“Everyday Use” is set in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a tumultuous time when many African Americans were struggling to redefine and seize control of their social, cultural, and political identity in American society. There was also a greater attempt to recognize the contributions that African Americans had already made in America’s long history. At the time, both scholars and laypeople became interested in unearthing and reexamining the African American past. They were particularly interested in the aspects of African heritage that had survived centuries of slavery and were still present in African American culture. During this time, many blacks sought to establish themselves as a visible and unified group and take control of how their group was named. Black (and later Afro-American) replaced the term Negro, which took on offensive associations. Many black Americans, uninspired by a bleak history of slavery in North America, looked to their African roots in an effort to reconnect with their past.
The time period in which “Everyday Use” takes place was also an era when groups of all ideologies—some peaceful, some militant—emerged. The Black Panthers and Black Muslims were groups created to resist what they saw as a white-dominated society. Dee is possibly emulating the Cultural Nationalists, artists and writers who wore flowing robes and sandals and emphasized the development of black culture as a means of promoting freedom and equality. Walker may have created Hakim-a-barber with this new, younger, more militant generation in mind. When Mama describes the Muslims who live down the road, who lead a labor-intensive life, Hakim dismisses their hard lifestyle. He is unwilling to commit to the hard work of the cause and faith he claims to embrace. Ultimately, Walker’s story is a critique of individuals who misapplied or misunderstood some of the ideals that black consciousness groups promoted during that time.
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