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2004-10-27

Alice Walker on the "Toxic Culture" of Globalization

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We hear a speech by African-American writer, poet and civil rights activist, Alice Walker speaking at the Black Women Writers Dissecting Globalization event in New York. Alice Walker is author of many books and essays, including The Color Purple, for which she won the Pulitzer prize. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: But right now, we’re going to turn to Alice Walker, looking at artists, actors who have become fiercely politicized in this time. Alice walker, who wrote the book The Color Purple. Her latest book is called Now is the Time to Open Your Hearts. She recently came to New York to be part of a conference sponsored by the Organization of Women Writers of Africa. It took place at New York University. This is Alice Walker.

ALICE WALKER: I want to tell that you three weeks ago I went down to my birthplace in Georgia. I was born in the middle of the deep, deep, deep countryside. Very beautiful. But I went because we had just discovered, someone in Georgia just discovered the grave of my great, great grandmother, Sally Montgomery Walker. She was born in 1861, she died in 1900. She was buried with four of her children, and she was in this forested area, and nobody had ever talked about how she died. She died very young. She was buried with four children, and there was no word of this in my family. My sense of it is that her ending was probably so bad, and there were a lot of endings that were bad in my family, and in the families of many people who were enslaved. She, of course, was born during slavery. But no word about what happened to her, what happened to her and her children. So, I went back to pay my respects and to take flowers, and I was lucky enough to be able to get my Ugandan roommate — when I was at Spellman my roommate was this wonderful woman from Uganda who made me care deeply about Africans and African women. In fact I went to Uganda trying to understand how Constance had been created and produced by this country which before Idi Amin was very beautiful, very tranquil and green. So anyway Constance and I and my entire women’s council — I belonged to a women’s council — went to visit this grave.

Now this part of where I grew up is like so much of the world. It’s being completely overrun by rich white people. So in order to get to this grave, we had to ask permission of these white people in their big, ugly house. As I was getting out of the car, carrying my bouquet of flowers, I mean, the whole armful of flowers, all of these — all of the women in my women’s council, all of us very, you know, clearly going to a place that means something to us. So, out of the house comes this Miss Somebody. And she has in her hand a flyer from The Color Purple film. And she honestly says, "Will you sign this?" So, we continued through her, and went on and did what we must do. We did what we must do. We must honor the people who have been before us. We must show them that we are here. We sat there — my Constance from Uganda, my friend Belvee from — I mean, so many of us with so many histories that are so painful. Belvee’s mother had been actually beaten to death. So, we had a long time of crying there. We watered those graves with our tears. We were happy to do it.

So, from this woman, from Sally Montgomery Walker, and Jim Walker, her father, who actually outlived her. In my family, we live to be a long time — we live to be really old. One of my great, great, great grandmothers lived to be 125. So, you know, just — we can outlive them. She outlived everybody who would have owned her. I’m just telling you these things to give you some idea who we are. We can live a long time. We better eat better. And exercise. So, anyway, this woman somehow produced eventually my father and my father and mother produced our family. My father was a sharecropper, my mother, too. Very poor. I was just thinking today, did I ever see a doctor? I only saw one, I think, in my entire childhood. Nobody could afford it. And this, you know, my father sometimes making as much as $300 a year, when they deigned to pay him anything, usually at the end of the year, they came and said, you owe me, or you have to move. And we moved every year.

So, this is to remind you, you know — this, what we have endured already, some of us, is what they plan for the rest of the world. This is it. This is it. Get really clear. This is a toxic culture. It is a culture that eats people, that eats beauty. It cannot live without feeding, and it is insatiable. It cares nothing for us, really. And it helps to really understand that deeply, deeply, deeply — to make women’s councils, to have groups of our own, to have places where we grow, where we are seen, where we are appreciated, and where we are loved. Just remember that this is a culture that we did not design. We did not design this. When you look at your TV, you will have some idea of the insanity of it. You know, until you are addicted then you think it’s sane, but really it is insane. It is an insane culture. And it’s very, very hard for us to thrive here. Very hard. But we have to. We have to thrive. We have to continue, partly because — -

Is that the sign of stopping? No? Oh. I just got a cell phone. It’s very miraculous. But the only problem with the cell phone, I think, is that the substance that is in it that makes it work is from the Congo. You know this already. I’m convinced that the grief that the people are suffering in the Congo as they rip off this material will end up really hurting us. So, be very careful. Use that thing very, very little. You know, very little. It cannot — something connected to such evil cannot be good for us. Really. So, I — there are a couple of other things I wanted to mention. I mean, I haven’t — I haven’t any notes. I just brought myself, and I figure, you know, this — this is it. Myself is it.

