When Mel Leventhal, a successful liberal Jewish lawyer married Alice Walker, a famed African American writer during the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, it caused a shock, a shock that strong and massive that Mel’s mother declared her son dead and did not reconcile until after the birth of her first granddaughter – Rebecca Leventhal Walker, who became a famous writer, feminist and activist herself.
Rebecca Walter’s life was not easy, after her parents got divorced she started changing homes every couple of years, spending time in Mississippi or Brooklyn, San Francisco or Washington D.C., Bronx, NY or suburban Westchester. With each new place came a new sort of identity and the frantic desire of a child and then later a teenager and a young woman to fit in: as white or black, or Jewish, as a party girl, a geek, a fighter, surrender or a lover. Confused, and most of the time lonely, for her mother and father were too busy with their careers, Rebecca turned to sex, drugs and other seemingly thrilling things in life.
I would like to devote my paper to taking a closer look at the biracial problems Rebecca Walker, as an individual, had to face and life choices she made, with the help of her well known masterpiece “Black, White and Jewish”. The point of the paper is not to give a summary of the story or an evaluation of the book as a piece of literature, the point is to discuss Walker’s life journey and the struggles and privileges Walker had to experience because of being biracial.
Walker made her strong claim to the world of literature not as the daughter of famed Alice Walker but as the author of a breathtaking autobiographical memoir. Her book, “Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self”, presents the life of a child born to an African American mother and Jewish father to the public eyes. Her cogent and inventive memoir marks the start of a major new literary talent, it focuses on struggle to fit into a ruthless society that is unwilling to accept her for who she is, half black, half white, and half Jewish. As she herself said once ‘‘I wear a mask of belonging because this is what I am supposed to do, but behind the mask lurks a far more mutilating truth: I am not fit, there is something wrong with me.’’
From young years Rebecca was desperately yearning for colors’ acceptance, she was confused about being biracial, and this confusion grew bigger when her parents divorced when she was 8 years old. The feeling of not fitting in never left her, at the beginning of the book she remembers her summer escapades at a predominantly traditional Jewish camp, she sarcastically states that wearing Guess jeans and a Lacoste shirt and assuming ‘‘the appropriate air of petulant entitlement’’ made her ‘‘a Jewish American Princess’’, however she felt she was less of a princess than the girls around her were.
Later when she is older she is telling the story of one of the relationships with a black boyfriend she had who said her hips were not big enough to be a black girl. Everywhere she went she faced reject and humiliation, nowhere she turned she experienced the feeling of belonging and that what made Rebecca’s choice of ethnicity hard to make.
Being at the top of her confusion and wanting to change her life for the better, Rebecca Walker tried to fit into life in San Francisco, where he mother lived, in the 1970s and early ‘80s. The way she tried it was harmful, she turned to drugs, bad company and experimental sex prevalent. When the time to stay with her father came along she went from that milieu to her father’s new wife and children who lived in Larchmont, NY. That change was just about too much for a young confused teenager, she could not take it.
Coming back to San Francisco, Rebecca was nearly falling apart until she had to make an abortion at the age of 14 that, of course, stunned her and her mother badly. As Rebecca herself says the abortion was “the catalyst that moved her parents to get her out of the streets”. And they did, they transported her from the streets to the encouraging, artistic community of a prestigious private school where her mind was always occupied and her time was much better structured that it had ever been before.
Walker’s life is a good example and proof of the statement that being multiracial and multicultural could cause a child to never have a stable sense of identity or personal self. Rebecca herself thinks that the existence of this biracialism will never let her find peace and harmony in this life …However even though she is not able to fit it in both communities, black and Jewish, she is feeling much more comfortable with her African American ancestors, for her Jewish relatives refuse to accept her, she can not feel one of the them, she can not say she fully belongs there because her relatives are doing everything to show her she does not.
In her book there are a lot of episodes that describe the situations she had to go through in her life, but whether Walker is telling the story of a white ballet teacher who doubted she would ever be good at dancing because of her African American body structure, Jewish relatives who treat her like an alien from Mars, or a boyfriend who doubts that she is black enough, Walker uses the same elegant, tactful candor, and the style the book is written in is simply magnificent.
As I have already mentioned above Rebecca was a teenager, she wended her way between her mother’s bohemian culture and her father’s suburban life and liberal views. For years, she was confused about her identity and where she belonged. Fortunately, for herself and for us, the readers, nowadays Rebecca Walker is a considerate, intelligent and gifted young woman, as well as she is an accomplished writer. And is that true that writing this book – “Black White and Jewish” helped her find her identity and peace? That is definitely true, she did find herself, she found herself as a glorious half black half Jewish writer. As she mentioned once in the interview: “…I wanted to piece my life together, to heal, to collect and sort through my past. Yes, it was painful; I had to sit with lots of painful memories. But in the end, I was able to confront my past; I was able to let a lot of it go.”
Rebecca Walker brought to us a forthright, spare style and detail-rich memories that are the undeniable contribution to the growing number of memoirs by biracial authors about life in a race-confused society and the feeling of confusion the biracial people experience.
Work Cited Walker, Rebecca, “Black, White and Jewish”, Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition, January 8, 2002, ISBN-10: 1573229075 Rebecca Walker’s Biography, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Walker