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Rebecca Walker Blog

The Big Blue Marble

And, in the spirit of the day, the opening sequence from one of my favorite shows from childhood:

Courtesy of one of my dearest Facebook friends.

January 20th, 2009

Viva the book!

In the face of gloomy news about the state of publishing, I predict the book will have a huge resurgence. At the end of a day of tapping, or the beginning of a day with no tapping planned, there is nothing more comforting than to lie in bed with a lovely book. The feel of it in my hand is satisfying; the paper, the pool of yellow light on me and the paper, the turning of the page, my single-pointed absorption in another world.

Intimacy itself.

Viva el libro!

Inspired by a great piece on reading in Harper's by Colson Whitehead, brought to you via the great folks at Readerville:

How to Read

We each come to literature in our own way. For some, the gift is bestowed by a helpful governess who guides our fingers over the letters in a primer. For others, a private tutor first enlightens us to the majesty of the written word. How you arrive is immaterial. What is important now is that you forget all that and learn to read anew. In my literary criticism, I have become known as a champion of the eternal verities and a scold of the trendy and the fashionable. I have essayed to instruct your writers in how to write correctly. Now I will teach you to read correctly.

When we see a word, we must ask ourselves foremost, What does it mean? This is the first step in comprehension. When we have accomplished this, we can proceed to the next, and so on. In due course, we have read the sentence in toto. By returning to the beginning of the sentence to perform a close reading, we unlock its essence. I learned this skill at university. Although born in the States, I journeyed abroad for my education and underwent my intellectual coming of age at Oxford. I remember when the first dispatches of Dirty Realism made their way across the Atlantic. I pored over each latest issue of Granta as if it contained the Holy Word. And perhaps it did. One of my favorites from that time has always been Raymond Carver, in particular his affecting tale “Leave the Porch Light On, It’ll Be Dark.”

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January 18th, 2009

Barack Hussein Obama Sr.

Barack Hussein Obama (1936 ? 24 November 1982) was a Kenyan senior governmental economist, and father of former Illinois Senator and President-elect of the United States Barack Obama.

Obama Sr. was born in Kanyadhiang village, Rachuonyo District on the shores of Lake Victoria just outside Kendu Bay, Kenya, at the time a colony of the British Empire, and raised in the village of Nyang’oma Kogelo, Siaya District.He was the son of Hussein Onyango Obama (c. 1895-1979) and his second wife, Akumu Habiba.

His family are members of the Luo ethnic group. Obama Sr. was born into a Muslim family, but was an atheist before he came to the United States.Before working as a cook for missionaries in Nairobi, Onyango had travelled widely, enlisting with the name Onyango Obama in the British colonial forces and visiting Europe, India, and Zanzibar, where he converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam. Onyango had at least three wives; Barack Obama Sr. was the son of Akumu, the second wife. However, he was raised by Onyango's third wife, Sarah, after Akumu left her family and separated from her husband in 1945. Obama Sr. was married in 1954 at the age of eighteen, in a tribal ceremony to Kezia, with whom he had four children.

At the age of 23, Obama Sr. enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, leaving behind a pregnant Kezia and their infant son. He had already turned away from Islam and become an atheist by the time he moved to the United States. On 2 February 1961, Obama Sr. married fellow student Ann Dunham in Maui, Hawaii.Obama Sr.'s and Dunham's son, Barack Obama II, was born on August 4, 1961. Dunham left school to care for the baby, while Obama Sr. completed his degree. He graduated from the University of Hawaii in June 1962, leaving shortly thereafter to travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he would begin graduate study at Harvard University in the fall.

Later that summer, Dunham and the year-old baby Barack stopped to visit her friends in Mercer Island, Washington, the Seattle suburb where she had grown up, before joining Obama Sr. in Cambridge. However, mother and son soon returned to Seattle, where she enrolled at the University of Washington. Dunham, missing her family, then moved back to Hawaii and filed for divorce in Honolulu in January 1964. Obama Sr. did not contest, and the divorce was granted. He visited his son only once, in 1971, when Barack was 10 years old.

