So, Alice Walker is in the news this week, and not for penning her next pro-black, pro-female tome against oppression. In The New York Times Book Review Sunday, she endorsed “And the Truth Shall Set You Free,”a book by British conspiracy theorist David Icke. Now, everyone is going nuts.
Many critics say that Icke’s book positions Jews and Jewish organizations at the center of a conspiracy to run the world. There’s also some politics in the mix as it relates to the situation in Palestine. So, how can the beloved author of “The Color Purple,” a female writer whose legacy was assured in the halls of literature, promote such crap?
Let’s unpack that shall we?
Alice Walker is a famous black woman. She is not, however, perfect. She can make mistakes, have screwy ideas, say silly things, read crap and enjoy it. The problem is not that she endorsed a controversial book. As objectionable as it may be, people can read and discuss whatever they want. This is America. It’s up to us to believe what they say or not.
And that whole thing about people may believe it, so we can’t feed them certain things? Must we always play down to the lowest common denominator? Yes, people can be stupid, but to censor each other because the general population may or may not be understand what you think is right or wrong is wrong. It’s also undemocratic.
The problem is that someone put this famously talented black woman into a rather simply constructed box marked ‘woke.’ Woke is not a zero sum game. People are complicated. One person can hold more than one nuanced perspective about people and about life.
If I didn’t know a little bit about neuroscience and how the brain works – feel free to insert a joke here about how all anyone knows about the brain is a little – it might baffle me that people want to package each other into these neat little categories, not allowing any room for deviation, error or the absurd.
That’s particularly relevant when you’ve reached a certain level of notoriety in society. Don’t be black on top of that, and you damn well better not be female on top of that. It’s like a trifecta of ‘I’ve got you all figured out, and how dare you display any characteristics that suggest I don’t understand you completely?’ Because if I don’t understand you, then my conclusions about you may be wrong. Therefore, my efforts to control you are wrong, and the infrastructure or foundation I set up to control you and anyone who looks like you may start to sway in the next strong breeze.
Society wants things to be easy, and the people in it want things to be even easier. They want to be able to explain things, slot people where they want them to fit. When you do something outside of the boundaries society has given you, it’s like, how dare you? Who do you think you are?
I can answer that: You are a fully formed, 360-degree person who is capable of complex thought and action, and you are as likely to make mistakes, commit errors in judgement or piss people off as anyone else.
I’ll give you an example. My mother is knocking 80. As a black woman she’s lived through things I can’t even imagine, but she has a serious problem with Hispanic people. She can’t stand them. She called me up when that little girl died in confinement recently and went on a rant about how she might not agree with most of what that person in the White House does, but he got those camps right.
She went on and on about her taxes being spent for illegal immigrants, and it’s the parents’ fault for taking the risk to come over here, and this and that and the other. If I hadn’t heard it all before, I’d have been shocked down to my drawls at the bias, prejudice and racism that was coming out of her mouth.
But I didn’t say a word. Why? One, she’s my elderly mother. Despite some dodgy ass ideas, I’m not gonna throw the baby out with the bath water. Two, once you weed them out of the vitriol, she did have a point or two. Three, she’s not going to change, and she’s not going to listen. So, there’s no point in me trying to explain how incredibly retarded it is for her old, black, female self to be so angry about the existence of another minority group.
By the same token, it’s not for me to start carrying a torch or bend myself into a pretzel trying to explain why Alice Walker wants to hold David Icke’s work up to the light. She’s entitled to think and believe what she likes, right? Just as we, her fans, her critics, and the people who support or do not agree with her position, are entitled to say, no Alice. I’ll pass on that book, and now I’m not too sure about your work either.
She wrote a post on her website in response to the hubbub over the New York Times Book Review interview, and of Icke she said, “I do not believe he is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish. I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead. Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him. As a woman, and a person of color, as a writer who has been criticized and banned myself, I support his right to share his own thoughts.”
At face value, this makes sense. I wholeheartedly support the idea that a person be fearless in speaking their understanding of the truth, and fight against others efforts to censor their beliefs. But that is a two-way street. Why? There are good beliefs and bad ones. A man or a woman, a black person or a white one, a racist and a non-racist can hold this exact same philosophy.
Walker may have shocked people, tipped her hand, revealed her true self or what have you. But ask yourself why just because this woman wrote a certain book, she can’t also have other potentially conflicting beliefs? Let’s not assume that because she’s black or because she’s a woman that she can’t think a certain way, good, bad, or ugly.
Being political, black or female or gay or religious or any other dimension of diversity you might attach to someone, does not mean that person is exactly what you see or what you believe they should be. That one or two-dimensional thinking can be dangerous not to mention extremely irritating because when you act on it, you do those of us forced to dwell in – and continuously work to escape – those limiting buckets a criminal disservice.
One article I read suggested that publishing Walker’s recommendation of Icke under the guise of editorial neutrality was journalistic malpractice because people might believe it. Perhaps, but I already made my point about the dangers of playing to the lowest common denominator. Plus, reporting her words was accurate. That is what she said, and I’ve always believed it’s better to know who people are, or who they might be, than to remain in the dark.
Some would say it’s also wrong to publish or promote work from those who believe that black people are descendants of monkeys. That we’re stupid, hyper-sexualized and incapable of higher-level thought or best suited for sports and other physical activities versus intellectual ones. Or, that it’s wrong to publish work that suggests women are overly emotional and incapable of the rational thinking needed to excel in senior-level business roles. Perhaps. But it’s been done – even though it’s bullshit – many, many, many times. Those are the battles we have to fight, and we have the exact same weapons as our enemies.
Walker is one person. However amazing “The Color Purple” is, she is not God. Nor is she a representative for all women, all Black people, all fiction writers, or all anything. Let’s not give her more power than she deserves.
At the end of the day, if she feels completely comfortable recommending a book that suggests Jewish people are power hungry descendants of lizard people, I’m glad I know that about her. Aren’t you?