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BLACK, WHITE, AND JEWISH by Rebecca Walker Kirkus Star


Autobiography of a Shifting Self

by Rebecca Walker

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 2001
ISBN: 1-57322-169-4
Publisher: Riverhead

The daughter of novelist Alice Walker delivers a stunning memoir about the confusion, uncertainty, and anger she felt straddling her mother’s African-American culture and her father’s Jewish one.

In 1967, Alice Walker and civil-rights lawyer Mel Leventhal defied legal restrictions and family taboos about miscegenation by marrying. Their “Movement Child,” Rebecca, born two years later, was raised to expect admittance into any social sphere. But her parents’ subsequent divorce sent Rebecca into a tailspin, worsened by their decision to alternate custody every two years. Beneath her surface cool, the author admits, lay “pure liquid fire threatening to annihilate.” As she shifted from parent to parent, her life became a cross-country odyssey, with uneasy stopovers in Mississippi, San Francisco, Washington, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Larchmont, New York, “like jumping from planet to planet between universes that never overlap.” In quietly luminous prose that contrasts sharply with her simmering resentment, she recalls small but telling incidents that deepened her disorientation about never fitting in: a favorite black uncle who likened her to a “Cracker”; a white boyfriend who dumped her after coming under peer pressure for dating a “nigger”; the white headmaster who condescendingly assumed the Walkers couldn’t afford to pay Rebecca’s tuition. Through the later years of school, when not lashing out at one or both of her parents, she resorted to friendships quickly made and shed, promiscuity, and drug use. Whether dealing with parents or friends, she tired of serving as “the translator, the one in between, the one serving as the walkway between two worlds.” Salvation finally came in the form of high-school teachers who looked past Rebecca’s skin to her intelligence and sensitivity.

Despite a few missteps (e.g., a poke at Yale for having students read the clichéd “dead, white European males”), a raw and searing remembrance of negotiating the remaining American fault lines of race and class.