The Color Purple is an incredible book. You’ve probably heard about it already. It is the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker from 1982. It is the Academy Award winning film with Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Whoopi Goldberg. It is the Tony Award winning Broadway musical starring Fantasia from American Idol. 33 years later and it’s message is still just as poignant, just as piercing, just as alive.
Written in the form of letters, Celie, a 14-year old girl living in rural Georgia dominated in the racial and patriarchal South, is too weak to speak her troubles aloud. She only feels safe enough to write them down in private letters to God. From the first letter, all I knew was that Celie needed someone to listen to her, she needed help and she needed love, and I wanted to be that person.
I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.”
In her letters, she talks intimately and innocently about her experiences as a woman of color. The person she thinks is her father rapes and impregnates her. He takes her babies away from her and forces her to marry a man who doesn’t love her, who rapes, beats, and abuses her. She doesn’t even call him by his name, just Mr.________. For this violence, the novel is #17 on the 100 most challenged books by the American Library Association.
The writing is raw; it has a truth that resonates. The strong women in the novel carry the book. We fall in love with Shug Avery’s mesmerizing song and her sultry red pants. We fall in love with Sofia’s independent spirit. We fall in love with Nettie’s intelligence and thoughtfulness.We fall in Mary Agnes’s squeaky voice and her gold teeth. We fall in love with Celie’s sweetness and concern. They stand up and fight for their right to be heard. It is through their sisterhood that Celie is able to take back her voice.
Shug Avery, Celie’s lover and best friend, frees Celie from the God in the Bible imagined by white people, the God that she writes to and hopes will save her. Shug shares her believe that God is everything, and definitely not a white male with a beard to be feared.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it…People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
Celie begins to take agency in her life. She also stops writing to God, and starts writing to her sister Nettie. She stands up to her husband and declares,
“I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook, a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here.” (176)
At that moment, I remembered I am white. Celie’s story, and the stories of her female family members made the recent Miley Cyrus vs Nicki Minaj debate and the Taylor Swift, Iggy Azalea, Amy Poehler, Meryl Streep debates of this year, painfully obvious.They were all white feminists, or at least a few of their public actions were. Was I a white feminist?
White Feminism: (According to Batty Mamzelle) a form of feminism that is centered around the feelings and issues of white women, and forgets to acknowledge their privilege in comparison to Women of Color and include them in the conversation.
Finally, after three years of identifying as a Feminist I realized that Feminism wasn’t actually Feminism. While, like Beyonce said plain and clear, “Feminism means equality”, feminism has not always been defined as that. Most of Feminism’s history has been White Feminism, and not real feminism.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the leader of the American suffrage movement in the early 1900s, was angry that “degraded black men” had the right to vote over white women. She was still racist, and so were a lot of the original arguments of Feminists in America. So much so that black feminists began to call themselves womanists, started and named by Alice Walker, and latina feminists began to call themselves mujerists. They did not agree with the political Feminist group in America.
The first line of Rachel Wiley’s “The Dozens” at Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2016 states clearly what real feminism is called, “intersectional feminism a.k.a.actual fucking feminism.”
Intersectional feminism: (According to Intersectional Feminism for Beginners) feminism that is mindful of intersectionality, “a feminist sociological theory that centers around analyzing and discussing how oppression often intersects, creating unique and varied experiences of discrimination”. It used to only refer to black women, but now it is considered to be “discrimination faced by anyone who identifies with the multiple social, biological, and cultural groups that are not favored in patriarchal, capitalist, white supremacist society.”
So I want to be an intersectional feminist. Stating it isn’t enough; I must do something. I have decided, that Literary Pixie will only review books written by women, with a focus on those who are not white or cisgender. (I am currently working on an essay that goes into more detail about why.)
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, with her intense style of writing was able to put me in the perspective of Celie, to understand the privileges that being born white has granted me in society, and to want to be part of the solution that ends the cycle. I fell in love with Celie, Shug, Sofia, Mary Agnes, and Nettie. Their laughter will forever ring in my ears.