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Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

4.5 23
by Rebecca Walker

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The Civil Rights movement brought author Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal together, and in 1969 their daughter, Rebecca, was born. Some saw this unusual copper-colored girl as an outrage or an oddity; others viewed her as a symbol of harmony, a triumph of love over hate. But after her parents divorced, leaving her a lonely only child ferrying between two worlds


The Civil Rights movement brought author Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal together, and in 1969 their daughter, Rebecca, was born. Some saw this unusual copper-colored girl as an outrage or an oddity; others viewed her as a symbol of harmony, a triumph of love over hate. But after her parents divorced, leaving her a lonely only child ferrying between two worlds that only seemed to grow further apart, Rebecca was no longer sure what she represented. In this book, Rebecca Leventhal Walker attempts to define herself as a soul instead of a symbol—and offers a new look at the challenge of personal identity, in a story at once strikingly unique and truly universal.

Editorial Reviews

Rebecca Walker's mother is celebrated author Alice Walker, and her father is prominent lawyer Mel Leventhal, but this candid autobiography doesn't rely on its celebrity connections. Black, White, and Jewish is, as Jane Lazarre has noted, a "beautifully written meditation on the creation of a woman's' sense of self."
Asha Bandele
I have to admit that when I first eyed the title of Walker's memoir a measurable amount of suspicion lurked in my heart. I worried that upon reading it, I would find myself entangled in a wishy-washy, whiny diatribe that avoided a meaningful political or social center. So many books, films and other forms of media that purport to add something urgent to the discussion on race in America, woefully fall short or just plain fail. This book is not one of them.

Walker has written, in blunt, stunning and intelligent language, a vital story about what it meant to come of age in two worlds that existed, largely, in diametric opposition. Here, she makes it clear that she is an author with her own necessary and brilliant voice. Early on she writes, "I am not a bastard, the product of rape, the child of some white devil. I am a Movement Child. My parents tell me I can do anything I put my mind to, that I can be anything I want…I am not tragic."

Throughout the book, the honesty with which Walker confronts her confusion, her loves, her desires, her sexuality and her anger, makes the reader want to turn away, lest she be accused of spying, or worse, uncover pieces of her own self. That's what happened to me. Reading this book, I was forced to recall my own childhood in which a white world was imposed on me vis-à-vis private schools, summer camps and dance classes.

