Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cares deeply about American politics, not only because of the years she’s spent here.
“What happens in America, just by virtue of being really the most powerful country in the world, will in some ways affect other people who are not necessarily Americans,” the Americanah author and 2008 MacArthur Grant recipient tells PEOPLE.
Adichie, who splits her time between the States and Nigeria, has been profoundly frustrated by the news coverage of the 2016 election. “It’s sad reputable media houses have to say things like, ‘We have to make sure that President Obama did not found ISIS,'” she says. “There’s a part of me that wishes that Hillary Clinton had a proper opponent that she could really debate. It’s a disservice to her intelligence.”
When she talks to Nigerians about the election, they are largely “baffled” by the violence, vitriol and slur-laden chants that erupt at Trump rallies. (“My friends say, ‘Now the Americans can’t tell us anything about our elections.’ “)
Equally troubling to Adichie is how we talk about Clinton, both at rallies and in the news, and the extreme scrutiny of her personality.
“People complain about Hillary not being charismatic, or say that she’s robotic – I think it’s her reaction to how she’s been treated, and a large portion of that treatment has been because she’s female,” Adichie says. “There’s a lot of talk about, ‘Oh, Hillary Clinton is so disliked.’ And I just keep thinking, ‘Well, she’s won all of these elections. Why are we not asking the question of who likes her and why she’s liked?’ ”
She adds, “I think the world in general, both men and women, has complicated feelings about women in authority and women in power. They say she doesn’t smile, they say she should laugh. There’s a lot that goes into the way that the public engages with her that would not happen if she weren’t a woman.”
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The author’s 2013 TEDx talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” which was sampled on Beyoncé’s song, “Flawless,” examines the ways the construction of gender continues to shape how we are perceived and how we act, a theme she contends with often in her work. In a June short story for The New York Times Book Review called “The Arrangements,” Adichie digs deeper into Trump’s relationship to women, focusing on his family. Her protagonist is Melania Trump, and the fictional story plays out over a day of Melania preparing for a dinner party, interacting with his daughters Tiffany and Ivanka and texting Donald.
“I don’t think [Trump] thinks of women as full and equal beings, so I wanted to kind of poke fun of that. It’s the women in his life who have their own motivations, who kind of humor him, and who know him more than he thinks he knows himself,” she says.
On a more public scale – and outside of the realm of fiction – Trump’s controversial comments about women, Adichie fears, have had a normalizing effect.
“I think it’s perfectly fair to disagree with Clinton on her policies. But to call her a bitch? To talk about her being murdered? Even to talk about her personal life and her marriage, I just find it deeply misogynistic,” Adichie tells PEOPLE. “And it’s not just making others to be comfortable in their misogyny – what it does is that it gives them an opportunity to say, ‘It’s not because we’re misogynistic. It’s not because she’s a woman.’ And that’s even more troubling.”
On Friday, Adichie will deliver the keynote speech at the U.N. World Humanitarian Day’s “One Humanity” event, which will include performances and speeches from Game of Thrones‘ Natalie Dormer, Hamilton‘s Leslie Odom Jr. and The Voice winner Alisan Porter. Her talk will touch on the current, often dehumanizing conversation surrounding refugees and immigrants.
“I think people who are spoken of as refugees and immigrants are often spoken of as problems, as terrorists, rapists. There’s a point where this kind of discourse dehumanizes them, to where we don’t remember how we are like them,” she says. “We don’t remember that we, too, could be them. It’s a very short talk, but it’s an opportunity to talk about how it’s important to remember the humanity of people we speak about only as refugees and immigrants.”