Feb 9, 2012
Illusions of Power
It is horrifying to see one’s country lose itself to the fiery chaos of war, but it is perhaps even worse to see the same happen due to the silent suffocation of losing one’s own cultural identity. The loss of one’s cultural identity and its replacement of a colonizer’s cultural identity, as was the case in postcolonial Africa, is a result of a society lacking conviction in itself and too much faith in others. This is what Amardeep Singh writes about in “Mimicry and Hybridity in Plain English”, and is what the narrator in “Everything Counts”, by Ama Ata Aidoo, experiences first hand. Cultural mimicry in Africa was a side effect of having one’s culture suppressed for years by a seemingly more powerful and advanced culture, and the act of mimicking one’s colonial masters was an almost subconscious attempt at bridging the supposed gap between the powerless native culture and the dominant colonizer culture. The events in “Everything Counts” highlights the importance of the poisonous effects mimicry has on a native culture, and provides a perfect case study for the lens of Singh’s words on the subject by showing first-hand what happens when a culture loses faith in itself.
“Everything Counts” starts with the narrator, a young African woman who specializes in economics, describing the current economic and cultural state of her home. It is here we see the results of colonization in an immediate sense. She mentions the cultural fad of wearing wigs in an attempt to look more like white girls, but she treats the issue as a minor one, almost a joke. More important to her is the economic state of the country, she mentions “people at home scrambling to pay exorbitant prices for second-hand clothes from America” (Aidoo 1) and how people buy second hand items from someone else’s junk yard. Aidoo is telling us that this country has become one of consumers, not producers. The effects of international commerce and cultural mimicry have led to people only wanting to buy goods from other countries instead of producing goods themselves. This is the result of the loss of a sense of one’s cultural importance. However, the narrator makes a point of trying to focus the attention of her fellows onto the economic and political problems of the country while her brothers see more importance in the cultural effects of the wigs. They mention that the wigs are of significance “because it means that we have no confidence in ourselves” (2). The narrator scoffs at the notion that something like a wig is important in rebuilding her country, chiding her brothers for centering their efforts on such a seemingly unimportant matter such as women wearing wigs. This casual disregard towards something that serves as an indicator of an entire culture amplifies the message that Aidoo and Singh write about, that cultural mimicry is seemingly harmless, but in fact is of dire importance when trying to rebuild one’s nation. The narrator focuses so much on the superficial wounds of the country that she is blind to the cancer that lies in the heart of the nation. As the narrator puts it, “the wig was, after all, only a hat” (3), just an inconsequential triviality.
The wig becomes an almost unholy symbol of cultural mimicry to the narrator as the story goes on, infusing itself into every aspect of the native cultures of Africa. The wig goes from an almost humorous fashion trend to a natural occurrence in daily life. “From the air-stewardesses to the grade-three typists in the offices, every girl simply wore a wig” (3), the narrator notices it more and more, an unusual aberrance that becomes commonplace right before her eyes. The wigs went from semi-subtle to existing “blatantly, aggressively, crudely” (Aidoo 3), the narrator refers to the wave of light-skinned mimicry as a “plague”. The narrator is confused by the wig obsession, still clinging to the notion that the “masks” all of her kinswomen wore were...