Rebecca Walker
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REBECCA WALKER: REFLECTIONS FROM BLACK, WHITE, AND JEWISH, a report from the Re-Imagining Gathering
by Doug King © WitherSpoonSociety.org, November 1, 2000


     
 

Rebecca 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 and Canada.

(From 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."

So 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."

She 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 life."

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."

But 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 people."

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."

Her 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.

 

 

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