January 17th, 2009

Woman: The Ballad of John and Yoko

Yoko's love for John and John's love for Yoko was the heart at the center of their own personal peace movement. Both artists, they influenced each other, creating an alchemical effect bigger than either one could achieve on their own. From my perspective, theirs was a true partnership-- transgressive and transcendent and transformative, a love story for all time.

 

I stumbled upon these videos while reading Cara at Curvature's fascinating  feminist analysis of Yoko.

Double Fantasy

January 11th, 2009

10 Absurd Conservative Myths About Obama's Recovery Plan

By Sara Robinson, on Alternet

Here it is: our moment of economic truth. We're standing at that historic fork in the road where the nation decides, now and for the foreseeable future, whether it's going to hang on to the catastrophic assumptions of the free-market fundamentalists and rely once more on the nostrums that have so far failed to fix the mess, or take a bold step down a new, more progressive path that will finally re-empower the American people to build an economy that works for us all.

As usual, the conservatives have absolutely no conscience about what they did to create this mess. If they did, they'd all be holed up in their gated communities or on their private islands, embarrassed into silence at best and terrified of peasant uprisings at worst. Instead, they're jetting into D.C. en masse in a last-ditch attempt to head the country off -- or at least make sure that any money that does get spent ends up, as it always has, in their pockets.

To that end, the self-serving myths are starting to fly so thick and fast that the staff here at CAF has been working full-time to keep ahead of them. Here's some of what they're flinging in this latest B.S. storm -- and what you need to know to fire back.

1. The proposed recovery package is too big.

False. Most progressive economists agree (and Paul Krugman is downright emphatic) that it's going to take a minimum of a trillion dollars of well-placed investment to pull our economy out of this ditch. This is no time for half-measures, blue-ribbon committees, pilot projects, or trial balloons: this is a life-or-death crisis that requires immediate and massive intervention.

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January 9th, 2009

The End of White America, excerpted from the Atlantic

What do you think?

By Hua Hsu, for the Atlantic:

"Today, hip-hop’s colonization of the global imagination, from fashion runways in Europe to dance competitions in Asia, is Disney-esque. This transformation has bred an unprecedented cultural confidence in its black originators. Whiteness is no longer a threat, or an ideal: it’s kitsch to be appropriated, whether with gestures like Combs’s “white parties” or the trickle-down epidemic of collared shirts and cuff links currently afflicting rappers. And an expansive multiculturalism is replacing the us-against-the-world bunker mentality that lent a thrilling edge to hip-hop’s mid-1990s rise.

Peter Rosenberg, a self-proclaimed “nerdy Jewish kid” and radio personality on New York’s Hot 97 FM—and a living example of how hip-hop has created new identities for its listeners that don’t fall neatly along lines of black and white—shares another example: “I interviewed [the St. Louis rapper] Nelly this morning, and he said it’s now very cool and in to have multicultural friends. Like you’re not really considered hip or ‘you’ve made it’ if you’re rolling with all the same people.”

Just as Tiger Woods forever changed the country-club culture of golf, and Will Smith confounded stereotypes about the ideal Hollywood leading man, hip-hop’s rise is helping redefine the American mainstream, which no longer aspires toward a single iconic image of style or class. Successful network-television shows like Lost, Heroes, and Grey’s Anatomy feature wildly diverse casts, and an entire genre of half-hour comedy, from The Colbert Report to The Office, seems dedicated to having fun with the persona of the clueless white male. The youth market is following the same pattern: consider the Cheetah Girls, a multicultural, multiplatinum, multiplatform trio of teenyboppers who recently starred in their third movie, or Dora the Explorer, the precocious bilingual 7-year-old Latina adventurer who is arguably the most successful animated character on children’s television today. In a recent address to the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, Brown Johnson, the Nickelodeon executive who has overseen Dora’s rise, explained the importance of creating a character who does not conform to “the white, middle-class mold.” When Johnson pointed out that Dora’s wares were outselling Barbie’s in France, the crowd hooted in delight.

