“Dear Joanna” by Alice Walker, from Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987
Forgive me for writing again so soon. I realize you are busy reading the words of all your other sisters who also love you, but you have been constantly on my mind and each day I think of new things to share with you. Today I wanted to tell you about beauty.
In you, there is beauty like a rock.
So distilled, so unshatterable, so ageless, it will attract great numbers of people who will attempt, almost as an exercise of will (and of no more importance to them than an exercise), to break it. They will try ignoring you, flattering you, joining you, buying you, simply to afford themselves the opportunity of finding the one crack in your stone of beauty by which they may enter with their tools of destruction. Often you will be astonished that, while they pursue their single-minded effort to do this, they do not seem to see your sorrowing face (sorrowing because some of them will have come to you in the disguise of friends, even sisters) or note the quavering of your voice, or the tears of vulnerability in your eyes. To such people, your color, your sex, yourself make you an object. But an object, strangely, perversely, with a soul. A soul.
It is your soul they want.
They will want to crack it out of the rock and wear it somewhere—not inside them, where it might do them good, but about them—like, for example, a feather through their hair, or a scalp dangling from their belt.
As frightening as this is, it has always been so.
Your mother and father, your grandparents, their parents, all have had your same beauty like a rock, and all have been pursued, often hunted down like animals, because of it. Perhaps some grew tired of resisting, and in weariness relinquished the stone that was their life. But most resisted to the end. The end, for them, being merely you. Your life. Which is not an end.
That resistance is also your legacy.
Inner beauty, an irrepressible music, certainly courage to say No or Yes, dedication to one’s own Gods, affection for one’s own spirit(s), a simplicity of approach to life, will survive all of us, through your will.
You are, perhaps, the last unconquered resident on this earth. And must live, in any case, as if it must be so.— “Dear Joanna” by Alice Walker, from Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987