Rebecca Walker
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IDENTITY CRISIS,
By Livi Regenbaum/Kansas City Jewish Chronicle © Jewsweek.com, 2001


     
 

In her new memoir, "Black, White and Jewish," author Rebecca Walker shares her thoughts on mixed-bred identity

Jewsweek.com | Finding one's identity is the issue author Rebecca Walker tackles in her memoir, "Black, White and Jewish." Walker, daughter of black author Alice Walker and white Jewish lawyer Mel Leventhal, clearly depicts the struggles of growing up biracial in a racially divided world.

"The book is really a childhood memoir," Walker said in a phone interview from her Berkley, Calif., home. "In many ways, it is not only about race and divorce, it is about adolescence. And so much of all our adolescence is trying to find out who we are, where we belong and what our group is."

Walker's memoir is a coming-of-age story about a girl whose parents - one white and Jewish, one black and from the South - met and married during the civil-rights movement and later divorced. The book follows Walker as she struggles to find herself in both the black and white worlds.

Walker is criss-crossing the country promoting her new memoir. In the book, Walker confronts the demons of her childhood, including her experimentation with drugs, sex and her feelings of loneliness. She describes her mother leaving her alone at times and seldom seeing her father.

When asked whether she felt alienated by her parents, Walker giggles.

"What I felt was lonely, a bit confused, and a bit sort of displaced. But I always felt very strongly that my parents loved me, even though my father was a workaholic and my mom was busy doing what she was doing."

Being left largely alone while growing up, Walker turned to experimentation with drugs and sex. She said that sex filled a lonely void of not connecting in a black or white culture.

"I think that drugs were a big part of our culture at that time," she said. "In a way, the sexual became the place where we found acceptance and love. If we couldn't get it from any community, we certainly got it from our boyfriends and girlfriends. We certainly engaged our sexuality in order to get some of that love that we were missing."

The struggle to find her individuality is a continuing process for Walker.

"I think it is a constant process," she said. "I think by the end of the book, I am finding much more of a community in school, a kind of intellectual community. The life of the mind starts to be really the thing that mitigates race, class, gender, sexuality, and I think that was true for me in college."

A CULTURAL JEW

Born in 1969 in Jackson, Miss., Walker grew up in San Francisco and New York and graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1992. In 1998, she co-founded Third Wave Foundation, the only national, activist philanthropic organization for young women between the ages of 15 and 30. She is currently a writer and has been a contributing editor to Ms. magazine since 1989.


Today, Walker said, she sees herself as many different things.

"I feel very much that I am very comfortable as a cultural Jew. I also feel very much at home in the spiritual conditions of the East, like Buddhism. I also feel very at home in artists' communities. I am a mother, a partner, a traveler."

Walker said she chose to write her memoir for several reasons. "Writing the book, for me, was extremely healing and therapeutic," she said. "I felt very much like what I set out to do which was find a voice that could connect the disparate parts of myself, the disparate experiences. I also felt like I wanted more stories of what it felt like to be mixed race, something that was complex and that took me on a real journey. And when I did not find that, I figured I had to write it."

One theme Walker emphasizes in her book is the importance of memory and how one can learn from it. "Memory only serves us if we are able to let go," Walker said. "You can't live your life as if every moment is what happened in the past."

Walker said she hopes readers will personally connect to her book.

"I hope people feel solace that we are connected," Walker said. "They are not alone in their feelings of aloneness. When I was growing up and still today, books are great friends to me. If my book can be a great friend to people, I will feel very, very successful."


… We certainly engaged our sexuality in order to get some of that love that we were missing ...

-- Rebecca Walker

 

 

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