Rebecca Walker



by Robert Flemming © Publishers Weekly, November 06, 2000


PW: In your memoir, Black, White and Jewish(reviewed on p. TK), you write of your life as the daughter of a noted black woman writer and a Jewish civil rights lawyer in these terms: "They did not buffer, protect, watch out for, or look after me. I was watered, fed, admired, stroked, and expected to grow. I was mostly left alone to discover the world and my place in it." Can you elaborate on this?

RW: My mother [Alice Walker], who created beautiful spaces for me to live in, always trusted that I could navigate this world. She'd say, "You can do this." While my parents' nurturing was very important and kept me from splintering, neither of them actively addressed the issue of my experience as a mixed person. It was difficult and painful for them to even imagine that this life was not okay for me. They would have had to face the limitations of the movement that brought them together, the limitations of the culture that denounced their love and, finally, the limitations of themselves.

PW: No doubt, as you go out on your book tour, you'll face many questions about your relationship with your mother. In the book, we feel her presence, her spirit, but she is also an elusive figure. Was this portrayal deliberate?

RW: It was very important that this book be my story. Any time someone has a famous parent, it's crucial that person reclaim their own space, their own life. In fact, both of my parents are written very shadowy, but as I experienced them. My parents were not super-involved in my daily activities. My mother was often off traveling, lecturing or writing. I was left to confront life on my terms. I understood that it didn't mean that either of them loved me any less. I felt their love intensely.

PW: One of the book's accomplishments is your demolishing of the "tragic mulatta" myth. Why was this so important to you?

RW: As a reader, it was important to write the book I needed to read. I've read all of the classic texts in this area, from Nella Larsen to the current books, and they leave you feeling like you want to slice your wrists. The tragic mulatta could never find her place. I understand that myth, and tried to honor it because its literature provided an ongoing explanation of its different dynamics and manifestations throughout time. Ultimately, I choose what of the myth I would value and what I would not.

PW: You are also very explicit about your sexual awakening. What led to your decision to reveal those experiences?

RW: The more I talked to mixed people, the more I discovered that the world of sexual encounters was a place to explore for them, a place to feel safe, to find intimacy. If someone is grooving on you sexually, the issues of race and culture become secondary. You feel that you are seen and recognized and honored in a total way. The encounters, as they are written, capture the longing to be loved, the longing to be accepted. I know I drew a lot of strength from those encounters.

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