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Rebecca Walker Blog

Quote of the day: Obama on Clinton

Quote of the day: Obama on Clinton

Do you think the word "feel" is inappropriate here? It uses Clinton's gender against her by associating her responses with irrational emotion (always seen as weaker) than certainty, logical thinking, and a determination to win. My biggest concern about Obama? He married Michelle, but forgot to take Women's Studies 101 at Harvard.
February 18th, 2008

Samantha Power, Barack Obama's campaign, foreign policy | Salon News

Samantha Power, Barack Obama's campaign, foreign policy | Salon News

To be clear: I'm still on the fence, but as I gather information about the candidates, I continue to be impressed by the team Obama has brought together. Passionate, incredibly smart, with a good grasp of both the analytical and the heart and soul of the matter. They are multi-racial, women and men, community and ivy-league trained.

I understand the concerns about their youth, but how much longer will young leaders have to wait to put their future first ideas into action? My father was 26 when he won lawsuits against white segregationists in Mississippi. My mother was twenty-five when she published her first collection of poetry.

If not now, when?
February 18th, 2008

For EcoMoms, Saving Earth Begins at Home - New York Times

For EcoMoms, Saving Earth Begins at Home - New York Times

So glad to see this. I just wrote a piece about being an eco-mom for the upcoming collection The Maternal Is Political, edited Shari MacDonald Strong. It's an uphill battle and I wish I could sell my SUV and buy a Prius like, this afternoon, but amazingly, Maui doesn't even have public recycling!

Here are a few of my favorite eco-friendly things:

Fit--vegetable and fruit wash

Solio--the solar charger for all things portable including Blackberry and Ipod

John Patrick--beautiful clothes, organizer for organic cotton farmers

Newman-Os--Paul Newman's Oreo alternative

Rawganique--Organic Linen Sheets

Acme Grocery Bags--they fold up into little pouches you can put in your pocket

Ecover dishwasher cubes--because I hate the idea of washing Tenzin's bottles and cups with an ammonia based product

What are yours? I'm always on the hunt. At the moment looking for non-plastic kids cups...

February 17th, 2008

Mad, Mad, Men

I continue to be amazed by the dexterity of the writers and creators of Mad Men. Each episode, including the one I just watched on Itunes about Draper's wife being used as a pawn in her husband's business dealings, is so smart in the way it handles the misogyny and backwardness of pre-feminist white America.

The show deals with the conflict between the beats and the straights, the counter cultural left and the Nixon right, the woman who wants to be judged on the merits of her mind and the women who think going to work is synonymous with looking for a husband. It deconstructs the supposedly assured hyper-butch provider masculinity and shows that beneath it lies a complex, insecure little boy dying to make his mother/wife happy.

It shows that while the "little lady" is going insane with boredom in a Valium induced haze at home, the "big man" is jockeying for position at work, and fielding literal and psychological punches from men more and less powerful than himself.

It's gripping, really. Like a horrible accident. Down to the black men working as elevator "boys," and the Jewesses in the garment business who can get the ad men to take their company accounts but never, ever, anything more. There's the closeted gay man, too, suave and gorgeous, and eternally alone. There's the incessant drinking and smoking standing in for real, human interaction; and those damning issues of class, status, and who can afford what apartment in New York.

I'm writing about Mad Men because all of the coverage I read doesn't seem to get how smart it is. Perhaps because it is too awful to imagine that it represents 1950's white America the way it really was. And maybe because if it can be recreated so deftly, a lot of that so-called lost world must remain.

February 14th, 2008

Nextbook: Chosen People

Nextbook: Chosen People

I don't know if it was being with all those Jews at the SF Jewish Community Center last night, or thinking more about what spiritual tradition my partner and I should pass on to our son, but I found myself wondering about the black jewish thing today.

I came across this very interesting podcast on the largest African-American synagogue in America. It raises important questions about what it means to be Jewish. Most people consider Jewishness to be synonymous with European culture, as most American Jews descended primarily from Eastern Europe, some via what was then called Palestine. But what does it mean to be Jewish for someone from Uganda, or the South side of Chicago?

