and activist Rebecca Walker greeted an audience in Thomas
Great Hall this past Thursday evening and talked about her
experience being biracial in a racially divided society.
Dressed in flowing white pants under a white skirt and wrapped
in pink and yellow scarves, she seemed to exude an energy
that everyone was easily drawn to. When addressing the audience,
she was informal, beginning her talk with a casual request
that everyone join her in saying om in order
to set the mood for the talk, a vibration that Walker insisted
would center and calm the nervous system.
of famed novelist Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker she graduated
from Yale University in 1992 and has since spearheaded the
Third Wave Direct Action Corps, an advocacy group that has
traveled the country registering inner city residents to
vote and which is devoted to cultivating activism in young
writing has been published in Essence, Mademoiselle, The
New York Daily News, SPIN, Harpers, Sassy, and The
Black Scholar. In addition, Walker has been featured on
CNN, MTV, The Charlie Rose Show, The Joan Rivers Show, and
in The New York Times, The Chicago Times, The Atlanta Constitution,
the San Francisco Examiner, Harpers Bazaar, Working
Woman, Elle, Esquire, and U.S. News and World Report.
spoke about and read excerpts from her latest book, BLACK
WHITE AND JEWISH: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. She
began in a natural place, talking about her parents, whom
she categorized as an interracial movement couple.
They met in Mississippi in the mid 1960s, where her white
father assisted in the movement to desegregate schools while
her black mother was involved in similar anti-segregation
activism. They married in defiance of the anti-miscegenation
laws of Mississippi and were harassed with death threats,
faced with violence, hatred, and immense resistance for
what Walker described as a very pure love, regardless
of the racial difference.
Walkers earliest memories of Mississippi are idyllic,
her parents divorced when she was 8 years old, at the same
time that the movement that bound them began to change.
A more militant edge to the black power movement replaced
the 1960s emphasis on peace and love. Her father was
no longer welcomed in the Mississippi community while her
mothers strength was publicly jeopardized by her commitment
to a white man.
the divorce of her parents and throughout her life, Walker
has found herself caught between black and white cultures,
a struggle that is the focus of her autobiography. After
the divorce, everything that made me make sense,
she explains, was gone. The book was an attempt to
find and rewrite my story.
The process of writing her autobiography led her to view
herself within a racial construct in a much different way.
She emphasized how the experiences she faced being biracial
are common to all people. Race, class, and culture
are extremely performative. Whatever I thought was expected
of me, I performed. There are so many different cultural
masks, which each one of us inevitably assume.
read three excerpts from her book, all from very different
periods and places in her life. The first, and my favorite,
was from a section entitled Brooklyn, which
recounted her first racial, cultural performance.
Walker was attending PS321 and tells the story of her crush
on a white schoolmate who tells her one day that he doesnt
like black girls. The way in which Walker described
her feeling at that moment was intense and tangible, characteristics
that flavored each excerpt she read.
stuck to me like sweat, she recalled, a feeling
that pushed her to become more like a not-black
girl in order to win the acceptance of the boy.
She gave a painful account of her attempts to mold herself
accordingly. She brushed her hair incessantly, like
Martha Brady, made sure that her crush saw when she
was picked up from school by her white family, and tried
to block out the public role of her black mother in her
life. She discouraged her mother with lies from attending
her performance in a school play so that her crush would
not see her relation to someone black. Instead, her white
father, stepmother, and grandmother attend. Though she sees
what she wanted when she looks out at their faces, she feels
the absence of her mother with shame, sadness, and guilt.
was a part of me that was not acceptable, could not be seen
or touched, explained Walker. The poignancy of
the section was wrapped up in this realization and in the
sadness that Walker felt as a girl in performing what she
deemed as necessary cultural and racial performance.
But she also made it clear, directly and through her reading
of other excerpts, that she has let go of her necessity
and perhaps capacity to perform, out of her
desire to truthfully portray who she is and not what she
believes she should be perceived as.
reading, Walker eagerly invited questions from the audience
and received, unusually, many. One member of the audience
asked Walker how her experiences as a biracial female may
have differed from the experiences of a biracial male, as
female identity is so often bound up in issues of beauty.
Walker smiled and answered the question without hesitation,
indicating that her biracial identity was severely complicated
by her gender.
much of my race was bound up in wanting to feel attractive
to boys. Males have often been the root cause of my racial
discomfort, she answered. Issues of beauty have
been particularly difficult for her, she explained, because
she was caught between two different standards of beauty,
white and black, and did not fit into either. Her black
boyfriends encouraged her to become or act more black,
while she was often rejected from whites like her PS321
crush, as she didnt fit into that category. Walker
found it was necessary to define her own sense of beauty
while ignoring the conventional standards.
was perhaps one of the best-liked speakers that Bryn Mawr
has entertained this year. Her clarity and energy delivered
the message that everyone must realize that we are not the
body that we are in; there is a being that transcends physicality
and race. As Walker emphasized, we are all fundamentally
Walkers talk was sponsored by the Office for Institutional
Diversity, the Center for Ethnicities, Communities &
Social Policies, Feminist & Gender Studies, and the
Half & Half Cultural Group.