Dear Chinua Achebe, week after week, the cover of The New York Times looks like a tattered mosaic, covered with photos of us, the American people protesting and crying out for injustice with red and black marked signs reading “Mike Brown: America is racist,” and “Trayvon Martin: Stand up for racial justice.” Mr. Achebe, please hear me, African colonization is over, but racism has yet to end. In all honesty, your book, Things Fall Apart, was something that I had on my dusty shelf for the past five years. It was brand new, and you could smell that new book scent, even five years after it was bought. “It’s an amazing classic,” my mother used to say. Yet I never bothered to pick it up; instead I played video games on my iPod. I had been ignorant: the same kind of ignorance the Commissioner had to the Igbo people’s culture.
I was finally forced to read Things Fall Apart in African History class. It was just another book, just another classic. I went in thinking that I would skim some chapters, underline some random sentences, and then put the book back on the shelves. I mean, it was just another required school reading assignment. I was wrong. I began to comprehend the horrors of the ignorance of the European colonizers. The entire culture of the Igbo people was beginning to “fall apart,” yet the Europeans did not care about their culture and continued colonizing.
Great relief struck me in the final chapter when I realized that colonization was over. Today, this kind of horrific ignorance did not happen. That’s where I was wrong yet again. Colonization may have ended, but racism has yet to end. Even at school, we see boys and girls like Okonkwo, brave and powerful, who are bullied by others because of his or her skin color. When looking for jobs we see men and women of color be put down and disrespected like the six tribe leaders who were led in and abused by the Commissioner and his men.
Today, we see injustice everywhere, like when the white men completely ignored the Igbo culture and took over the tribe. Mr. Achebe, today’s racism not only encompasses African-Americans, it has enveloped the Asian, Hispanic and other cultures as well. I can recall a time when boys who I thought were my friends made fun of my eyes and the color of my skin. They yelled that I studied too much and that I shouldn’t be playing basketball or sports at all. But like the Igbo people, I didn’t stand up for myself. I stood back in fear that they would hurt more. Mr. Achebe, should I have acted like Okonkwo? Should I have fought back, displaying manliness? Would they have received the message?
Mr. Achebe, is this what we need? Do colored men and women need to stand up with violence like Okonkwo? What is it that we need to end racism?
Today, I saw pictures about cars being burnt down and buildings torn by protestors in the Ferguson area, demanding justice. I immediately realized that this was what Okonkwo would do. An urgent reaction would have been instigated against the whites and things may have stayed together, instead of falling apart.
The culture may have stayed stable. But is this what we need Mr. Achebe? Slowly, things may be falling apart right before our eyes, my eyes. And I am just standing here like the scared Igbo people. I am standing here noticing injustice, but not acting against it. I am standing here watching racism gradually evolve into acceptance. Okonkwo would not have acted like I. Okonkwo would have fought back. But is that the best method? Mr. Achebe, when things are falling apart, how should you act?
Joonho Jo, a tenth grader at Philips Exeter Academy, wrote the New Hampshire Level III (grades 9-12) winning letter to Chinua Achebe for 2015. “Letters About Literature,” is a reading, writing programme of the Centre for the Book in the Library of Congress; New Hampshire State Library, USA.


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