White And Jewish
By Rebecca Walker. Riverhead Books, 336 pages, $23.95.
ferocity of racism that still exists in the U.S will probably
come as little surprise to blacks and Jews - nor will the
degree to which it was administered to journalist Rebecca
her autobiography Black White and Jewish, Walker (a Jackson,
Miss. ``Movement child'' of the post-1960s Civil Rights
struggle) recounts in shifting memoirs her striving to please
her black mother, famed writer Alice Walker, and Jewish
father, and to fit comfortably into both cultures - only
to be ostracized on each side.
Walker and Mel Levanthal, both social activists, met and
fell in love in 1965 in Jackson, Miss. During the marriage,
Walker's father was disowned by his family, and Walker's
mother was treated as a traitor to her race. Finally, living
in a country where skin color defined who you are wore down
the liberal couple and they divorced.
the break-up, Walker alternated between her parents' homes
in two-year intervals, spending time in Mississippi, Brooklyn,
San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and looking for a new
identity with each move until she became an adult. Her book
poetically examines her search for herself.
her grammar and high school years, the author finds that
she is constantly on guard, watching everything she says
around her black friends and relatives for fear of being
labeled too white. And it's vice-versa around her white
friends. She doesn't want to appear too black.
Walker begins coming of age, she experiments with drugs
and sex, searching for some semblance of self-identity.
Walker says she feels more comfortable in airports than
any school or home she ever lived in because airports are
limbo spaces - ``blank, undemanding and neutral. Expectations
who occasionally writes for The New York Times, Harper's
Bazaar and Esquire magazine, and lectures at colleges and
universities, writes about a time when she was approached
after a speech by a young black mother raising a black and
white child. She tells Walker that when your skin is dark,
only one side is going to accept you, so it's easier to
forget about the white side. Walker disagrees and tells
the woman she needs to be honest with her daughter and tell
her the truth, that she belongs to both cultures. Tongue-in-cheek,
Walker quips that the worst that can happen is she will
be confused ``like me.''
Walker never openly admits it, the stranger's comments at
her speech do eventually find their mark. After years of
rejections by whites more than blacks, Walker subtly embraces
her black heritage more than her Jewish ancestry. Walker's
father's people never really accepted her, and her grandmother
didn't like her visiting. So she wears dreadlocks and, against
her father's wishes, changes her last name from Leventhal
to Walker when she turns 18.
in one of her many attempts to cross the colorline, Walker
drops her black boyfriend in favor of Andrew, a young white
man she meets while working on a film her mother wrote.
Just as the relationship with Andrew starts to feel comfortable,
Andrew introduces Walker to several of his boyhood buddies.
One night while playing cards and drinking beer, one of
the guys casually says he ``had to deal with a dumb n-----
at work.'' The sick feeling of racism and betrayal suddenly
washes over Walker and her relationship with Andrew is never
image of white boys out of control, drunk and hurling the
word n----- around, frightens me, reminds me of lynching
photographs I've seen,'' Walker writes. ``Would Andrew ever
turn on me? Would he ever look up one day and not see me
but a n-----?''
In the end, Walker comes to a certain truce with her struggle,
though her sense of self is still as light as air. ``It
all comes to this,'' she writes. ``I stand with those who
stand with me. I am tired of claiming for claiming's sake,
hiding behind masks of culture, creed, religion. My blood
is made from water and so it is bloodwater that I am made
of . . . I exist somewhere between black and white, family
and friend. I am flesh and blood, yes, but I am also ether.''
poignant triumph of self-discovery, Black White and Jewish
offers no easy answers. And that is perhaps its finest strength.
In such a way, it punctuates the divisionism in America
and its effects on innocent people whose cultures can't
see beyond skin deep.