don’t have to be validated by them.”

However, in spite of their stance that they would not respond to Adichie’s explosive essay, Emezi went on to post a series of rants on their Instagram stories, doubling down on her claims that Adichie is transphobic and never addressing the claims of their dishonesty and betrayal made in the essay.

The other writer whose betrayal Adichie also addressed was “welcomed” into the novelist’s life, according to Adichie’s essay, but after the criticism of Adichie’s comments, she “publicly insulted” Adichie on social media.

“It is a simple story – you got close to a famous person, you publicly insulted the famous person to aggrandize yourself, the famous person cut you off, you sent emails and texts that were ignored, and you then decided to go on social media to peddle falsehoods,” writes Adichie.

Adichie finishes her essay with a criticism of “certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop”, describing as “obscene” their “passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship”.

Writers are self-censoring to meet the demands of those who are “monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy,” she says, taking to task the cancel culture prevalent on social media. Everyone is under pressure to “denounce [their] friends for flimsy reasons in order to remain a member of the chosen puritan class.”

“We have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow,” Adichie wrote. “I have spoken to young people who tell me they are terrified to tweet anything, that they read and reread their tweets because they fear they will be attacked by their own.”

Worst of all, cancel culture dehumanises us, Adichie writes. “The assumption of good faith is dead. What matters is not goodness but the appearance of goodness. We are no longer human beings. We are now angels jostling to out-angel one another. God help us. It is obscene.”

It Is Obscene is surely a powerful and important read.

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8 Comments

  1. Swan Dagger
    June 17, 07:45 Reply

    This is my 2 cents….Trans women are women no doubt BUT you truly cannot compare the struggle of a biological woman to a transwoman. Both world are separate.

    Imagine your parents not allowing you to progress in life just because you are a girl child?

    Imagine being exchanged for money to perverted old men in the name of marriage ..

    Imagine being told specifically you cannot do certain things because you don’t have a penis..

    Imagine going through PTSD or PMS “just because ” you are female.

    Imagine your loosing your beautiful curves to natures law of body changing once you give birth and your husband leaving you for better looking women even after birthing his children.

    Imagine your husband justifying his promiscuous lifestyle by saying your vagina is not tight like it used to be before you gave birth.

    What of the barbaric societal expectations?

    What about being denied your basic rights even at a work place just because you are a woman?

    In my opinion, the gay men, Trans women and biological women are all in different boats but on the same sea. The storms don’t care which boat is which…it would SHAKE you and cause your head to bump into wood …mhen…you may even fall off your boat and drown if not careful.

  2. Mitch
    June 17, 10:10 Reply

    CNA said everything that needed to be said.
    Now, may we share the grace in fellowship?

  3. Big Bad Judy
    June 17, 11:51 Reply

    In CNA’s essay, where she talked about people’s fear of contributing online made sense to me, because I’ve been in that fearful position several times, not because I wanted to say something silly, but because people are so reactionary on Twitter, including Nigerian feminists. Many of them don’t read theory and that hinders their development. Their experience as women in enough to be feminist. They don’t need to do research to understand misogyny, but the thing with personal experience is that if you solely dwell on it, it’ll prevent you from seeing what’s happening to other people.
    The structure of patriarchy, makes it for oppression to occur in different aspects. Women and queer people suffer under it and because of this, feminism (which is the fight against the oppression) becomes intersectional. It cuts across everyone, so you need to welcome others, and this is where many Nigerian feminists fail. They simply don’t want to give room, even though we all suffer the same enemy. I’ve always wanted to talk about this, but then many people will rather react negatively. The optics doesn’t help either-i’m a man, and even though I’m a queer man, I haven’t come out of the closet lol so there’s that. You become afraid to raise this issue. Its absolutes on that damn app. Even I am guilty of this sometimes. On different topics, I’ve worked with absolutes and thrown away nuance/complexities and I’ll work on this.

  4. Big Bad Judy
    June 17, 11:57 Reply

    We’ve created a mess in what should’ve otherwise been a ground for progress. However sha, there are people who are fearful because their opinions are trash-queerphobic. They’re afraid to express because they don’t want to offend “LGTV” people. A motherfucker will tweet incendiary shit and someone will be in the comments, talking about “they’re coming for you o…RIP to your mentions” etc. Let them remain fearful all their lives, because queer people dragging pieces of shit in the quoted replies, is the very least we can do to these people. In the end, I hope we’re able to fix some of these things, and I also hope CNA can unlearn her transphobia, and not simply gloss over it, like she did in the essay.

  5. S.Freude
    June 19, 01:47 Reply

    Lol….a bit surprised people are actually looking at this issue dispassionately. Unfortunate that when engaged intelligently people would sidestep the issue and focus of the dust just to cause distractions. Nothing justifies abominable human behaviour. Nothing justifies an exploitative approach to human “friendships”/interactions. Nothing justifies your moral bankruptcy. And nothing justifies your lack of a moral compass.

    It is both unfortunate and telling that people will lie and skirt and abuse just to get their way, push their agendas and achieve Twitter fame. That you possess a certain fandom of depraved unquestioning non-critical humans does not mean that the majority of people will not see the depravity that is your character.

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