Black, White & Jewish is a virtual road map-a guide through the complexities of race and childhood. This is a book ready-made for the great canon of women's literature that rejects silence and surface analyses and tells the truth, whether or not we want to hear it.
Black Issues Book Review
USA Today
...what a complex, all-American story....
San Francisco Chronicle
Walker is a fine writer, with a finely tuned sense of the intricacies of the American race labyrinth.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Making her U.S. debut with this dramatic, fast-paced tale of adventure, survival, romance and enduring parental love (human and ursine), British writer McGregor should reach a broad audience here. Acerbic young London journalist Jo Harper has an assignment to interview the wife of Doug Marshall, a British archeologist gone missing in the Arctic while pursuing the mystery of the Franklin Expedition, which vanished in 1845. While Jo has no interest in the story at first, it isn't long before she is fascinated by man and quest alike. When Marshall is rescued, she begins an affair with him and has a child, though her happiness is not fated to last. Three other narratives revolve around Jo's story: Doug's 19-year-old son John's painful attempts to capture "his father's true attention"; the deadly, icebound struggle of the Franklin Expedition, told from the point of view of a 12-year-old ship hand; and a polar bear's dedication to her cub. The protagonist of each segment fears being frozen out, both literally and emotionally, and struggles to survive very private trials. The book shifts its focus without losing steam when a tragic death and another disappearance occur, and a terrible discovery shifts the balance between the searchers and the sought-after. McGregor introduces perhaps one dramatic twist too many, but her novel otherwise artfully mixes historical background, up-to-date medical information about a rare disease, a bit of pop psychologizing and some upbeat lessons about the survival of the human spirit. Major ad/promo; rights sold in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. . (May 7) Forecast: Bearing the hallmarks of a great summer read, this novel hits all the bases. If McGregor comes here to do talk shows, she could attract Oprah's audience with her tale of selling the book just after her 20-year marriage ended. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Rebecca Walker is the daughter of the author Alice Walker. She is also the daughter of a Jewish lawyer, a white man, who met Alice Walker when the two were part of the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1960s. Their marriage was a political statement as well as a love story. But it didn't last. While Rebecca was still quite young, she wended her way between her mother's African American, bohemian culture and her father's Jewish suburban existence. For years, she spent two years with one parent in San Francisco and then two years with the other parent in New York. She went from black/minority working-class neighborhoods to lily-white, middle-class communities, confused about her identity and where she belonged. Fortunately, for herself and for her readers, Rebecca is a thoughtful, intelligent young woman and an accomplished writer. Much of this highly praised autobiography is about her adolescence, a troubled time for most and especially troubled for a confused girl. Rebecca tried to fit into life in San Francisco in the 1970s and early '80s, with drugs and experimental sex prevalent, and a single mom who left her unsupervised much of the time. Going from that milieu to her father's new family in Larchmont, NY, was just about too much for a young teenager. Back with her mother in San Francisco, Rebecca was nearly falling apart until an abortion at the age of 14 stunned her and her mother. This was the catalyst that moved them to get Rebecca out of the streets and into the nurturing, artistic community of a private school where her mind could be challenged and her time could be better structured. Many YA readers will be fascinated by Rebecca's honest revelations about her unusuallife; they also will appreciate her fine writing. Category: Biography & Personal Narrative. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Penguin Putnam, Riverhead, 322p., $14.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; KLIATT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Library Journal
Black Hawk Down is more than a well-crafted action thriller. Ninety-nine elite fighting men, trapped in a hostile city, are running out of ammunition and medical supplies as night falls. A rescue helicopter crashes, and an armored column loses its way. But this is not fiction; the people are real, and Bowden takes pains to show how a peaceful food-for-starving-Africans mission led to U.S. involvement in the battle of Mogadishu and how it extricated itself. This original work is virtually the sole source on the battle; it has won awards and was made into a movie. One caveat: this accurate portrayal of war contains a lot of gore. Narrator Alan Sklar's dramatization of this gripping tale is compelling. Recommended for all collections.DJames L. Dudley, Westhampton, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
English author McGregor makes her US debut with three books in one: the story of a wandering polar bear; a fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin's doomed 1845 expedition in search of the Northwest Passage; and, last but not least, a modern-day tearjerker. Sam Marshall, a two-year-old stricken with aplastic anemia, will die unless a bone-marrow donor can be found. The nearest match may well be his much older half-brother John, a marine archaeologist who's now lost somewhere in the Arctic while he looks for traces of the Franklin Expedition. Sam's mother, Jo Harper, the young and lovely widow of BBC-TV commentator and marine archaeologist Douglas Marshall, angered John's mother, Alicia, several years ago when Jo came to interview her about her famous ex-husband. And that was before Jo fell in love with Doug, who then died in a car crash that spared his grown son. The first Mrs. Marshall still hasn't gotten over her pique at her ex's lifelong obsession with the Franklin Expedition, and she's not about to help Jo find John. But there are others who will, among them Catherine Takkiruq, the half-Inuit beauty who loves John and is conveniently nearby in London. The race to find the young man begins, although no one knows for certain whether he's a match for Sam. Or whether Sam will even survive. See Sam waste away pathetically (and much more quickly than most victims of aplastic anemia would, the author notes coyly in an afterword). See the majestic polar bear stride across the frozen waste. See the stalwart 19th-century explorers perish one by one from cold and disease and starvation. See the author do her hardest to tie this triple-threat plot together in every possible way: thepolar bear is a mother too, with a sick cub. Hopelessly contrived.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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18 Years

Read an Excerpt

by Rebecca Walker



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.



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. She is the founder of Third Wave Direct Action Foundation, a national nonprofit organization devoted to cultivating young women's leadership and activism.


