An Open Letter to Barack Obama
By Alice Walker
Originally published November 5, 2008 on TheRoot.com
Alice Walker on expectations, responsibilities and a new reality that is almost more than the heart can bear.
Dear Brother Obama,
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear. And yet, this observation is not intended to burden you, for you are of a different time, and, indeed, because of all the relay runners before you, North America is a different place. It is really only to say: Well done. We knew, through all the generations, that you were with us, in us, the best of the spirit of Africa and of the Americas. Knowing this, that you would actually appear, someday, was part of our strength. Seeing you take your rightful place, based solely on your wisdom, stamina and character, is a balm for the weary warriors of hope, previously only sung about.
I would advise you to remember that you did not create the disaster that the world is experiencing, and you alone are not responsible for bringing the world back to balance. A primary responsibility that you do have, however, is to cultivate happiness in your own life. To make a schedule that permits sufficient time of rest and play with your gorgeous wife and lovely daughters. And so on. One gathers that your family is large. We are used to seeing men in the White House soon become juiceless and as white-haired as the building; we notice their wives and children looking strained and stressed. They soon have smiles so lacking in joy that they remind us of scissors. This is no way to lead. Nor does your family deserve this fate. One way of thinking about all this is: It is so bad now that there is no excuse not to relax. From your happy, relaxed state, you can model real success, which is all that so many people in the world really want. They may buy endless cars and houses and furs and gobble up all the attention and space they can manage, or barely manage, but this is because it is not yet clear to them that success is truly an inside job. That it is within the reach of almost everyone.
I would further advise you not to take on other people's enemies. Most damage that others do to us is out of fear, humiliation and pain. Those feelings occur in all of us, not just in those of us who profess a certain religious or racial devotion. We must learn actually not to have enemies, but only confused adversaries who are ourselves in disguise. It is understood by all that you are commander in chief of the United States and are sworn to protect our beloved country; this we understand, completely. However, as my mother used to say, quoting a Bible with which I often fought, "hate the sin, but love the sinner." There must be no more crushing of whole communities, no more torture, no more dehumanizing as a means of ruling a people's spirit. This has already happened to people of color, poor people, women, children. We see where this leads, where it has led.
A good model of how to "work with the enemy" internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies. And your smile, with which we watch you do gracious battle with unjust characterizations, distortions and lies, is that expression of healthy self-worth, spirit and soul, that, kept happy and free and relaxed, can find an answering smile in all of us, lighting our way, and brightening the world.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
In Peace and Joy,
© 2008, Alice Walker
knowbuddhau at 11/14/2008 7:57:36 PM
O sister my Sister Alice, I enjoyed seeing you on DN! the other day. I especially enjoyed your very moving letter to our Poet-President-Elect.
Wasn't his victory speech a beautiful poem? It was only in listening to it the morning after that it dawned on me: that's why he speaks like that!
I see some commentary here, regarding the terms for siblings. I use them in the way I do as my updating of Whitman's famous phrase regarding Lincoln, lying in state.
I'm a 'white' guy, although my mom just found a marriage certificate from the late 1700s indicating that a woman named Heather Flower married into our family. Tribe unknown, but I presume it was one of the many in the Iroquois Confederation. HA! So all that time, my family got away with being "colored," non-white, by the insane "one drop" rule.
KNOW! BUDDHA U!
O Sister! My Sister
[First voice: Osiris speaks to his beloved Isis; second voice: Luke speaks to his sister, Leia Skywalker; third voice: we all speak with one voice; fourth voice: Being Aware of Becoming.]
My sister is my Goddess;
My sister is my Wife.
My sister is my Princess,
I bear all
S T R I F E!!!
My sister is my Mother!
In sum, O Sister! my Sister! my Sister is my
L I F E!
O Brother! My Brother
Washington Poets Association
(First voice: Isis speaks to her beloved Osiris; second voice: a caregiver speaks to a retired pilot; third voice: we all speak with One voice; fourth voice: Being Aware of Becoming.)
My brother is my God; yes,
My brother is my Husband, too;
My brother is my Pilot,
Ground c r e w .
My brother is my Pater, He
Who rhymes with Mater 'n Water;
In sum, O Brother! my Brother! my Brother, He is
Y O U !
- Posted By:
newsfromphilly at 11/14/2008 11:46:36 PM
I also saw her on Democracy Now! and I was horrified. How dare anyone tell us that the enslaved Africans who built the White House were waiting for Obama and that African-Americans had been waiting for Obama. OBAMA IS NOT DESCENDED FROM SLAVES and was socialized by a 100% white extended family. How is this, in any way, related to the ancestors? WHY CAN'T the Obama-nation STOP tying this man to our enslaved ancestors? Be happy that a person of color won the election, but don't tell me that he represents the rise of enslaved Africans or their descendants. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!
knowbuddhau at 11/15/2008 7:48:00 AM
Thanks for asking, I'll take your questions. Sister Alice dares tell us for the following purpose.
Notice that you see these words, hear these words, and even feel these words: you are experiencing emotional reactions, not just purely sensations, right?
Let me ask: how does this happen? How are these words right here working right now?
Words function in the same way we function: As self-emptying vessels.
Into the ocean of my intentions and meanings, I am dipping these words like cups; I'm passing them over to you; as you pass your eyes over them, they self-empty into your ocean of meanings and intentions, as rain falling into the body of water from which it arose.
Without these words ever being spoken, you nevertheless hear them, right? How this is happening is essentially a mystery; I can describe it, I can compare it to raining; it's up to you to experience meaning, I can't force it into you.
Just so, when we see Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia walk into a house built for white masters by black slaves, and be greeted as the new masters of the one House we all share, there's a meaning to it that self-empties, like the waters of Justice rolling down like a mighty stream. Hear the roar! Feel the wind of the rushing stream of Justice!
One more question: what are we, Beings, or machines? We are sharing Being aware of this right here: our shared Becoming. My intentions are filling these words with meaning. I am pouring my heart out to you. Life pours through us; the sensations and emotions you are having is the friction of the divine flow flowing through us divine vessels.
Poetry refers to that which arises from the friction of the flow flowing through us; prose refers only to descriptions of facts. Sister Alice and I are poets: we talk like this all the time, because we never get used to the feeling that Being itself is divine.
That's how she dares tell us that there's more to Obama taking office than the mere facts of the day can say.