crowd of 200 people turned out to hear Rebecca Walker's
lecture "Bi-Racial Children and Families" on Wednesday.
What many of them found is a support network they didn't
After Walker spoke, she opened the floor for questions and
comments. When a mother asked about how best to raise her
1-year-old biracial child, Walker offered advice. She then
suggested the woman find others in the area struggling with
the same questions.
No more had the words left her mouth than another woman
raised her hand offering help.
While Walker signed books after her talk, a part of Diversity
Lecture Series VII at Grand Rapids Community College, small
groups gathered around the room: one for parents seeking
schools that value diversity for their mixed-race children;
one for biracial teen-agers who don't feel welcome in any
group; one for parents whose pre-teenage girls are having
trouble figuring out what to do with their hair if it has
characteristics that are neither typically black nor typically
"The hair issue is so huge," said Walker, relishing
the interaction. "This is like a movement meeting."
A movement meeting -- the civil rights movement in Mississippi
-- is where Walker's parents met. Her mother, Alice Walker,
is a southern-born black novelist, while her father is a
white Jewish lawyer from New York. They married in New York
because inter-racial marriages were illegal in Mississippi,
but returned to live in Jackson, Miss., before divorcing
when Walker was 10.
Reading excerpts from her book "Black White and Jewish,"
Walker, 32, described growing from a child who symbolized
the ideals of the civil rights movement to an adolescent
who tried to fit in everywhere but found herself struggling
to fit in anywhere. Last year, she fit into Time Magazine's
list of America's 50 future leaders.
After her parents divorced, Walker was shifted from one
to the other every two years, especially challenging since
each had gone to live in communities that were largely segregated
into white Jewish upper-middle class and black.
"Suddenly, I had to move back and forth between these
completely different worlds that both wanted to claim me
in very specific ways and wanted me to act, move and think
in very specific -- and very different -- ways," she
"I tried desperately to belong and be accepted. I had
to really act to fit in. What I discovered is the performative
nature of race, class and culture."
Whereas after she moved to be with her father she found
herself concerned about her bat mitzvah, Guess Jeans, and
the latest Police album, she couldn't have cared less about
those things two months before.
"What came to me is we are all constantly performing
race, class and culture," she said. "We learn
how to move, act, and be in accordance with our culture
and class. We do that to give us meaning and help us get
The ways we are conditioned to act, think, believe, and
move according to our culture, Walker said, do not reveal
who we are at the core.
Walker has found peace in the teachings of Buddhism and
accepting herself as she is.
She called people to break out of the scripts their cultural
groups have given them.
"What happens to the self when it is not defined by
one block, one culture?" she asked. "We need to
be able to honor our history but also not be completely
defined by it. We need to be open to something different
happening in the future -- we're expecting it all to happen
over again, and that's no way to live."
Walker emphasized that today she is comfortable with who
she is, though getting to this point has been hard work.
"I have come to a place of radical self-acceptance,
which has allowed the issues of fitting in to subside,"
she said. "Usually, I feel very welcomed where I go,
and I feel very at home because I feel at home with my body
and myself now. I stopped playing the fitting-in game because
you can't win.
Walker suggested that separating people by race is a modern
construct that does more harm than good.
"We all need to deal with the fact that racial purity
is insane," she said. "What we need to realize
is that all of us are mixed. The sooner we can get with
that, the better it will be for all of us. The idea that
we're all pure is an illusion -- we're all more connected
than we realize."