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Alice Walker, Labels and Freedom

Alice Walker is a writer and social activist. Her best-known work of fiction is The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award. She knows that specificity contributes clarity.

In describing herself, Walker resorts to specificity in a way that accommodates the changes in ourselves at different points in our lives. There are times when the label "foolish" might have fit me, but I don't want to admit to that label regarding my entire lifespan. Alice Walker applies specificity to her sexuality. In a PBS documentary she says she is not a lesbian, she is not bisexual and she is not straight. And there is asexuality. We have a lasting condition expressed in a biological label called female or male, or hermaphrodite, and we are ever influenced by our hormones, but humans are sexually stimulated during only short moments, leaving them free to devote themselves to other pursuits and survival other than procreation. This is true of people with a variety of sexual orientations.

In my opinion we shouldn't argue with Walker wanting to avoid labels that represent her in any kind of robotic way. She considers herself free to respond to circumstances, to move here and there in what she does and to accept or reject opportunities. Walker has married and has had children. She is known to have been involved with the singer Tracy Chapman, for how long I don't know. She says it's her business and not the business of people like me. Some people might want to label her bisexual. I can imagine Walker disliking this label because it's too abstract, too simplistic, too static or wooden.

In identifying herself as free, Walker extends her non-conformity to areas other than sexuality. The Color Purple is about repressive authoritarianism. As a bright child she rebelled against authority and ran away from her parent's attempt to drag her to church. She says she left formal religion when she was thirteen and that she would spend Sundays reveling in the glory of nature. Nature, she says, is the only heaven I care for. "If there is another one," she says softly, "go!"

Walker speaks of others having "a problem with my disinterest in submission. My intellect. My choice of lovers. My choice of everything. Choose one. Choose all. They just had a problem." She says, "I don't know if I've ever cared much what others think."

A PBS special titled Alice Walker; Beauty in Truth is available on YouTube.

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