"The daughter of famed African American writer Alice Walker and liberal Jewish lawyer Mel Leventhal brings a frank, spare style and detail-rich memories to this compelling contribution to the growing subgenre of memoirs by biracial authors about life in a race-obsessed society. Her artfulness in baring her psyche will, spirit and sexuality will attract a wealth of deserved praise."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)



  1. While most teenagers struggle to move away from their parents, Rebecca Walker searches for closeness with her immediate and extended families. Why is it so difficult for her to enjoy the independence she is given?
  2. Rebecca recalls how a drunk student walks into her dorm room at Yale and asks if she is "really black and Jewish." After he leaves, Rebecca sits in the dark wondering whether she is "possible." Self-doubt appears to be a recurring theme in her life. How do her self-perceptions change as she moves between her parents' houses, from Brooklyn to Atlanta to Washington DC to San Francisco to Bronx to Larchmont and back to San Francisco? Discuss her experiences in different neighborhoods and how her self-acceptance is shaped by social acceptance.
  3. Rebecca becomes sexually active earlier than an average teenager. What is the meaning of sex in her life? How has it changed since her early experiences? Does she manage to find her true identity through her lovers? Discuss her experience with Michael and with Andrew. How does the color of their skin (Michael is black, Andrew is white) affect their relationships with Rebecca?
  4. What was your reaction to Rebecca having an abortion at the age of 14? Can you explain why she didn't grieve for her unborn child?
  5. Rebecca is candid about her experimentation with drugs. Do you think she really had a choice not to take them? Discuss how our peers can sometimes make decisions for us and why we accept their decisions.
  6. What does it mean to Rebecca to be a "movement child"? How -- if at all -- does the meaning change from the beginning of the book, when she sees her parents happily married, to the end, when she struggles with their uneasiness during her graduation party?
  7. Throughout her childhood and adolescence and after her parents divorced, Rebecca must make choices between her mother's African American heritage and her father's Jewish heritage. Has she found peace with herself being biracial and thus "the translator, the one in between, the one serving as the walkway between two worlds"? Or, has she chosen one over the other? Why does she feel more of an affinity towards her black ancestors?
  8. The book begins and ends with a discussion of memory. What is the meaning of memory in Rebecca's life? Does she refer to her brain's ability to retain information or to some deeper innate knowledge? What knowledge is it? What is "genetic memory"? What role does it play in our lives? How does the discussion on memory at the beginning differ from the one at the end?
  9. What is significance of the subtitle? Why does Rebecca refer to her self as "a shifting self"? Has she found a place where she is no longer "shifting"?

Meet the Author

Rebecca Walker has received numerous awards and accolades for her writing and activism. Her work has appeared in many anthologies and publications; in addition to the international bestseller Black, White, and Jewish, her books include Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence, and the anthologies To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, which has become a standard text in gender studies courses around the world, and What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future. A popular speaker at universities and in business settings, Walker teaches the art of memoir at workshops and writing conferences internationally. She lives in Hawaii.

