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Analysis of Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo (Dee) in Everyday Use

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1250 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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Where Must One Fit

Analysis of Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo (Dee) in "Everyday Use"

What made the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 70s such a powerful force, and why did it start in the first place? Author Russell Rickford explains in "We Are an African People: Independent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination," what Pan-Africanism means. The definition consists of "rethinking African-American identity not in terms of being a minority or racial group, but as an African people." The movement was grounded in the importance of cultural rebirth to a people who were deemed unworthy of moral treatment, excluding them from the label of human. They did not know anything nor were aware about their African heritage. In Alice Walker's story "Everyday Use" she describes two sides of the same coin when it comes to heritage. Maggie, who stays at home with Mama and lives their heritage through traditions which are passed down. And Dee, who becomes enthralled with the concept of African-nationalism, practicing new habits which alter her psyche. This leads Dee to denounce her recent heritage, excluding Mama and Maggie for being uneducated and categorizing the objects used every day as "priceless" folk-art.

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With the fight for desegregation of schools and the civil rights movement of the 1970s, African-nationalism was born. This is the time period when Dee, who was college educated, where the trend originated, had a new-found outlook on her African roots. So much so that she changed her outward appearance and name. When Mama inquired on why she changed it to Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo, Dee simply replied with "She's dead. I couldn't bare it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me."(27) Perplexed by the concept of the name change, Mama told her she was named after her aunt Dicie and that 'Dee' was handed down through the generations. Wangero, getting tired of the conversation, jumped to the conclusion that somewhere down the line her ancestor was a slave to a white family and thus gave her a white name. Many outside sources such as The Nation of Islam encouraged Africans to abandon their 'slave names', their leader Elijah Muhammed writes "You must remember that slave-names will keep you a slave in the eyes of the civilized world today. You have seen, and recently, that Africa and Asia will not honor you or give you any respect as long as you are called by the white man's name."

Along with changing her name, Wangero's attire transformed as well. Straight hair, for Africans was a sign, another step towards assimilation into white society. Too more effectively exclude herself as an independent black woman Wangero grew out her afro. To Africans it was a symbol of defiance and repossession of her ancestral identity, embracing who they were naturally without being categorized as undesirable for their lack of straight fine hair.  She dressed herself in a long flowing bright dress that looked a lot like a traditional African garb and instead of saying "hello" she greeted Mama with the African term "Wa-su-zo-Tean-o." The introduction to the new and "improved" Dee attests to the psychological process of morally separating herself from the past generations and reclaiming her "Blackness." This includes wanting to take items from Mama's house in order to display them in a 'show and tell' way further amplifying what she had to overcome.

We are lead to question Dee's sincerity when it comes to the acquisition of the items. Mama, our narrator, reminds us on how Dee hated the childhood house they used to live in and was joyful when it burnt down. Dee was embarrassed by Mama and the house, not wanting to bring friends over for introductions. She also tells us that when Dee was first going away to college, she offered her the very same quilts she now wanted to take and cherish. At the time, Dee abruptly refused them claiming they are "old-fashioned, out of style." One can argue that the new-found appreciation for the family heirlooms is just part of the trend. That Dee can be seen as falsely affirming herself and becoming manipulated by the movement. Seeing that is it "cool" to have lived the struggle, that she came through by showing off her heritage through the art of hand stitched quilts made by her aunt. It seems as if she wants to gain respect from others following the movement by hanging and using these objects as art pieces rather than the circumstances onto why they were made. Furthermore, at the beginning of the story, she snaps a picture of Mama and Maggie on the front porch. This is done after Mama describes herself as a "large, big-boned women with rough, man working hands," one of the reasons why Dee never brought anybody over. This is done to further disrespect Dee's own childhood, using it as a sort of 'show and tell', objectifying Mama and Maggie grouping them in the same category as the quilts, perhaps because she has missed out on the struggle of her heritage not learning the traditions of her ancestors.

Dee, as Mama has lead us to believe, has never truly fit in. Always having her "style" even when she was young. Going away to college although has educated her academically, has left her out of learning the skills of her heritage like Maggie has. Quilting, field work, and all things Mama and Maggie have to deal with on a day to day bases is left untouched by Dee. This only solidifies Dee's longing to be part of a culture and heritage she may feel left out of.  She feels obligated to present herself as part of the movement with the objects she wants to display. An African-American woman taking back her 'black identity'. Trying so hard to claim the ranks on the social ladder leaves Dee unfeeling towards Mama and Maggie. This is especially seen when Mama refuses to give 'Wangero' the quilts. Dee storms out to the car saying "you don't understand your heritage."

Understanding the character of Dee is complex. Because of the time period, Dee seems to be manipulated into a movement. While it is just, Dee resents her childhood forgetting where she came from. This in turn, leads her to denounce her recent heritage, demeaning Mama and Maggie and trying to fit within this movement by displaying folk-art. It is sad to see Dee pitying them as she gets into the car saying to Maggie "It's really a new day for us. But with the way you and Mama live you'd never know it" just for one last verbal stab in defiance of her not getting her way. However, I end up feeling sorry for Dee, for within this new world she is living in, one must have asked the question 'where do I fit in?'

Work Cited

Christian, Barbara T. "'Everyday Use' and the Black Power Movement." 11th ser. (1944): n.pag. An Introduction to Fction. Web.

Baker, Houston A. "Stylish Vs. Sacred in 'Everyday Use.'" 11th ser. (1985): 466-468. An Introduction to Fiction. Web.

"In search of African America: One collector's experience. An exhibit at the Herbert Hoover presidential museum." 21 Mar. 2004. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

B. Glaser, Linda, and A&S Communications. "The Black Power Movement and Its Schools." N.p., 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

Franchi, Elena. What is Cultural Heritage? Khan Academy, 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

Makalani, Minkah. "Pan-Africanism." African Age. Rutgers University, 2011. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.


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