Pop culture today rallies around an ethic of multicultural inclusion that seems to value every identity—except whiteness. “It’s become harder for the blond-haired, blue-eyed commercial actor,” remarks Rochelle Newman-Carrasco, of the Hispanic marketing firm Enlace. “You read casting notices, and they like to cast people with brown hair because they could be Hispanic. The language of casting notices is pretty shocking because it’s so specific: ‘Brown hair, brown eyes, could look Hispanic.’ Or, as one notice put it: ‘Ethnically ambiguous.’”

“I think white people feel like they’re under siege right now—like it’s not okay to be white right now, especially if you’re a white male,” laughs Bill Imada, of the IW Group. Imada and Newman-Carrasco are part of a movement within advertising, marketing, and communications firms to reimagine the profile of the typical American consumer. (Tellingly, every person I spoke with from these industries knew the Census Bureau’s projections by heart.?"

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January 8th, 2009

Oscar Grant: Wake Up America

"Those who eulogized Grant did not address the shooting, which was captured on video by at least two BART riders and has stirred outrage among those who believe the incident was tantamount to an execution. At virtually the moment the service was getting under way, the lawyer and union representative for the officer who shot Grant, Johannes Mehserle, were submitting his resignation to BART officials."

January 8th, 2009

Grieving the loss of Ismael, Lama, and Hayya

And I am thinking about Ayda, and wondering what I or anyone else can do to help the mothers of murdered children everywhere. 

from the New York Times:

But there were several children in another intensive care unit on Tuesday. Among them was Ismael Hamdan, 8, who had severe brain damage as well as two broken legs, according to a doctor there. Earlier that day, two of his sisters, Lama, 5, and Hayya, 12, were killed.

“I prepared them breakfast that day in the garden,” said their mother, Ayda, 36. “They had the tea, bread and thyme. Lama wanted a second pita, but we all teased her saying, ‘Keep it for lunch.’ She told us, ‘Don’t worry, God will provide us with bread.’

“She made all of us laugh,” the mother said. “I cleaned after them and collected the garbage. Ismael volunteered to dump the garbage, but Hayya and Lama joined him. The garbage can is in front of the house, a five-minute walk away. All of a sudden I heard the news from a neighbor, and I ran barefoot to the hospital. A relative collected the bodies of Lama and Hayya on a donkey cart.

“The neighbors ran trying to save Ismael, who was the only one breathing,” she said. “They say my kids flew 40 meters before hitting the ground.”

Ismael died Wednesday night.

January 1st, 2009

In case you haven't seen this...

December 31st, 2008

From Newsweek: The Global Elite

Interesting piece in Newsweek on the history of power and the new global elite. 

The Top 10 of 50:

 
Who would you add? 
December 28th, 2008

Art and Commerce: How To Make It Work Now

This is a great interview on the issues of copyright and monetization on the Web. Lessig is refreshingly open and optimistic about the way the Internet supports creatives and creativity, and the conversation is a great example of two paradigms working together to give birth to something brand new.

From the NPR site:

December 22, 2008 · In his new book Remix, law professor Lawrence Lessig explores the changing landscape of intellectual property in the digital age — and argues that antiquated copyright laws should be updated.

Lessig is a columnist for Wired and the chair of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that promotes the legal sharing, repurposing and remixing of creative work.

 Listen.

December 24th, 2008

More Slaves Today Than Any Other Time in History

"All prostitutes are not slaves and not all slaves are prostitutes."

Foreign Policy, March/April 2008

By E. Benjamin Skinner
 
There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. True abolition will elude us until we admit the massive scope of the problem, attack it in all its forms, and empower slaves to help free themselves.

Standing in New York City, you are five hours away from being able to negotiate the sale, in broad daylight, of a healthy boy or girl. He or she can be used for anything, though sex and domestic labor are most common. Before you go, let’s be clear on what you are buying. A slave is a human being forced to work through fraud or threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence. Agreed? Good.

Most people imagine that slavery died in the 19th century. Since 1817, more than a dozen international conventions have been signed banning the slave trade. Yet, today there are more slaves than at any time in human history.

