Rebecca Walker
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ACTIVIST, NOVELIST GETS PERSONAL,
By Mary FitzSimons, © The Miami Student, March 15, 2003


     
 

Setting aside the podium placed for her speech, Rebecca Walker, a novelist and activist, sat on the table at the front of Miami University’s 144 Benton Hall Tuesday night to talk with the audience rather than lecture.

The podium, or "patriarchal pulpit," as author bell hooks once described it, "suggests that I have all the knowledge and you are here to absorb it," Walker said. "I find the best way to learn from another person is to relax and allow what they are saying to come into my being."

Walker, considered one of the most audible voices of the young women’s movement, devoted time to a variety of issues, including the idea of individuality.

"We can talk about anything you want," she said. "We can talk about activism with young women. We can talk about the war."

The daughter of a civil rights activist, Walker spoke about her search for identity as well as her novel, Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self.

Despite their love for each other, Walker’s parents faced constant discrimination for their interracial marriage.

They eventually divorced, with Walker’s mother moving to New York and her father to San Francisco.

"It was a difficult time to be young and in love and trying to change the world – kind of like now," Walker said.

While traveling between coasts, Walker found herself playing various roles to fit different people’s expectations of her as black and white.

Walker said that in society today, "You are supposed to behave in this way if you are in this body. You start to question the very fundamental nature and self."

Walker believes that it is necessary to look back in order to grow.

"I had a really strong feeling that if I did not look back, reflect and come to terms with my childhood, I really could not fully become an adult," Walker said.

To find her answers, she began to write her novel at Yale University, where she graduated cum laude in 1992.

Walker shifted from her story to the audience members, challenging them by asking a poignant Hindu question that she embraced.

"Who are we if we can become anybody on any day?" she asked. "For one year of your life, you should ask yourself every day: ‘Who am I?’"

Walker continued, challenging students to refuse particular molds and to maintain the freedom to express themselves.

"I feel there is a lid here," she said. "College really is the time to try as many new things, ideas, tastes, flavors as you can. So try to push that lid off."

Walker ended her speech by welcoming questions from the audience.

"I think the audience could have stayed another hour just to talk to her. Look at the line just to talk to her right now," said Kim Murray, a Miami English professor.

Kara Seiler, a sophomore French and English education major, was touched by Walker’s words and waited to speak with her individually.

"I’m struck by how personal she made the discussion, despite the room being full of people," Seiler said. "I think everyone could relate to her on some level. She really made me think. I’d like to just process it for a while."

Walker’s speech was co-sponsored by the Women’s Center and Sista II Sista, a student organization that serves as a social support network geared toward first-year students who may be searching for their own identities.

"We knew we wanted to bring a speaker here who brought a different perspective that we embody as a group as well," said junior Lauren Collins, the program coordinator for Sista II Sista.

 

 

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