Walker is considered on of the most audible voices of the
young women's movement. Following graduation from Yale University,
she founded Third Wave Direct Action Corporation, a national
nonprofit organization devoted to cultivating young women's
leadership and activism. In their first summer, Third Wave
initiated an historic emergency youth drive which registered
over 20,000 new voters in inner cities across the United
States. Rebecca is a writer and has been included in women's
and black studies anthologies; she edited To Be Real: Telling
the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism. She has hosted
a television forum on inner city teen violence and was recipient
of several awards and currently speaks about Third Wave
feminism at colleges and conferences across the United States
the Gathering program book)
The reading-plus-commentary nature of Rebecca Walker's presentation
makes it hard to summarize. We offer here a few scattered
glimpses and a recommendation that you get the book as soon
as you can.
Reflecting on her writing of an intensely personal memoir,
Black, White, and Jewish, Walker said that "in an
ahistorical culture like ours, to remember is often an act
of resistance." Our culture makes it difficult
to heal past wounds, she added, so we are left "acting
out the pain we feel from these ancient wounds."
she read passages from her early childhood, and the dawning
awareness -- coming mainly from a little boy whom she really
liked -- that she was different, and her growing desire
to be "a not-black girl."
read of visiting with her mother's relatives, and learning
from her Uncle Bobby to shoot a hunting rifle, and learning
"to walk like I'm touch, like I have a gun on my
hip." She learned from her uncle what it meant
to be called a "cracker," so "the
difference and the hostilities of race are etched into my
Before writing the book, she said, "I had little
memory of my childhood, and I realize it was a way of coping,
of avoiding the pain." But by remembering, she
went on, and letting the details emerge and unfold, "I
was enabled to come to terms with the memory, and deal with
my parents, and to become a person."
with deep pain she acknowledged that her parents are "not
willing to change their perceptions of themselves to accommodate
the realities of my own experience." So she asked
how we are to re-imagine without coming to terms with our
differing memories, and the differing meanings we give to
the same incidents. "How do we process past wrongs
if we can't agree on what it was?", she asked.
Walker also read and talked about her travels to other parts
of the world, especially in Asia, as a young adult. One
of her discoveries was that while "in the U.S. my
race defines me," in other countries "I
find I'm defined by my relations, by my dealings with other
She told of being asked by her lover, who is black, what
it's like "to have white inside me." She
can't answer about race, she says, which is "the
biggest cultural construct there is." But she adds
that "I find the whiteness is a lack -- a lack of
a non-neurotic quality."
Wrapping up her talk, Walker said that "I have never
been granted the luxury of being claimed unequivocally by
any one group, one people."
She then offered to respond to questions from the group,
and Thandeka, another presenter, noted that Walker had pointed
to the question of whether within all our memories we might
find some absolute truth. Thandeka suggested that Walker
was implying that absolute truth, if it is to be found anywhere,
lies in the acknowledgment of the pain in our lives.
Walker responded that she has found "the ultimate
liberating moments" when she has been able to sit
down with her parents "and realize that all our
truths are on the table, and all are legitimate, and none
needs to dominate."
A couple women asked very practically about dealing with
race in their own inter-racial families, and Walker's response
to these was to urge that people talk with each other, and
keep talking, and be sensitive to what others (especially
the children) cannot say.
Another person asked how Walker's experience might help
us to make changes in our own communities. She answered
by pointing to the important or narrative, our own stories,
as helping us grow into our own identities and to understand
and respect the identities of others.
Spiritual growing is one part of that, she added. "I've
learned from Buddhism that it's really important to face
and live with our discomfort. Learn to be comfortable with
our own discomfort." That has been a vital part
of the growing that occurred among the varied members of
the voter registration bus tour: gay members of Act Up,
South Bronx high school boys, preppie high school girl and
more -- all jammed together in the same bus, all at each
other, but learning to deal with each other and keep working
together. "That," she concluded, "was
the real achievement of the trip."
final comment focused again on her relationship with her
parents. "The fact that both my parents have been
unable to embrace this book ... this has been soooo painful
to me." Yet through all of that, "I still
love my mother, she's sacred to me. I realize I love her
unconditionally ... and I have to do that ... and that love
liberates me." Maybe those words, too, pointed
to a hint of the absolutes that she has found through the
painful process of writing her life.