In the mind of Alice Walker, women are not gifts to be prized or beheld.
Reading her work, I’m acquainted with a person who knew the objectification underlying the paltry praise women often receive from men. Especially when this praise — compliments about beauty, daintiness, or what have you — comes in lieu of true respect.
Over the weekend, I spent some time with Walker’s 1972 essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” There are passages in this essay that read like direct rebuttals to conservatives who say nothing is lost — and that in fact, much is gained — through the erasure of Black history and the suppression of Black stories. Particularly, Black women’s stories.
To me, that’s the conceit of efforts to ban books such as Walker’s “The Color Purple,” which include accurate portrayals of the abuse Black women endure from men but also the love these women develop for themselves and one another under the threat of this abuse.
That’s why she’s the focus on Day 4 of our “Black History, Uncensored” series.
Here, in “Gardens,” she writes about the indignity Black women face in not being allowed to live for self.
Did you have a genius of a great-great-grandmother who died under some ignorant and depraved white overseer’s lash? Or was she required to bake biscuits for a lazy backwater tramp, when she cried out in her soul to paint watercolors of sunsets, or the rain falling on the green and peaceful pasturelands? Or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more often than not sold away from her) — eight, ten, fifteen, twenty children — when her one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion, in stone or clay?
She soon makes the case that self-determination is not out of reach for Black women.
But this is not the end of the story, for all the young women-our mothers and grandmothers, ourselves-have not perished in the wilderness. And if we ask ourselves why, and search for and find the answer, we will know beyond all efforts to erase it from our minds, just exactly who, and of what, we black American women are.
Together, conservative bans on books and abortions pose a unique threat to Black women’s sense of self. Alice Walker’s work is like a road map to help them find it.
No wonder Republicans are so desperate to keep her out of classrooms.
Read previous “Black History, Uncensored” posts on Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kimberlé Crenshaw and bell hooks.