Today's Required Reading: Binyavanga Wainaina

I just read Binyavanga Wainaina, “How to Write About Africa,” at Granta 92. I dig this essay, but what do you all think?

[Addendum: YouTube of Djimon Honsou reading Wainaina's essay here.]

I am reminded of Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, which is the story of the African “family” of Nettie, Celie’s sister in The Color Purple. As you know, Celie had been told her sister Nettie was dead, though Nettie had been writing to Celie for years, and these letters had been withheld and hidden from her by Mister, Celie’s abusive husband.

In truth, Nettie had gone to Africa with an African American missionary couple. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker’s Africa is a monolithic body. The young African woman Tashi, of the Olinka tribe, has undergone genital mutilation, and she now lives in America. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read the novel, but I remember Walker’s tone being definitively one sided. All around, in other words, the tradition of female genital mutilation was oppressive, and this had much to do with taking away a mutilated woman’s ability to experience sexual pleasure. There is truth here, but I am also sure the issue has more dimensions to it. It’s akin to us “progressive” American women unilaterally imposing our ideas of feminism and judging the Muslim woman’s veil as total oppression when we know little to nothing of the traditions and experiences involved.

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