Give Rebecca Walker any more hyphens and she'll need an
8 1/2" x 11" calling card.
Walker is not about categories and generalizations. She
needs no blanket adjectives to introduce her when she speaks
to a crowd of students and community members Monday night
at UC Berkeley's Reutlinger Center Hillel.
least as diverse as Walker herself, Berkeleyans have come
to see Walker speak on a topics that transcend racial, religious
and geographic boundariesfamily, sense of self and
the pain that often accompanies growing up.
sheepishly uncomfortable speaking in front of a fairly large
audience, Walker reads passages from her book Black White
and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (Putnam, 2001)
and candidly recounts her multi-cultural journey and the
effects publication of her book has had both on herself
and on her family.
I found was that remembering was very painful," Walker
said, smiling shyly.
sentiment is echoed in the beginning of Black, White and
Jewish, as Walker writes, "I don't remember things.
Like the names of streets and avenues I have driven down
a hundred times, like the stories behind Jewish holidays
I have celebrated since I was eleven, like the date of my
book follows her through an atypical childhood spent moving
to a variety of cities and discovering what it means to
grow up as a bi-racial person. Her parents divorced when
Walker was young, and by the time she finished high school
she lived in Brooklyn, Washington D.C., the Bronx and San
Black White and Jewish Walker reflects on the discovery
that different people around her classify her differentlysome
see a black girl, some a white girl, some neither. As she
grew up, Walker struggled to define herself on her own terms,
as a person, not a color.
with what Walker describes as "childlike energy,"
she says she the book looks beyond masks to see who we are.
Walker adds she strove to provide a story for people that's
very up front and emotionalshe didn't want it to be
an intellectual exercise.
says, "I wanted the reader to drop into ... the body
of this little girl growing up and experience race in a
very immediate, firsthand way."
she continued with the process of fleshing out her text,
Walker said, it became therapeutic and helped her let go
of certain experiences.
asked how her parentsJewish civil rights attorney
Mel Leventhal and author Alice Walkerreacted to the
book, she said it was initially difficult for them to see
that some of the choices they made as parents had a negative
impact on her.
organized the book by city, loosely following the chronology
by which she moved back and forth across the country every
two years to satisfy her divorced parents' custody arrangement.
On the east coast, her father eventually remarried, while
her Bay Area-dwelling mother pursued her lucrative writing
think what's interesting about the way I grew up is that
not only did I move back and forth between regions, cultures,
races, socioeconomic classes, but I was also moving back
and forth between different paradigms of femininity and
motherhood," Walker says.
stepmother followed a more "traditional" mothering
path, giving up her career for her children, while Walker's
mother refused to sacrifice herself for her child and expected
Walker to be more like a sister than a daughter.
third grade Walker realized she was a "raced being"
when a boy she had a crush on rejected her because he told
her he didn't like black girls.
thought, 'Oh my God. Is that what I am? A black girl?"
Walker says of the experience.
up during the '70s and '80s, Walker's family was decidedly
middle class. She explains the sense of entitlement her
parents instilled in her, resulting in a feeling that she
can achieve what she wants in life, regardless of the categories
people put her in.
am a Movement Child. My parents tell me I can do anything
I put my mind to, that I can be anything I want. They buy
me Erector sets and building blocks, Tinkertoys and books,
more and more books...I am not tragic," Walker reads
she is anything but tragic.