Bibliographic Citation: Walker, Rebecca. Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001. 320p. ISBN: 978-1-5732-2169-6.
Alex Award for non-fiction, 2002
In her memoir Black White and Jewish, Rebecca Walker documents and analyzes her experiences growing up biracial in a race-obsessed society.
Rebecca Walker is the daughter of renowned African American writer and feminist Alice Walker (the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple) and liberal Jewish American lawyer Mel Leventhal. Her memoir Black White and Jewish discusses her biracial upbringing and the effects it had on her sense of self.
Walker’s parents married in 1967 in Jackson, Mississippi, “against laws that say they can’t” (Walker, 2001, p.23). Born in 1969, Walker is a Movement Child, a living representation of the justice, equality, and freedom her parents fought for as social activists. When her parents later divorce, however, she splits her time between them, spending two years at a time with each parent in their respective homes. Shuttled between her mother and her father, Walker alternates between the mostly white, largely Jewish reality of her father’s life in Larchmont, New York and the mainly African American environment of her mother’s existence in San Francisco, California.
This instability in Walker’s childhood resulted in insecurities regarding her identity. While she lived with her father she downplayed her “blackness,” and favored her “whiteness.” While she lived with her mother, on the other hand, she favored her blackness and downplayed her whiteness. Often feeling like neither group wholly embraced her, Walker struggled with her sense of self.
Walker’s Black White and Jewish shares with readers the experience of living as a person of biracial ancestry in a race-obsessed society. It beautifully communicates the cultural constraints we inflict upon each other, and asks against what standards do we determine our identities. With many instances of drug use and sexual activity, Walker’s memoir is appropriate for more mature young adult readers. Revealing the reality of the role race plays in defining one’s sense of self in the United States, it’s an enormously valuable read for young adults.
Title page, dedication page
Acknowledgments, About the Author