I just finished reading The Color Purple for the first time.
The timing is no mere coincidence.
Alice Walker is now getting some pretty bad press for her apparent endorsement of David Icke, a “professional conspiracy theorist” according to Wikipedia and whom critics call a Holocaust denier and anti-Semite, which of course he denies. But don’t they all?
Honestly, I haven’t read his stuff and know next to nothing about him. So I’ll leave it at that.
Now, Alice Walker, who until now has been regarded as a champion of human rights and Black feminism – at least to my knowledge, is being accused of being an anti-Semite herself. Of course, anyone who publicly supports BDS is leveled with this accusation. But that’s really not my point in writing this post.
I think that people who are accusing Alice Walker of being an anti-Semite, which she may well be, are missing a larger point.
This is an article I read earlier this morning that explains a little bit about Walker’s personal life that provides some insight. Walker was once married to a Jewish man, but was not accepted by her mother-in-law because of her blackness. When you have such a negative experience like that, it’s hard for a person to compartmentalize it. One bad experience can cloud a person’s judgement for his or her entire life. We all know people like this — and may ourselves be guilty of it as well, if we can truly be honest with ourselves. But being discriminated against by a fellow minority can be particularly hurtful (which also coincidentally happens to be a theme of the book). Minorities are supposed to be allies of one another, right? Often times, however, that is not the case. This experience with her mother-in-law may have affected Walker’s later views. I don’t know.
The author of the aforementioned article then referred to this problematic poem that Walker wrote a few years ago: It Is Our (Frightful) Duty To Study The Talmud. Beginning with describing her experience visiting Palestine, she then goes to examine the root cause of all (political) oppression of one group of people by another.
These are lines that stood out to me:
We must go back
As grown ups, now,
Not as the gullible children we once were,
And study our programming,
From the beginning.
All of it: The Christian, the Jewish,
The Muslim; even the Buddhist. All of it, without exception,
At the root.
While she may be blaming the Talmud or at least certain people’s interpretations of it to justify their political actions in Palestine, it is clear that Walker is not singling out any particular religion. The Rohingya. The Yazidis. The Roma. Tamilians in Sri Lanka. No religion is immune.
Having just read The Color Purple and its preface, which quite frankly, as a practicing Muslim, discomforted me and made not want to read the book, it’s more fresh in my eyes as to what the larger issue is: She’s against pretty much all organized religions.
“… perhaps it is the pagan transformation of God from patriarchal male
supremacist into trees, stars, wind and everything else, that camouflaged
for many readers the book’s intent to explore the difficult path of
someone who starts out in life already a spiritual captive, but who through
her own courage and the help of others, breaks free into the realization
that she like Nature itself, is a radiant expression of the heretofore
perceived as quite distant Divine.” (Preface, The Color Purple)
I think it’s quite clear that Walker is no fan of any of the Abrahamic faiths, which, let’s face it, refer to God as “He”. I’ve encountered many a Muslim feminist who have their own issues with Allah being referred to as “He”. I know this because I was one of them. But I also lacked a more nuanced understanding of the Arabic language at the time. Pronouns serve an important linguistic function, which as a writer I have come to appreciate. And honestly, Hajj has reoriented how I see things and has expanded how I view my faith.
Given Christian theology, it makes sense for Christians to refer to God as “He.” But it makes less explicit sense for Jews and Muslims (especially the many of us adherents who are not familiar with the complexity of Semitic languages). And so, orthodox Jews and traditional Muslims, particularly women, are put into this box they can’t really get out of by having to justify how they can be for gender equality and yet faithful to the traditional interpretations of their texts.
I mean, I have my own issues with the term feminism. Not the implicit concept, but how it’s interpreted and used in the contemporary context. I can’t get behind some of the Muslim women who argue wearing hijab is a feminist choice. In my opinion, it’s not. I see it as a command from God. And getting into why problematizes the basic premise of feminism: that men and women are equal in every which way. That may not be how the movement started, but it is how it’s been progressing. The fact of the matter is that in Islam, men are not required to cover their hair, but women are. Of course, there are plenty of Muslims who believe women are not required to cover their hair. But as a Muslim woman who does and has religiously-rooted reasons for continuing to do so, I risk being dishonest with my beliefs and myself if my primary concern is to appease mainstream society that is accepting of only a certain kind of Muslim.
Hajj has indeed changed me.
As I know, there are certain elements of one’s faith that can never be explained to someone who only views the empirical as truly valid.
To conclude this meandering of a post, we all see what we want to see.
The interpretation of any text will be imbued with the interpreter’s often times unexamined inclinations and beliefs, including his or her biases. I am not above that. But neither is Alice Walker or anyone else writing about her right now.