This is a must listen for anyone interested in the subject.

PS It's cold cold cold in Philadelphia! But I am looking forward to speaking at St. Joe's tomorrow. Hope to see you there!

February 13th, 2008

Toni Morrison's Letter to Barack Obama

Toni Morrison's Letter to Barack Obama | The New York Observer

I'm sure you've seen this, but I found it quite moving and eloquent.

He's going to win. Then it will be on to McCain.

February 9th, 2008

Jesse Jackson Needs To Blame Media, Not Barack Obama For Neglecting Issues Facing Blacks

Jackson Needs To Blame Media, Not Barack Obama For Neglecting Issues Facing Blacks

Found this list interesting in light of the constant questions about whether Obama is black enough.
February 7th, 2008

ABC News

ABC News

Hey check out my webcast on ABC News today on Hillary and Obama.

Short, but sweet.
February 5th, 2008

Modern Beauty

So today I got an email from a young high-school student in Australia, Patricia, doing a report on Third Wave and Women's Magazines. Because she heard somewhere that I founded Third Wave (true), she sent some questions and I did my best to answer. How'd I do?

1. What is your personal definition of "modern feminism"?

Any act or thought that leads to a safer, healthier, more equitable and enjoyable experience for women and the people who love them.

2. How do you think mainstream girls/women's magazines have impacted upon "modern" feminism?

Girl's/Women's magazines impact women positively and negatively. They provide a sense of community, a location for fantasies of glamour, a shared generational visual language, a heightened appreciation for fashion, and content that is relevant and helpful for girls and women, i.e. articles on breast cancer prevention, body-image issues, and the plight of women in other countries.

However, the magazines are at odds with their own goals of befriending the reader. By defining beauty in a limited way-white, thin, rich, overly-sexualized, and objectified-the magazines manufacture in girls and women a desire to alter ourselves, or, even worse, to question the worth and fabulousness of our own (i.e. not white, not thin, not rich) lives in comparison to those portrayed in the magazine. And because models don't speak, their fabulousness is all about how they look, not how they feel. The reader begins to see herself that way, to focus more on the external, "Do I look okay?' than on the internal, "Am I okay?"

Lately, my biggest concern with women's magazines is the rabid obsession with consumerism they espouse. It's not just about looking like the model, sharing the same silhouette or hair style, it's about being able to buy the two thousand dollar pair of shoes, the sublimely supple three thousand dollar handbag. The paper is slick, the photography flawless, the styling outrageously seductive. The end result: Where is my credit card? How can I make more money? What do I have to do to get that? All of which can undermine financial stability, career options, and self-esteem.

That said, as a sporadic reader of women's magazines, I believe readers can, with a healthy dose of restraint and mindfulness, have an interactive relationship with a fashion glossy. That is, the reader does not have to be a passive absorber of the messages of the magazine, but can pick and choose, based on their level of insight into these matters, which ideas and images to integrate into their consciousness. Readers can also read/look with a sense of irony and critique, changing the offensive material into a piece of cultural matter to be engaged and partially rejected, and not mindlessly shaped by. This line of thought is consistent with the Third Wave idea that women are not only victims, but agents in our own lives; our work as Third Wavers is not just to diminish victimization but to amplify agency.

3. What do you think of the direction that these mainstream magazines are headed in? Negative or positive and why?

Mainstream magazines depend on advertising dollars to survive, which is why the magazines reflect so directly the interests of those advertisers. Make-up, pharmaceutical cosmetics, fashion, etc., will continue to claim more pages, and meaningful, unsubsidized content will continue to fall away unless there is significant intervention.

As media empires are driven toward healthier trends by consumers-like green products and conflict-free diamonds-I believe we will see some positive change. Supporting the Dove campaigns for Real Beauty is one way to apply the needed pressure for change. Dove is having an incredible impact on women, girls and the industry at large by expanding the standard of beauty in their models, and initiating dynamic public discussion about the right for women to feel good about themselves as they are.

