It is a truth generally acknowledged that the people you love and respect will soon come to disappoint you. It’s a pattern on social media that if a celebrity or known figure who is progressive and exemplary, says or does something, well, not very progressive, he/she becomes a target of abuse, or at the very least disappointed twitter threads. And then, just as quickly, legions of fans, who follow them, come to their defence, which creates a locked battle of picking sides. Social media has given us many good things; I find this not to be one of them.
More recently my problematic fave was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her controversial comments disavowing postcolonial theory during a recent interview had many critiquing her for it and many others defending her view. It is not the first time that a celebrity - which is the culture Adichie has been steeped in since her rise to fame - wanders into territory they aren’t equipped to navigate or discuss in a nuanced manner. So, in a sense, one might suggest her misstep was not such a big deal considering that she started a conversation on the subject in the end.
The fact that your fave is problematic isn’t a big deal?- all our faves are problematic -?the big deal is if we ignore it. But, of course our problematic faves are a touchy subject because there’s so much emotion involved, and it’s harder to call them out when they occupy the sphere Adichie does. Our reluctance to have an honest conversation about the flaws of celebrities we love stems from the simple fact that we see ourselves in them, and for many who remain on the fringes of representation – African black women who are feminists – we have crowned them our spokesperson whether they have accepted this role or not. In the words of Bwesigye bwa Mwesigire: “To be a fan of someone, of something, is a terrible thing. It is an obsession which disregards the person, the thing, one chooses to be a fan of. A person says I am not a scholar, I am not a theorist, but no: we are your fans, we decide that you are a scholar, a theorist”, this sentiment extends to all our faves.
Our problem started when we projected our dreams onto loving Adichie the symbol, rather than her books, and things got complicated. If your favourite smart, talented, successful public figure can be classist, sexist or dub in colourism – practically most of our favourite singers - then what does that say about you? Well, it says that you can be these things. In this moment, my feminism doesn’t mean that I haven’t internalised some misogynistic views; it means that I recognise it and do better by unlearning them. The work of imagining new futures and representation does not belong to a few spokespersons. Perhaps it’s time that we accepted that the fans will be the ones to change their own world and create new possibilities. It takes the pressure away to stick up for people. Adichie is far from perfect, she’s human after all, and I will always call her out because of the power she holds and because I know she can do better. But for now she’s all I’ve got and that still means something.