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Alice in Motherland: Reading Alice Walker on Africa and Screening the Color 'Black'

Oyeronke Oyewumi


“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first--verdict afterwards.” -- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In the imaginary worlds frequented by Alice, the sentence always precedes the verdict. And so it is that when mother Africa, without due process, was arraigned in the international court of Euro-American opinion, mama could not be anything else but guilty and guilty as presupposed. Africa’s fancied accuser was none other than the “Blameless Vulva,”1 which was presumed innocent. I am, of course, referring to African American feminist writer Alice Walker’s assault on Africans in the guise of an evangelizing mission to eradicate female circumcision in “Africa.”

In 1992, Walker published Possessing the Secret of Joy, a novel in which she purports to document the social practice of female circumcision in “Africa.” The novel is presented as part fiction and part fact; one could call it “factitious.” By the end of the book, however, there is no doubt that, for Walker, the story must be read not as a work of imagination but as a call to arms. In her final chapter, she addresses the reader and produces some “real” facts and statistics to undergird her tale of horror. Playing the evangelist, she even promises to use a portion of the royalties from her book “to educate women and girls, men and boys about the hazardous effects of genital mutilation” (285). How much more reality-based can one get?

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JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

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