4. Is there a counter balance to whatever effects these particular mainstream magazines have? Any examples?

Women have to take responsibility for loving and accepting ourselves, period. There is an old Langston Hughes poem about a woman looking for her reflection in a sink full of dirty dishwater. We will never see ourselves if we keep looking to the wrong places for glimpses of our beauty. We live in an amazing moment. Never before have there been so many incredible women at our fingertips. From Frida Kahlo to Anais Nin, Yoko Ono to Angela Davis. With a simple Google search we can see some of the most brilliant and fashionable women in the world. These women of history should become our magazines, our friends, our mentors across time.

Other measures for counterbalance include education: readers should know who profits from the magazines and how the mags function as pieces of pop culture. Feedback about beauty and everything else should come from reliable sources that know and love us. Women and girls need to be involved in cultivating dynamic lives. I am learning French, swim as much as I can, study Tibetan Buddhism, travel as much as possible, read, cuddle with my partner and son. There is so much with which to build a life filled with happiness. The magazines can be an alternate world, almost like a drug, that delude one into thinking that happiness is in there, in that make believe world, rather than out here, in the life you have. Not true!

Exposure to international standards of beauty is also helpful. In Mali a woman is not considered beautiful unless she has a large forehead. To realize that different cultures have different ways of defining beauty helps us to understand that ours is also just cultural, just local, and not universal. This can be quite liberating.

I could go on and on, but we should also remember that women and girls choose to read women's magazines. Why not research what they like about them, and then create a magazine that includes those aspects while transforming the others. SASSY magazine was very successful at this, partly because young women made it themselves. What about non-profits or patrons coming forward to support pro-woman, content-positive pages in women's magazines without losing some of the other elements that make the mags pop?

What about enlightened beauty product companies, again, like Dove, nudging editorial in a more healthy direction? Or maybe Dove can found a magazine in the same way Oprah did, based on their already successful campaign concept? I'd read that.

5. Do you believe that magazines aimed at teenage girls/young women encourage them to foster unrealistic expectations? If so, what?

I am troubled that glossy mainstream women's magazines suggest that by dressing, looking, and spending a certain way, the girl/woman will be assured respect, love, success, adoration, and attention; in short, a fabulous life. In real life fabulousness is more about balance, choice, access, safety, opportunity, intelligence. It's way more complicated than the way it looks in a magazine spread, and it takes a lifetime of hard work-internal and external.

6. Any extra comments/ remarks?

It's important to remember that the adornment and objectification of female beauty is an ancient ritual; women's magazines are only contemporary versions on a theme dating back to before Nefertiti donned her exquisite crown and applied her dramatic eyeliner. Critiques of the magazines are absolutely justified, but should be carefully considered. Female beauty will always be powerful, we just want every woman to feel and own that power.
February 3rd, 2008

Outsiders Within Introduction

 

Here's some video about the collection on transracial adoption mentioned in my last post: Outsiders Within...

January 21st, 2008

Double Blood

Thanks Ayo, who wrote yesterday that she's transracial. Even though the term has primarily been used to describe of color adoptees adopted by white famillies, I love the potential for the term and I've been pondering it quite a bit in the last year. It's much closer to how I feel than biracial. I belong to many "races" rather than feeling an outright, pure allegiance to one or two. And isn't that the future we all want, one that's fluid, one that identifies with struggle, but with the transcending of that struggle as well? This, fundamentally is a discussion about home. Where it is and how we define ourselves within it in a way that is empowering rather than disempowering.

On a similar note, at one of my lectures in Amsterdam last month, many in the audience were part Dutch, part Surinamese, and when I spoke of being "mixed" they shared their term: Double Blood. And when the daily paper in Amsterdam, Het Parool, did a spread on me, that was the headline: Double Blood, and I was thrilled by the shift. I feel we are finally at the place where our two or three or four sided identity can be seen irrefutably as a place of power and not victimization. Why not claim it all?

We have two traditions, we are not half of anything; we are transracial, we are not bifurcated. I like too, how transracial is different from postracial; it doesn't deny that ideas of race exist, it just chooses a different position towards those ideas. I also like that the term is open and inclusive, all people can embrace it, not just people of color or of many backgrounds, thus allowing allies to use it rather than feel perpetually on the outside. I really think transracial is a term of the future.

