28.05.2019 Dr. Robert McKay
Alice Walker’s Vision of Kinship Across Gender, Race & Species
I want to return to the writing of the American novelist and social activist Alice Walker, in particular her novel The Temple of My Familiar (1989) and the provocative and committed non-fiction essays “Everything Is a Human Being” (1983) “Am I Blue?” (1986) and “Why Did the Balinese Chicken Cross the Road?” (1987) that presage it. These and other writings ensured that Walker was, without doubt, the highest-profile writer of literature to be thinking seriously about kinship with animals in the late 1990s when “animal studies” was initially developing. And yet I say “return” because Walker is now rarely if ever engaged as a thinker on these questions. In part, I will suggest, this is because of the dearth of interest, until recently, in animal studies, in the complex and difficult interrelation of the issues of species, race, animality and blackness — and the intersection of these with issues of gender. This is precisely the zone of inquiry in which Walker works.
This paper revisits Walker’s writing in the context of recent scholarship in critical race studies — by thinkers such as Benedicte Boisseron, Claire Jean Kim, Lindgren Johnson and Alexander Weheliye — that reads across the tense and conflicted politics, moralities, histories and representational complexities of species, gender and race. In particular, my interest is not so much showing how Walker articulates what Kim calls a “multi-optic critique” of the intersecting institutions of racism, speciesism and sexism; rather, I aim to delineate the affirmative character of other-than-human “familiarity” that Walker proposes, in painstaking dissidence against anthroponormative humanity.
Robert McKay teaches at the University of Sheffield. He is the co-author of Killing Animals (Illinois UP) and co-editor of Against Value in the Arts and Education (Rowman and Littlefield), Werewolves, Wolves and the Gothic (Wales UP) and The Palgrave Handbook of Animals and Literature (Palgrave forthcoming). He co-edits Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature and is an Associate Editor for Society and Animals.