forged by the melting pot
- Janine Robben
- Portland Tribune - Features
Rebecca Walker is the daughter of author Alice Walker, who is black, and civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal, who is white. The two met during the height of the civil rights movement.
Walker, 32, might have been raised as a symbol of her parents' shared vision of a multiracial society. Instead, her parents' divorce and custody arrangement turned her into an articulate, insightful poster child for identity politics.
In her search for id-entity, Walker experienced a wide range of challenging issues Ñ divorce, adoption, race and sexuality. All of this shapes her book, 'Black, White & Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self,' but its primary focus is the subject of race.
Walker lived on the East Coast with Leventhal and his second wife in two-year segments, alternating with two-year stays with her mother on the West Coast. As she reveals in vignettes of her childhood, the back-and-forth arrangement accentuated her sense of being caught between two worlds: neither black enough for her West Coast neighborhood, nor white enough for East Coast suburbia.
About the only thing Walker describes her parents as having in common was a lack of interest in finishing the job of raising her. Because of her work, her mother was often out of town while her daughter lived in her house.
This is no 'Mommie Dearest' memoir. Some of the author's matter-of-fact recollections from her teen-age years Ñ 'When my mother is away, my refrigerator is empty' Ñ had to sting when her mother saw them in print. It's a good thing that her mom is a writer, Walker says, because she can appreciate how difficult it is to tell the truth about the people close to you.
In the end, Walker says she thinks the book has helped her relationships with her parents and has allowed her to reconcile with them.
'It's important to come to peace with your blood, no matter what the relationship has been,' she says. This doesn't mean that biological relationships necessarily have to be close ones, but she believes it's important for adult children to be able understand their relationships with their parents.
'As long as those relationships are kind of muddy, it's hard to be at ease with any other relationship,' she concludes.
In 'Black, White & Jewish,' Walker does not address the sometimes-uneasy topic of adoption, except to note that she has adopted her female partner's son. Nonetheless, she says, many adopted people attend her book lectures. 'They say they feel really connected to the book,' she says. 'They feel like it's their story.'
This is a story for anyone for whom the difficult question 'Who am I?' is further complicated by the question 'Who is my family?'