And if you’re going to buy one in five hours, you’d better get a move on. First, hail a taxi to JFK International Airport, and hop on a direct flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The flight takes three hours. After landing at Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, you will need 50 cents for the most common form of transport in Port-au-Prince, the tap-tap, a flatbed pickup retrofitted with benches and a canopy. Three quarters of the way up Route de Delmas, the capital’s main street, tap the roof and hop out. There, on a side street, you will find a group of men standing in front of Le Réseau (The Network) barbershop. As you approach, a man steps forward: “Are you looking to get a person?”

Meet Benavil Lebhom. He smiles easily. He has a trim mustache and wears a multicolored, striped golf shirt, a gold chain, and Doc Martens knockoffs. Benavil is a courtier, or broker. He holds an official real estate license and calls himself an employment agent. Two thirds of the employees he places are child slaves. The total number of Haitian children in bondage in their own country stands at 300,000. They are the restavèks, the “stay-withs,” as they are euphemistically known in Creole. Forced, unpaid, they work in captivity from before dawn until night. Benavil and thousands of other formal and informal traffickers lure these children from desperately impoverished rural parents, with promises of free schooling and a better life.

The negotiation to buy a child slave might sound a bit like this:

“How quickly do you think it would be possible to bring a child in? Somebody who could clean and cook?” you ask. “I don’t have a very big place; I have a small apartment. But I’m wondering how much that would cost? And how quickly?”

“Three days,” Benavil responds.

“And you could bring the child here?” you inquire. “Or are there children here already?”

“I don’t have any here in Port-au-Prince right now,” says Benavil, his eyes widening at the thought of a foreign client. “I would go out to the countryside.”

You ask about additional expenses. “Would I have to pay for transportation?”

Bon,” says Benavil. “A hundred U.S.”

Smelling a rip-off, you press him, “And that’s just for transportation?”

“Transportation would be about 100 Haitian,” says Benavil, or around $13, “because you’d have to get out there. Plus [hotel and] food on the trip. Five hundred gourdes.”

“Okay, 500 Haitian,” you say.

Now you ask the big question: “And what would your fee be?” This is the moment of truth, and Benavil’s eyes narrow as he determines how much he can take you for.

“A hundred. American.”

“That seems like a lot,” you say, with a smile so as not to kill the deal. “How much would you charge a Haitian?”

Benavil’s voice rises with feigned indignation. “A hundred dollars. This is a major effort.”

You hold firm. “Could you bring down your fee to 50 U.S.?”

Benavil pauses. But only for effect. He knows he’s still got you for much more than a Haitian would pay. “Oui,” he says with a smile.

But the deal isn’t done. Benavil leans in close. “This is a rather delicate question. Is this someone you want as just a worker? Or also someone who will be a ‘partner’? You understand what I mean?”

You don’t blink at being asked if you want the child for sex. “I mean, is it possible to have someone that could be both?”

Oui!” Benavil responds enthusiastically.

If you’re interested in taking your purchase back to the United States, Benavil tells you that he can “arrange” the proper papers to make it look as though you’ve adopted the child.

He offers you a 13-year-old girl.

“That’s a little bit old,” you say.

“I know of another girl who’s 12. Then ones that are 10, 11,” he responds.

The negotiation is finished, and you tell Benavil not to make any moves without further word from you. Here, 600 miles from the United States, and five hours from Manhattan, you have successfully arranged to buy a human being for 50 bucks.

The Cruel Truth

It would be nice if that conversation, like the description of the journey, were fictional. It is not.

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December 21st, 2008

Rick Warren v Jerry Brown via Facebook

I've gotten a lot of questions about my thoughts about Warren--a FB thread from today.  

YA at 8:00pm December 18
Can a government function with so many rivals in interdependent positions to each other?


RC at 8:17pm December 18

I am asking myself the same question. I am also very disappointed with his choice regarding Warren. What is your take on that Rebecca?


Rebecca Walker at 8:51pm December 18
YA-The 1,000,000,000,000,000 dollar question. Literally. But as a microcosm of the world, let's hope so. I'm moved, at the very lest, by the audacity of it. RC: Still percolating. But you can't say it's not a bold choice.


ST at 3:11pm December 19

I think we need to say it, and say it loud: warren, no matter how you cook him, is anti-woman, anti-gay... and anti-obama. yes, he's allowed his views, and isn't it neato we can all acknowledge that. but irregardless: I'm beyond disappointed.


