Black, White, and Jewish , by Rebecca Walker

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Black, White, and Jewish : Autobiography of a Shifting Self , by Rebecca Walker

Hardcover - 320 pages
First Edition, December 2000
Riverhead Books

            Rebecca Walker's parents met in 1965 and were married in 1967. They raised their daughter to believe that she could achieve anything she would strive for, and provided her with an environment of intellectual stimulation. Yet society looked upon the marriage as - using the author's term - outlaw love.

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            Alice was a black woman from Mississippi with a working class background. She chose creative writing and storytelling as her preferred lever of force for social reform.

            Mel was a white man from a relatively privileged family in the suburbs of New Jersey. He was a "liberal Jew" [author], and a lawyer with a preference for using the law to fight for civil rights.

            Alice and Mel remembered the forms of cultural discrimination and stereotypes they had once faced, but the world was changing so rapidly. They were so pleased that the worst discrimination was now over that they forgot to notice that their daughter might be struggling with issues of her own.

            It is not only that some whites ostracize Rebecca for being black, while some blacks ostracize her for being white. She forms a circle of multicultural friends and she survives. Nor is it the worst time when her parents divorce, and she relocates to various cities to participate in two families.

            The worst moment arrives after her blabbermouth classmates have revealed to a boy that Rebecca has the most intense crush on him. His terse reply is that "he doesn't like black girls,", and he cares to say no more about it. This event "turns my stomach upside down," she writes. She rushes to brush her hair for hours, hoping that if her hair would become straighter then she might appear to be "more like the not black girls."

Excerpt

            Late one night during my first year at Yale, a WASP-looking Jewish student strolls into my room through the fire-exit door. He is drunk, and twirling a Swiss Army knife between his nimble, tennis-champion fingers. "Are you really black and Jewish?" he asks, slurring his words, pitching forward in an old raggedy armchair my roommate has covered with an equally raggedy white sheet. "How can that be possible?"

            Maybe it is his drunkenness, or perhaps he is actually trying to see me, but this boy squints at me then, peering at my nose, my eyes, my hair. I stare back at him for a few moments, eyes flashing with rage, and then take the red knife from his tanned and tapered fingers. As he clutches at the air above him, I hold it back and tell him in a voice I want him to be sure is black that I think he'd better go.

            But after he leaves through the (still) unlocked exit door, I sit for quite a while in the dark.

            Am I possible?

From Black, White, and Jewish by Rebecca Walker

            The teenager begs her mother not to go to the school and see her perform in a school play. She doesn't want the boy to be reminded that Rebecca has a black mother. Reluctantly, Alice Walker stays at home on the night of the big show. What seems to hurt the most is that, while Rebecca excels in acting and most other arts, now her mother would never be able to praise her for her fabulous performance.

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Reviewed by
Mike Lepore
for
crimsonbird.com

            The author writes in the present tense when she conveys scenes and dialogues of the past ("I say...." ... "Lisa says...."). This mode of expression places us inside the mind of an alienated child and adolescent. It allows her feelings to pour out onto the pages.

            Now a parent, Rebecca Walker also discusses how her own upbringing has influenced her parenting style.


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Book description from the publisher

            When Mel Leventhal married Alice Walker during the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, his mother declared him dead and did not reconcile until after the birth of her first grandchild. After Mel and Alice divorced, their daughter, Rebecca, alternated homes every two years, spending time in Mississippi, Brooklyn, San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, Washington, D.C., the Bronx, and suburban Westchester. With each new place came a new identity and desperate attempts to fit in: as white or black, as Puerto Rican or Jewish, as a party girl, a fighter, or a lover. Confused, and mostly alone, she turned to sex, drugs, books, and a cast of dangerous and thrilling characters.

            Black, White, and Jewish is the story of a child's unique struggle for identity and home when nothing in her world told her who she was or where she belonged. Poetic reflections on memory, time, and identity punctuate this gritty exploration of race and sexuality. Rebecca Walker has taken up the lineage of her mother, Alice, whose last name she chose to carry, and has written a lucid and inventive memoir that marks the launch of a major new literary talent.

About the Author

            Rebecca Walker has written for or been featured in stories in The New York Times, The Chicago Times, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Esquire, and U.S. News & World Report, and has appeared on CNN, MTV, and Charlie Rose, among others. She is the founder of Third Wave Direct Action Foundation, a national nonprofit organization devoted to cultivating young women's leadership and activism.

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Black, White, and Jewish : Autobiography of a Shifting Self , by Rebecca Walker
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