Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alice Walker: The Color of the Bible in a Field Somewhere

A'kierra Smith introduced me to Alice Walker. Alice Walker introduced me to new ways to read the Bible. (A'kierra is not her real name, but she's quite real. We met as co-workers, our first job right out of college. Except she was making just $0.68 to my $1.00. She was more qualified at our work than I was. It may not surprise you to know that our boss, the one who hired us both, was white and heterosexual and male; and so am I. But A'kierra is not. She is not even a feminist; she's one who's found herself abandoned by majority feminists; she is a womanist, like Alice Walker).

I remember how encouraged A'kierra was to "finally" read the Bible "with real and honest eyes," encouraged by Alice Walker's book, The Color Purple. (This was after it had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award and before it was turned into a movie).

Read me some of it, I asked her. Why "the color purple"?

So she flipped a few pages and lent her voice to the following:
You saying God vain? I ast.

Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.
Then A'kierra lent me the book. I read (wondering if there was a way I could keep noticing, if I could keep on hearing A'kierra's and Alice's voices, the spoken musings of Celie and Shug and even Nettie and Sophia, talking about how the bible looks and sounds, when you're not a part of it really):
Then she say: Tell me what your God look like, Celie.

Aw naw, I say. I'm too shame. Nobody ever ast me this before, so I'm sort of took by surprise. Besides, when I think about it, it don't seem quite right. But it all I got. I decide to stick up for him, just to see what Shug say.

Okay, I say. He big and old and tall and graybearded and white. He wear white robes and go barefooted.

Blue eyes, she ast.

Sort of bluish-gray. Cool. Big though. White lashed, I say.

She laugh.

Why you laugh? I ast. I don't think it so funny. What you expect him to look like, Mr. ------?

That wouldn't be no improvement, she say. Then she tell me that this old white man is the same God she used to see when she prayed. If you wait to find God in church, Celie, she say, that's who is bound to show up, cause that's where he live.

How come? I ast.

Cause that's the one that's in the white foles' white bible.

Shug! I say. God wrote the bible, white folks had nothing to do with it.

How come he look just like them, then? Only bigger? And a heap more hair. How come the bible just like everything else they make, all about them doing one thing and another, and all the colored folks doing is gitting cursed.

I never thought bout that.

Nettie say somewhere in the bible it way Jesus' hair was like lamb's wool, I say.

Well, say Shug, if he came to any of these churches we talking bout he'd have to have it conked before anybody paid him any attention. The last thing niggers want to think aobut they God is that his hair kinky.

That's the truth, I say.

Ain't no way to read to read the bible and not think God white, she say. Then she sigh. When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. You mad cause he don't seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! Do the maor listen to anything colored say? Ask Sofia, she say.

But I don't have to ast Sofia. I know white people never listen to color period. If they do, they only listn long enought to be able to tell you what to do.
Now that you've listened a little to Alice Walker for yourself, let me remind you that she's influenced how I read the Bible. Except I don't remember ever telling you how. How some of us really do think our view of God in the Bible and our view of the Bible is more like us than some other folk. Alice Walker began showing me that, whoever we are, whatever our eye color, we read the Bible and about God in many degrees from the margins, from the outside, as outsiders, listening in. It's not necessarily an advantage to read yourself in the Bible as its central character.

In Anything We Love Can Be Saved, Alice Walker writes:
Looking back on my parents' and grandparents' lives, I have often felt overwhelmed, helpless, as I've examined history and society, and especially religion, with them in mind, and have seen how they were manipulated away from a belief in their own judgment and faith in themselves.

It is painful to realize they were forever trying to correct a "flaw"--that of being black, female, human--that did not exist, except as "men of God," but really men of greed, misogyny, and violence defined it. What a burden to think one is conceived in sin rather than in pleasure; that one is born into evil rather than into joy.... I create characters who sometime speak in the language of immediate ancestors, characters who are not passive but active in the discovery of what is vital and real in this world. Characters who explore what it would feel like not to be imprisoned by the hatred of women, the love of violence, and the destrcutiveness of greed taught to human beings as the "religion" by which they must guide their lives.
My friend A'kierra introduced me to new ways of reading the Bible, through her introduction of me to the works of Alice Walker. (My eldest daughter just asked me to make reservations to go with her to hear and to see and maybe even to meet Walker when she comes on campus this semester.) Hope I can tell her thanks for helping me read the Bible, from the margins, the pleasing colors as in a field somewhere.


Rod said...

excellent post, Kurk.

I will be sure to link to it on my post on Katie's Canon and my theology of the bible.

Funny, I have seen the movie, have lots of womanist theology and religion books on my shelf, and even a copy of the book The Color Purple, but have yet to pick it up. Time for that to change.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks Rod for your kind words and the link too.

Yep, as you well know, James Cone looks to Walker and The Color Purple not only in For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church but also in Black Theology: A Documentary History [Volume Two: 1980-1992]. And so does the wonderful Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora. Cone focuses on the productive, creative womanist theologies and Sadler on black hermeneutics and heuristics in biblical scholarship.