Rebecca Walker at 3:51pm December 19

We will see what we shall see. The real question is whether he can pull it all off. Safeguarding individual rights and forging greater freedoms and more equitable distribution of wealth while maintaining openness and civility is what needs to happen. We will know more about whether or not it's possible in the next two to two hundred years--if we have that long.


ST at 4:46pm December 19

I'm not sure i follow... to me, warren is not about what you write in yr 3rd sentence.


Rebecca Walker at 4:56pm December 19
The inauguration is not the thing. the thing is what happens after. Can obama pull off sentence three and include voices and views like warrens in the social fabric of our country and, more importantly, the world. That is the question.


MM at 5:55pm December 19
Do you per chance have concern over why Lowery isn't getting any press or even thanks for being supportive of the LGBT community? This is such multilayered spin with the media that I can't begin to unpack it or reframe...I'm trying. I hope you will share a bit your thoughts when you gather them..


Rebecca Walker at 9:17pm December 19

Yes, the Lowery choice is being oddly overlooked--a black, pro-lgbt christian civil rights leader. in the black christian often homophobic community, he is not a choice pick. I think folks need to stay calm and, ironically, have faith. to doubt ourselves so soon after all that work....undermines our own power. We believed. Give him some time.

He's going to have to make many, many more decisions that are uncomfortable. and in terms of what is about to happen to the country financially, this kind of peacemaking between camps may be essential to keeping the country from devolving into a civil war. There are global concerns much larger than gay marriage. Like china's cannibalization of africa and penetration of southern asia. Like fundamentalist islam bringing sharia law to the west.


Rebecca Walker at 9:20pm December 19

My feeling is he will not abandon any group--but he's got to be able to play ball not just on behalf of gay marriage, but America and beyond that, the separation of church and state and the global fundamental rights of sovereign nations. i mean really. I could go on, but i think you get my point. stay calm.


Rebecca Walker at 9:26pm December 19
I think this is one of the many ways obama is managing this situation and i think he's moving in the right direction.

December 20th, 2008

Obama the younger, from Newsweek

December 19th, 2008

One Big Happy Family, Starred Kirkus Review!

So happy to share this starred review of the new book in today's KIRKUS:

A moving, wildly diverse collection showing how radically different familial configurations can work.

Prompted by her experiences growing up in a family "fragmented and haunted by unfulfilled longings," Walker (Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, 2007, etc.) looks beyond her well-publicized estrangement from her mother, novelist Alice Walker, to the lives of other writers "searching for authenticity through experimentation" in their domestic situations. The essays she assembles smash class, race and gender stereotypes to collectively demonstrate the fluidity of the contemporary family unit. Resisting the traditional boundaries of coupledom, Jenny Block, on the one hand, celebrates the openness of what she calls a "polyamorous marriage" with her husband and her girlfriend. On the other hand, Judith Levine and her boyfriend, together for 17 years, never married for a number of practical and philosophic reasons. Writes Levine: "A marriage may or may not be a union of love. It is always a union of property...I'd like the state to get out of the sexual-licensing business altogether, actually, for couples gay, straight, bi, or none of the above." Essays by Dan Savage and Dawn Friedman lay bare the highs and lows of open adoption. Savage details the difficulty he and his partner have in deciding what to say to their adoptive son when his homeless, substance-abusing biological mother drops out of touch for more than a year: "Which two-by-four to hit him with? That his mother was in all likelihood dead? Or that she was out there somewhere but didn't care enough to come by or call?" Friedman, while admitting to occasional twinges of jealousy and guilt evoked by having her daughter's birth mother integrated into their lives, trumpets openness for her daughter's sake: "She will never have to wonder why her first mother chose adoption; she can ask her." Rebecca Barry closes the anthology with a frank, humorous exploration of how she and her sister ended up in couples therapy.

Eye-opening and sometimes shocking, as it brilliantly explodes traditional notions about the nuclear family.

(A  star is assigned to books of unusual merit, determined by the editors of Kirkus Reviews.)

Pre-order and help put our book on the list its first week out!

December 18th, 2008