Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reflections on Alice Walker and Haiti

While every person and every situation we encounter can be viewed as a teacher, clearly some stand out. Alice Walker is one of those teachers in my life, and my gratitude only deepens with time. I thank her for the term 'womanist,' one that I have taken on, instead of 'feminist,' to acknowledge my feminism as rooted in the African-American culture in which I've been raised. I thank her for taking on the hard stuff that so many people (whites and people of color) rather not take on in the space of their minds and daily lives. Many African-Americans, men predominantly, but not exclusively, disparaged her representation of a black man as physically and sexually abusive, in the Color Purple, particularly when it emerged on the screen. I've heard similar critiques about the film Precious. Back in the days when our only images in the media were that of buffoon, maid, and pimp, I too shared in this sense that our representations needed to be uplifting. But Alice is willing to say the hard stuff about destructive dogma and practices in the world and our backyards, sexism only one among them. And she does not stutter-step.
I remember how excited I was back in the 80's to get hold of her Spelman College Founder's Day speech about 'oppressed hair.' She spoke of her transformation into allowing her hair to be natural in its shape and texture. I shared it generously. I remember how profoundly sad I felt after reading Possessing the Secret of Joy, that pulled the drapes wide open on the magnitude of the oppression of women's sexuality. She blew me away in her essay, The Only Reason You Want to Go to Heaven is That You Have Been Driven Out of Your Mind, in which she affirms herself, straight on, as a pagan who sees Nature as God.
And now to my latest read, We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For, there is a line that stands out to me, one relevant to the recent imprisonment of American missionaries in Haiti.

"The colonizing mind invites itself wherever it wishes to intrude."

This line emerges as she speaks of NASA wanting to go to Saturn, "uninvited," but its relevance cuts across generations and geography. If it is true, that these missionaries gathered up children with no respect to whether they were orphaned, then we have a colonizing mind in play, the same kind that removed Native American, and Australian aborigine children from their families in the name of betterment. That betterment is an assertion of superiority, often based on identities of religion, culture, race or class. The colonizing mind does not distinguish between help and domination. Haitians, who have paid dearly for being the only Caribbean nation to militarily win their independence, have had enough domination.

Alice Walker, thank you for writing and living in ways that give me and others the courage to keep giving voice, to keep valuing our sensitivity to injustice, its nooks and crannies, even as the world tells us we're crazy or passe.

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  2. I too have read the “Oppressed Hair Puts a Ceiling on the Brain” writing by Alice Walker which was located in her Living by the Word: Selected Writing 1973-1987. I am always intrigued by her writing. One of the main statements made by Alice Walker was: “I realize I had never been given the opportunity to appreciate hair for its true self.” Since a child I was told nappy hair was bad hair. I had a perm to ensure my mother can easily maintain my hair. I wanted to look pretty and have beautiful long braids like the other girls. As I got older I realized that keeping my hair permed was a figment of ones imagination. Meaning straight permed hair was not the only type of hair to be viewed as beautiful. Natural is just as beautiful as any other hair. Society has this image of women that is false. Not every woman has the same type of hair or figure. We are all different and we should all appreciate natural at its best. I love my natural hair and will always appreciate and except my beauty in all aspects. I want to say thank you Alice Walker for inspiring me and expressing great literature.