Saturday, April 19, 2008

Alice Walker Endorses Barack Obama

THIS ISN'T news. But I believe the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author's insight about Obama and his candidacy must be digested. In addition to her discussion above, she has written an open letter to her "Sisters who are brave" that first appeared in The Root and has been reprinted in the Guardian.

She opens "Lest We Forget" with a personal history of what race and class in the south looked like from her childhood eyes. What she saw wasn't pretty.

We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn't pay it to a nigger. That before she'd pay a nigger that much money she'd milk the dairy cows herself.

When I look back, this is part of what I see. I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me, and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school. Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick. We had no books; we inherited the cast off books that "Jane" and "Dick" had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter.


When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early twenties it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they'd always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their "democratic" right to vote. I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free.

You know exactly where she's going already, don't you?

I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans –black, white, yellow, red and brown - choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.

In many ways, it is a rebuttal to both Geraldine Ferraro and Walker's friend Gloria Steinem. Steinem insists that gender is "probably" the most restricting force in American life. That women are never front runners. Um. Okay. I guess that means Mrs. Clinton's inevitable nomination 15 months ago was simply a media creation. Guess she didn't hear Mrs. Clinton declare without equivocation, "I will be the nominee." Ferraro, the first woman to appear on a presidential ticket, said years ago that it would be easier for a woman to be elected president than a Black man because, like it or not, racism still existed.

But when Clinton failed to close down Obama on Super Tuesday, when Obama ran off 12 contests in a row and amassed an insurmountable pledged delegate lead, Ferraro changed her tune. Decided to exploit the racist attitudes she admitted still prevail in the minds of many. Mrs. Clinton changed her song as well and started to promote the idea that she was the victim of sexism and misogyny in order to appeal to the Sisterhood Walker is addressing. Now, according to Mrs. Clinton and Ferarro and Steinem, that Barack has benefited from his race. That he's an affirmative action candidate to rail against. If you're poor and white and bitter, that is. According to Ferraro, if Obama were white or a woman of any color he couldn't be where he is.

Once again, Walker disagrees and points out the forest of the trees:

When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.


It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as "a woman" while Barack Obama is always referred to as "a black man." One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.

Some have suggested that Walker has gone too far comparing Obama to Mandela. After all, Obama isn't even president yet. But her point has nothing to do with accomplishment and everything to do with spirit. Humanly stunning, she writes. Humanly stunning. A stunning use of language to describe a remarkable human being. The Hawaiians call it mana. Universal Power. "And the loving use of this incredible Power is the secret for attaining true health, happiness, prosperity and success."

That would seem to be what Walker sees in Obama, in Mandela, in Dr. King. The night of the Hawaii caucuses, a native Hawaiian said she saw it in Obama, too. And there's nothing insubstantial about it.

World leaders also see it, despite concerns about his inexperience. But the raw symbolism of Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States of America, would do wonders in restoring America's reputation around the globe. This is not lost on Walker.

I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton who would drag into Twenty-First Century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others' lives that has so marred our country's contacts with the rest of the world.

Such would also be the case with John McCain, warmonger of warmongers. A man with so litter respect for others not like him he still has no clue about the difference between Shia and Sunni.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Our time is now. We have a statesman in the body of a presidential candidate who so believes in the intelligence of the American people that he's willing to put his and his family's life on the line to lead us toward our aspirations instead of trying to snuff them out in the pursuit of power for power's sake. Willing to stand up for Unity. To denounce and reject division. This is our chance. Now is our time. We cannot wait.

We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time. One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth. Celebrate our journey. Enjoy the miracle we are witnessing. Do not stress over its outcome. Even if Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation. If he is elected however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination. And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for.