Rebecca Walker



BOOKS - Of color: In Black White and Jewish, bisexual author Rebecca Walker recalls struggles of growing up mixed-race
by Mekado Murphy , © February 01, 2002


Being a part of most any minority group in the United States means constantly being reminded of the ways you are different. It means building up a wall of defense that's always at risk of being torn down. It means either developing a sense of courage and self-worth or being capsized by the waves of prejudice. Rebecca Walker knows a thing or two about this kind of courage, though it has been a three-decade-long journey acquiring that knowledge. The autobiography Black White and Jewish affords Walker the opportunity to confront the demons of doubt that haunted her in childhood and come out empowered on the other side.

As the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning black author Alice Walker (The Color Purple) and white Jewish civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal, Walker describes herself as a "movement child." Her light caramel skin was to signify hope for racial unity. Fragmented by the divorce of her parents and stripped of idealism, the reality of her childhood experience was not quite so hopeful. Her life on both coasts dividing time between mom and dad presented a large set of challenges. And peers (along with some family members) weren't so easily able to embrace the unique blend of culture that Walker represented. Yet she feels she has been made stronger with each difficult moment endured.

"Through looking at the ways in which I have performed race and class and culture my whole life. I have realized that so much of those things are masks and that we are all performing," she says. "And I know now that there is a much deeper and more meaningful self beneath and beyond that mask."

The biography's first chapter opens with the line, "I don't remember things." It's a reflection of the clean slate Walker had to work with when sitting down to write her story. But in time, and after some meditation, she was able to recall experiences that launched her back into childhood. Relaying her memories in present tense, she creates a be-here-now immediacy to her past that makes for intense reading.

"The book is about the process of remembering in many ways for me," Walker says. "At the beginning, when I started writing, I really didn't remember a thing. And then I sort of started to allow myself to remember and was trying to get in touch with feelings I recalled. I remembered feeling lonely and fragmented and feeling as if I was constantly having to adapt. So a lot of sitting, a lot of praying, a lot of crying helped me get those memories back."

Assembling the book helped Walker find an honest voice as a writer and allowed her to move beyond the negative feelings of writing in her mother's shadow.

"I was writing from a very young age," she remembers. "But because my mother was such a well-known writer, I sometimes thought, 'What's the point? Why should I even bother trying to write when she does it so well?' It wasn't until this book that I really gave myself full permission to inhabit that space of being a writer - just to say I'm going to really craft this piece of work and really give myself over to words and poetry and emotion."

And Walker purposefully doesn't mention much in her autobiography regarding life as the daughter of a famous mother.

"I felt really strongly that I needed to make sure that my story was my story with this book," she says. "I didn't want it to be the book that people wanting to read the Alice Walker's daughter's story bought to find out about my mom and what happened when she got famous."
Many of the book's chapters chronicle the way Walker reacts at a young age to constant racial scrutiny and the impact her parents' divorce has on her growth. The use of sophisticated sexual relationships as a coping mechanism stands as a prevalent theme, as she discusses losing her virginity during adolescence, and an abortion at age 14.
"When I talk to a lot of mixed-race people or even children of divorce," she says, "what I hear is that all of us used the sexual as a place to get acceptance and affirmation. Especially when we weren't getting it from these different communities we were trying to be a part of."

Although through many tattered relationships, Walker eventually comes to a place of sexual self-confidence and belonging. She is currently raising a child with her lover, singer Meshell N'degeocello, and offers some interesting insight on her life-long bisexuality.

"In my experience, I didn't have a big coming out moment," she says. "That wasn't how it worked. I just always had a kind of fluidity with my sexuality that wasn't really questioned. In the book, there's always a sexual tension with my female friends. It's very integrated within the pages the way it was in my life. My only coming out equivalent would be when I told my father I was in love with my current partner. He still says to me, 'You're gonna go back to men one day."

During a time when many gay, lesbian and bisexual black celebrities are not being outspoken about their sexuality, Walker finds it a vital subject to broach.

"I just think it's so important that we be honest about our lives, because there are so many young people coming up who need models, who need to know that they're not alone. And also, I feel that I couldn't live my life any other way. I couldn't be like so many people in the media who are closeted. I just don't know how to do that," Walker says.

What she does know how to do is write from the heart, and offer up some words of sustenance for many who travel across the rugged racial and sexual divide.



Rebecca Walker - All Rights Reserved 2007. - Rebecca @ MySpace