Thanks Ayo and all of my Dutch Afro-Surinamese sisters. You've given me a new way of seeing myself. The best present of all.

Check out both Ayo's blog: www.rainbowfriends.net and also the blog for Outsiders Within, an important discussion regarding adoption that I find especially relevant as I have received so much criticism for my statements in Baby Love about the desire of some adoptive parents to erase the reality of biological parents by denying the difference between the two.

And of course, this seems a particularly important discussion to be having on Martin Luther King Jr.'s official birthday. I'm sure he would approve.
January 21st, 2008

Writer Alice Walker Endorses Barack Obama

 

My mom's made up her mind...

January 19th, 2008

Strike One for Team Hillary

Running on my Huffington Post Blog Today:

The Fence

As a bi-racial, Ivy-League educated, thirty-something feminist who campaigned for Bill Clinton, the election has me squarely on the fence. I love Barack's vision and know intimately the mosaic of ideas and experiences that helped shape it. I also feel a profound loyalty to Hillary who, after much sacrifice, has the chance to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.

Gloria Steinem's op-ed in the NYTimes didn't help Team Hillary [full disclosure, GS is my godmother]. It crystallized for me that Hillary, no matter how symbolically potent, runs the risk of being seen as a Second Wave candidate. She's one of the first women to gain power and access, and may be one of the first with power and access to ignore the criticisms of women of color, progressive men, and many young women, all of whom have been sending clear messages to Second Wave feminist leadership for well over a decade.

Messages like:

Women are not only victims, but active participants in the shaping of their lives. It's not Hillary's gender that may keep her from winning this election, it's her lack of preparation. If she had an inter-generational, multi-racial, digitally savvy, globally inclined machine behind her, crafting electrifying rhetoric like The Audacity of Hope and The Power of Now, she'd be swept into the White House by a landslide. Hillary wasn't forced into the number two position in Iowa, she made decisions that put her there. New Hampshire is a case in point; she made different decisions and got different results.

Racism and classism are as definitive as sexism. Did Steinem insinuate that Barack's gender, and not his talent, put him in the top spot? I thought black men were capable of performing at his level without an irrationally granted advantage. And the idea that black men always reach the Promised Land before white women? Forty per cent of black men don't finish high school in America, and one in four are incarcerated. Hillary, and her feminist supporters, are not going to win this election by glossing over the realities of African-American men.

Men are not the enemy. Steinem claims that sexism is responsible for Hillary's loss in Iowa, implicitly accusing men-at-large of devaluing women, while many of them may simply be more inspired by a candidate who happens to be a man. This type of divisive discourse that judges and alienates the many men who support the women in their families, communities, and the civic sphere every day is not only bad for women, it's bad for Hillary's campaign. Obama is running as a uniter. Hillary needs to avoid re-inscribing historical divisions in order to gain ground.

And, finally:

Young women are not stupid. The idea that young women are too naive to realize the pervasiveness of sexism is an old Second Wave trope used to dismiss and discredit an entire generation, many of whom now support Obama because he doesn't insult them. As a result, there are a few women lining up behind the "feminist" placard, but many more running in the other direction.

Far from being ungrateful or unintelligent, these women know that confrontational political labels and a religious fixation on gender aren't productive. They, rightly, choose to enjoy the rights they should have had all along, and find other, more complex approaches to righting the rampant injustice in the world. Hillary's gender is not enough to win their vote, and she needs to show them that she knows it.

So while there's still plenty of time for Hillary to win me over, Obama is looking pretty good at the moment. He's listened to what many of my generational peers and I have been saying for the last decade, and his momentum proves it.

January 14th, 2008

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard

So a few weeks ago, Katrin Sandberg from ZenTV in Sweden wrote me an email asking for an interview. She was in LA and I was in Hawaii but I told her I'd love to talk to her, and could she find a way to come over?

She did.

