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Robert Cohen, professor of social studies and history at NYU, is the author of Howard Zinn's Southern Diary: Civil Rights, Sit-ins, and Black Women's Student Activism (University of Georgia Press, 2018).
Alice Walker (Image Courtesy Virginia DeBolt)
In the past weeks the mainstream media have carried articles casting Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet, as an anti-Semite. Many of these articles, including the one by Gil Troy on HNN, have used the same few, select quotations from her poetry, with no contextualization, in order to indict Walker. They have ignored evidence from both her life history and her writings that contradicts the charge of anti-Semitism.
My view is that anti-Semitism is such a loathsome and dangerous form of bigotry that one should be careful and judicious -- examining all the relevant evidence, past and present -- before labeling someone an anti-Semite. All the more so in the case of Walker, a lifelong foe of bigotry. But instead there has been a rush to judgment, and a failure to examine Walker in a fair-minded way, so that the nuances of her thought and writing have been simply ignored.
Hoping that it is possible to restore some semblance of fairness and balance to this discussion, I offer below, complete and unedited, Alice Walker's poem "Conscious Earthlings," written earlier this year. The poem offers fierce criticism of Israel yet conveys warmth towards Jewish friends; it praises Jews who demonstrate solidarity on behalf of a world free of bigotry and share "the dream of one humanity ... one United Tribe of Conscious Earthlings." By reading the poem you can judge for yourself whether it offers evidence that critics have erred in denouncing Alice Walker as anti-Semitic.
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