“Good Place” Chidi: An African Sellout
After three seasons, there is nothing African about GP Chidi. On the show, GP Chidi was born in Senegal to Nigerian parents. This is supposed to explain why he speaks both French and English. For some reason, he never mentions speaking Wolof or another language common to Senegal. He also does not mention speaking Igbo, despite being an Igbo Nigerian who grew up in West Africa. Granted, there are many people in Nigeria, unfortunately, who understand but not speak Igbo. But I would be content if Chidi recognized even pidgin English, a language common across West Africa with links to Jamaican patois.
Instead, he is a whitewashed version of an African man. As a philosopher, he only quotes Humes or Nietzsche and other European philosophers. I find it very colonial that despite growing up in Africa, Chidi does not mention an interest in African philosophies, oral traditions, or references to anything West African. Frankly, I would be content if he made passing references to growing up in Senegal (not “Africa” like so many Westerners say), I would love for him to make references to the jollof wars in West Africa, particularly since Senegal is home to the original jollof rice, called benachin. Instead, he seems like either completely colonized African or a white character with a Nigerian name. There is nothing Nigerian about him. I think it would be over the top to have a flashback of him at home with his parents having a big bowl of okra soup rolling balls of fufu. However, passing references to his African-ness are sorely needed, since right now he just comes across as the completely colonized African who has forgotten his roots. I mean, where are his sayings? Nigerians. always. have. sayings.
Perhaps Chidi’s character hits me harder because I am also the daughter of Igbo Nigerians who migrated to another country. Right now, I am multi-lingual, but they are all European languages that I could study at universities in the West. I like to think that if I had grown up in West Africa, my teachers would not have reprimanded my parents for speaking to me in Igbo. Instead, like many Africans, multi-lingualism would have been a part of my every day life growing up in a big city. Those things that I missed out reading “¿Sabías Que?” and having to “escolta e repeteix” in college would have come more naturally making trips to the market. He’s also nothing like real-life Chidi, who visits home regularly, fields calls from loving relatives, and will not get sold for a goat because he actually understands Igbo. By not referencing his non-Western roots, GP Chidi comes across as a “white-wannabe,” yet another African with colonizer dreams, an African sellout.
I’m certain that the issues with Chidi’s character have nothing to do with William Jackson Harper, the actor who plays him. There is a whole structure of writers, consultants, production teams at NBC who decide what happens on the entire show and decide the trajectory of Chidi’s character. Unless NBC gets its act together and hires an actual African (and South Asian and Filipino) whom they do not tokenize and actually listen to, The Good Place will just be another good show. It has the potential to be a great one.
Until then, Chidi Osuji, you’re not missing much.