Walkers parents gave up on their dream of an interracial
marriage so she writes to figure out who she is.
don't remember things," Rebecca Walker writes at the
beginning of Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a
Shifting Self. That's shaky ground for an autobiography
-- after all, an author must have memories if she intends
to write memoirs.
But Walker, who is the daughter of famed black "womanist"
writer Alice Walker and white civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal,
does have memories. She remembers a great grandmother who
wouldn't look at her or speak to her because she was not
white. She remembers laughing with her cousins -- but not
as easily once they said she laughed like a cracker. She
remembers losing her virginity soon after her age gained
a second digit. And she remembers how, when she was fifteen,
teachers saved her life by caring about her mind.
of which doesn't make her opening statement a lie -- at
least not entirely. The word "remembering" implies
an unbroken thread connecting the past to the present. And
when Walker began writing, she still hadn't made sense of
all the memories that didn't fit together: friends who played
sports at Jewish summer camp and friends who hung out in
a San Francisco parking lot; an internship at the Museum
of Modern Art and a boyfriend who cleaned tables at an old
folks' home; walking to the laundromat with her and her
mother's clothes and sneaking Entenmann's cookies from the
cupboard of her father's suburban home.
the book," Walker says, "was the ultimate act
of self-parenting. I needed to create a place where I could
be all of those things. The process of writing it altered
me a great deal. I think I was able to become much more
title -- Black White and Jewish -- gives the false impression
that Walker's autobiography is merely the sum of its author's
racial parts. Her original title, Morphology, might have
been more appropriate. "It was as much a story about
being a child of divorce and even just a child of my crazy
generation as it was a story of race," she says. "What
I was really talking about was the way in which we were
forced to change constantly."
recollections of the late 1970s and early 1980s are anchored
in Pac Man scores, images of Sid Vicious with his safety-pinned
Union Jack and descriptions of people wearing Members Only
jackets. At the same time, her account of growing up with
divorced parents reads like literature, not like self-help.
didn't want it to be a narrative of victimization,"
Walker explains. Without apologizing for her adolescent
rage or denying bitterness toward either parent (fans of
Alice Walker might cringe at the icon's typically human
mistakes), the adult telling the story manages to subtly
express an undercurrent of love for both parents and for
the book's dedication -- "For my parents" -- might
say more for Walker's idealism and hope for unity than any
sentence in the book.