I was looking at a film earlier, and somebody was saying, well, what about Alice Walker and Audrey Laura and these white men. I thought, oh, honey, please. You know, can you believe that with everything that’s going on in the world, people really care who you sleep with? I mean, isn’t it just amazing?

But anyway, I wanted to mention one of the — one of the projects that I have given myself is to travel the world to see how the people are doing. You know? And I encourage that for Americans, because do you know there are only 14% of Americans have passports. And that’s one of the reasons when they see bombs falling on other countries, they don’t know what it’s falling on. They can’t make the leap. As sad as that is to think about, but we have to go. We have to travel. We have to travel to see the people. We have to remember that we are our country. You know, forget about being, quote, an American, big fat A, and acting that way, which is so horrible. You have ever been in places where you see Americans come trooping in, you know, wanting their burgers, and just making the people feel really, just like killing them? But we have to go. We have to go to see how the people are doing. So, in the last year, I have been to many places. I was in Cuba. The people are holding on. The people are carrying on. You know, they’re just amazing, in their tenacity and in their feeling about what it means to be human. I was in Hawaii, which I consider a country, not a state. And similarly to — similarly to my experience in Georgia, the white people are just basically taking over the place, and there was a woman — they had just snuck this huge house — they managed to build a huge house in this area, one of the last sacred Hawaiian places. And somehow they had done it. I think they had a painting of the landscape that they put up so people when they looked toward the ocean, they just see the painting, and they didn’t see this huge house going up. There’s a huge house now and that’s in everybody’s view. They all hate it, and plus, the house pad was laid out over 19 graves of Hawaiians. Now, Miss — Miss — Miss Carol, Miss whatever — Miss, you know — Miss. Miss says, now, the reason we moved here is because we love the multicultural diversity. Wait a minute, Miss is not done. Then Miss says, and because my house is going to be decorated in the Nepalese style, I think we will just fit right in. So, the people there are suffering. People are suffering. People are suffering deeply. The same displacement, the same people coming with no consciousness about where they’re going, who they are with, what the people are doing, what the whole thing is about. None.

And then I went to South Korea. That’s where the people, you know, when you see them, they are looking really good. They’re all, you know, — what happens when this country bombs other people and really makes them suffer for decades, you know later after they have beaten them to a pulp, they just give them stuff. Our taxes, but — so, they all have, you know, cars and gadgets and good schools, and, you know, all of the things that in the ghetto, you cannot find, really around here. So, it’s all there. On the other hand, they have incredible pollution because it all is just really fast. There’s not much planning. Then I went to a women’s island off the coast of South Korea, and they just discovered that when during the Korean war, when the US bombed as far down as Seoul and destroyed most of the city, they continued to an island that is now called Woman’s Island — Jeju Island — where apparently and they have just been able to talk about this, our government slaughtered 13,000 men on that island as communists. So that’s part of the reason it’s now a women’s island. You know, all of those men, whether they were communists or not, were wiped out. So, there’s all of that happening. But the part — and the feminists in South Korea are wonderful. They’re very strong. Very energetic. They almost wore me — I mean, I crawled back on that plane to come home because they worked me so hard, you know going around talking to people. But the part that was hardest for me to deal with, and this — you know, we really have to work so hard with our children, and part of it is trying to figure out how to raise them in a toxic culture without killing — you know, the culture killing them. So, in this place where all of the people have all of the gadgets, all of the cars and everything, they also have an incredible amount of plastic surgery. So that they are all trying to make their eyes round. They’re all trying to make their noses, you know, skinny. They’re all trying to do stuff to their cheeks. The feminists, you know, who are the ones who are holding the consciousness about this are just having a very difficult time, and in fact, the only reason this had become something of a thing was because there was a school for gifted children, and on the day that all these gifted children graduated, their parents took the entire class for plastic surgery. So — and then I was telling this to a friend, and he found out that these same plastic surgeons in South Korea now are being brought into China to work on their faces.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Walker, speaking at the Organization of African Writers, a conference held recently here in New York at New York University. This is Democracy Now!

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