Walker's daughter, Rebecca Walker, talks about growing up
as a multiracial "Movement Child"--and why she
downplays her bisexuality in her new memoir
1969 in Jackson, Miss., aspiring black writer Alice Walker,
married to white Jewish civil rights attorney Mel Leventhal,
gave birth to a multiracial child, a "translator,"
named Rebecca. "I am not a bastard, the product
of a rape, the child of some white devil. I am a Movement
Child," the 31-year-old Walker writes in her searching
autobiography, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of
a Shifting Self (Riverhead, $23.95). "I am not tragic."
when her parents divorced, the girl was raised by each in
two-year shifts, shuttling between coasts (mostly San Francisco
and Larchmont, N.Y.), between cultures (structureless bohemia
and Jewish suburbia), and found herself a "movement"
child as much psychologically as politically. At Fire Lake,
a "gauche" Jewish summer camp, she gets denied
"Sing Captain" honors--she then remembers she
was told she is "intimidating," and intimidating
is "another word for black." With a black uncle,
she is told she laughs like a "cracker." "A
part of me feels pushed away when they say this," Walker
writes, "like I have something inside of me I know
Walker, this rich, discursive book--which took four years
to write--was a way to stitch herself into a coherent whole.
"My body was part of a great stow about changing
race relationships in our country," she says from
Berkeley, Calif., where she lives with her partner of five
years, singer Meshell N'degeocello. "But with my
parents' divorce, that stow fell apart, and they didn't
rewrite the stow enough to make me continue to make sense."
The book, not surprisingly, has been "sobering"
for them. "The intensity of the loneliness and displacement
I felt was a revelation for them," she says.
all the warp and weave of her "shifting self,"
Walker hasn't just made provisional
peace with the in-between. As cofounder of the Third Wave
Direct Action Corporation,
a nonprofit that nurtures activism and leadership
in young women, and having edited anthologies on feminism
and masculinity, she's used the in-between for maximum social
impact. But you won't find that level of argument and deliberateness
in Black, White and Jewish--it's too evocative for politics,
which was precisely how Walker's wanted it. "So
often when you write about race and class and gender, you
can get really bogged down in the head," she says.
"I wanted to built an empathic link to the girl
in the book."
book's loose style kicks off with the first sentence: "I
don't remember things." Considering that the next 300-plus
pages consist almost entirely of high-resolution recollection--the
order of high scores on a game of Pac-Man, the fact that
the sheets she had as a teenager came from Bloomingdale's--it
is a disingenuous way to open an autobiography. Walker is
unflinching with certain details, like her abortion at 14,
but leaves us wanting more, drawing to a close right when
she graduates from high school. No doubt, her education
at liberal bastion Yale, starting Third Wave, even opening
(and, a year later, closing) a cybercafe in Brooklyn would
have been revealing material, particularly for a memoir.
And then there's the issue of the absent fourth adjective
in the book's title: bisexual. "People keep asking
me, `Why don't you have a coming-out moment in the book?'"
says Walker. "But I never had a coming-out moment.
I was always bisexual and had a fairly fluid sexuality.
I felt no desire to overarticulate some profound, hypersexual
a perfectly legitimate argument: The book, after all, has
the top-heavy issues of race and class already on its wide
and elliptical mind. But after chapters overrun with boyfriends,
Walker's "fluidity" makes its first real appearance
on page 302--18 pages from the end--when she introduces
a female lover (N'degeocello) "bundled up and close
under our comforter." There's a shyness, a sudden discretion,
that emerges in these final pages that doesn't feel native
to Walker, who is bold and unsparing elsewhere. She's a
thoughtful "translator," but it's hard not to
feel that, at least for now, this one part of her shifting
self has been negotiated right out of the conversation.
is a contributing editor at Brill's Content.