Today I got in my truck (we use ethanol here!) and drove down from the volcano into the lush jungle of Haiku, down a little dirt road into a beautiful dharma temple filled with Buddhas and views of the ocean from every spot. All bamboo, all sustainable, one hundred per cent off the grid.

Kartin and I talked for a couple of hours and then Kutira, who created the amazing eco-retreat, came in and we spent some time talking about, what else, Obama and Hillary and changing the world. We all agreed that we wanted an Obama-Clinton ticket, or a Clinton-Obama ticket. Then Kutira said she had to show me an amazing short video.

And so we sat in the bamboo temple with wind blowing and the ocean crashing, watching this little video on her Mac (solar powered, of course).

I know everyone is talking about elections, Kenya, and Britney Spears, but here's another way to look at the whole situation. Smart, educational, and empowering, The Story of Stuff is good for the whole human family.

Thanks Katrin, for moving with it. Thanks Kutira, for being open. Big day.
January 10th, 2008

More Election 2008

Hey all, just stayed up writing a response to Gloria Steinem's NYTimes Oped piece, but I sent it to the Times so can't post here. What I can post is an interview I've just finished for the Italian daily paper Corriere della Sera about the election and Obamamania:

1. Did you already make your choice as far as the upcoming presidential election?

Like many in the US, I am undecided. Because the outcome of this election is so critical to the future of humanity, I am approaching the race with great caution and respect.

2. As a feminist and at the same time a Jewish and Black American do you find this a particularly difficult choice to make?

I can say that in an ideal world, I would be able to vote for both. It would be a great victory for America and the world if the winner takes the loser on as VP. That's the real winning ticket.

3. Which of the Democratic candidates best represent your many souls?

If I had to choose one whose message resonates the most, I would choose Obama. Like me, he's biracial, ivy-league educated, and believes deeply that he can bring his faith in humanity to the table and make profound, lasting change. But there's a reason I'm not a politician. The global political stage is a tough place for optimistic human beings of integrity. Hillary's got a lot more experience holding up under the pressure of right wing henchmen.

4. How do you explain Barack Obama's stellar ascent? Is he really a better candidate than Hillary? Why is America so in love with him?

Barack Obama is more in tune with where we are going than where we've come from. He transcends racial barriers, has a powerhouse wife, and says he wants all Americans to have a chance, no matter how rich or poor. It is unclear at the moment if he is a better candidate than Hillary, but we can definitely say his rhetoric is better. The audacity of hope. The time is now. One America. In a country of consumers, it's all about the advertising, and he's got that in the bag. Americans also love Obama because this is fundamentally a Judeo-Christian country; most Americans believe that either the messiah is coming, or the meek will inherit the earth. Obama represents both.

5. Is Obama really equally loved by both black and white Americans?

This is hard to say. I know some black Americans who aren't enthusiastic about him and some white Americans who are. It appears that race is not a handicap for him at this point.

6. Some African-Americans at the beginning attacked him as more white than black, citing his mother's race and the fact that he does not share the pain and suffering of their ancestors brought to the American shores in chains. What do you think about this argument? Do you have to share a common history of slavery to be called a true Afro-American?

I don't subscribe to the idea that you are not black if you haven't lived in a shack or shined white men's shoes your whole life. I do think it is important for all candidates to be able to speak with gravity and sincerity to those who have.

7. What do you like most about Obama? What do you like most about Hillary?

I like Obama's wife, Michelle. I like Hillary's husband, Bill.

8. If Hillary were to lose again tonight in New Hampshire what will happen to her campaign?

She won.

9. Which strategy would you advise her to follow to rescue her campaign?

Hillary needs to let the American people into her heart. She needs to let people know she feels their pain and has the medicine to make it go away. She needs to show that's she a mother, a wife, a friend, a multi-dimensional human being who has a calling to make America and the world a fundamentally better place for everyone. It's tough because in order for her to get where she is, she's had to play like a man. That moment is gone, however, and this political moment calls for her to act like a woman.

10.Do you know how your parents will be voting?

I'm fairly certain that both of my parents will be voting for Obama, but until the moment of truth it's a toss-up.

January 9th, 2008