The relationship between Dike and Ifemelu greatly intrigued me throughout the reading of Americanah, particularly as both Ifemelu’s and Dike’s worlds evolved and changed. Upon a visit, when Ifemelu is picking Dike up from the bus stop, she notices that “there was a guardedness on his face, something close to sadness” (226 Adichie). As Ifemelu presses Dike to connect, she discovers that Dike was denied the use of sunscreen at his camp trip, being told that his black skin “didn’t need it” (226 Adichie). Clearly, Dike feels excluded and hurt, and Ifemelu is left rushing words together in an attempt to explain or offer any help to his discomfort, and hurriedly promises to buy him his own personal sunscreen. Dike merely looks up at Ifemelu and says, “I just want to be regular” (267 Adichie). These words of Dike ripped to my heart, his shrugging shoulders characterizing an image of sorrowful rejection. To be human is to have experienced rejection, and as a reader, this was an extremely identifiable place in the text. Adichie not only exposes a powerful moment of “othering,” but she packs Dike’s words with pregnant emotion that communicate a strong desire to belong.
Belonging is a key theme for this whole text, one that definitely pokes it’s nose out here – belonging in America, in a foreign country, in one’s family, at work, in relationships, and with ourselves. Dike’s words resurrect something primal, his desire for acceptance and affirmation a familiar groan. Yet Ifemelu still goes out and purchases him the sunscreen, only to later find it “lying on his dresser, forgotten and unused” (267 Adichie). This forlorn tone reminds us as readers that it was never about the actual sunscreen, left abandoned; for Dike, it was about acceptance among his peers and the group.