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Black White & Jewish 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, to me, was similar to The Color of Water because of the mere fact that people who are mixed are sometimes confused or lost on where and who they fit in society. That's why it's important to love yourself first, before loving someone else.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was amazed on how honestly Rebecca felt about living with both parents separately. Her dad who is Jewish, and masking herself as a conserved Jewish white girl. Then shifting gears and living with her mom an African American, feminist, civil rights author who felt Rebecca should be independent and treated her like a sister more than a daughter. When Rebecca was with her mother she tried to be tough, independent Rebecca but doesn't really feel she belongs. She gets the same feeling growing up with her dad and trying to be something she is only half. In her youth she never really felt complete. Rebecca's up and downs of going to schools as the black and white girl affect her tremindously and shaped her to being the person she is today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so inspiring to me. I had no idea the kind of hardships that mixed people go through. The style in which she wrote this book was just amazing. I loved it so much. I just couldnt put it down until I finished it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although well written, this story is basically unappealing. Walker never comes across as someone who is really interesting in her own right. One rarely gets the feeling of her mixed "identities" as being in a creative tension, or as having a serious effect on the conduct of her life. Instead, she comes across as an indulged child of divorce, private schools and Yale - so what's new?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed in this book. The author focused almost exclusively on the negative attributes of her youth. Yet you know all along she had an incredibly famous mother and she herself ended up at Yale! Something good must have happened to her! Her continual focus on sex, drugs and misbehaving as a young teen diminish her story. It often sounded to me like typical teen bragging. Why didn't she spend more time talking about the private school community that evidently provided the background of her success? Many young people are confused about their idenity, and divorce, mixed families, and traveling back and forth between families is a fact for many young people. I'd rather read what leads young people out of the quagmire and on to productivity, not about how badly they misbehaved before they grew up and accepted responsibility for themselves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice warm fireplace with pojemon stadium rigged to hold beywheelz aand in the middle is b daman crosfire and beyraiderz wih tvs in the stadium and a playable wii u with mario kart eight and nintendo lannd.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You are awesome. You hate 1D and bustin jieber!!!" :-)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is at 'soldier' res 4
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name~ Savvy <p> Age~ 14 just turned 14 March 12 <p> Looks~ Grayblue eyes. Brown hair. Pale skin. Plump lips. Thin. 4'9. <p> Boyfriend~ Brice. <p> Family~ Brice, Anna 2 years old and Logan a day old our newest edition.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jewelia- Age: 16. Gender: Female. Appearance: Light brown long hair. Blue eyes. 5' 10". Personality: Fun, loving, caring, kind, different, exciting, fierce, and hard working. History: ask if you must. Tommy- Age: 17. Gender: Male. Appearance: light brown hair with green eyes. 6' 5". Personality: Fun, different, loyal, kind, and smart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi! I suppose I should get on with it now. Allons-y! <p> Name: Treble. I don't use my last name unless I have to. If you really must know, just ask. (And BTW, it is NOT Clef.) <br> Gender: I AM A GIRL. DON'T YOU DARE CALL ME A BOY OR I WILL DO THE HONORS OF BASHING YOUR FACE IN. <br> Age: 427. I appear to be somewhere around the age of 14. I'll probably rub it in all of your faces if its my birthday XD <br> Appearance: Brown-black hair, violet eyes (yes I look somewhat Ender-like, haters gonna hate), pale skin. Thin, ish. I usually wear the Doctor's fantastical trench coat (he gave it to me, looong story), a white shirt with a collar, black leggings, Converse, a dark purple bow tie, a fez and black-rimmed, rectangular glasses. If not, it's usually a t-shirt and or something. I carry a silver bow and arrows sometimes. <br> Personality: I'm not quite sure. I just regenerated, after all. Talk to me and we might just find out. <br> Likes: The Doctor, Doctor Who, Minecraft, Anime, Doctor Who, caramel, cookies, caramel cookies, Doctor Who, music, peace, fish fingers and custard, Doctor Who, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, etc. <br> Dislikes: One Direction (eeeuuurgh), Justin Bieber, Justin Timerlake (I'm sorry, Timberlake fans), kiddie stuff, war, the Master, the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the Silence, Judoon, Sontarans (except Strax), Slitheen, Vashta Nerada and other various Doctor Who monsters, etc. <br> History: I am a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey of the constellation Kasterborous. I am known to the Time Lords as the Musician, the Healer and the Archer. I fought in the Time War, then injured my leg and worked as the Healer. In the end, I fled with the Doctor. I regenerate when I am near death and change my appearance in the process, but I can only regenerate 12 times, which means 13 new faces. I am the Fifth Musician, the Fifth Healer, and the Fifth Archer. I travel time and space in my TARDIS, a living ship that is bigger on the inside. TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. If you are confused, just ask. I don't mind, not really.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name:Zendaya Rose Andrews//age:16//Gender:female duh//hair:brow long curly//eyes:grees with fleks of blue//status:single//crush:none//likes:choclate,dancing,BOTDF,flowers,figure skateing//dislkies:one direction, justin bieber, snakes// anything else just ask:)
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful read. Walker is funny and descriptive in her childhood experiences. Her writing style allows me to drift back with her as she recounts the styles and songs of the 80's. Her depiction of numerous addresses gives insight to her strength, maturity, and intellegence. For me this memoir was an autobiography of a 'found' self.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I bought this book, my purchase was solely based on the cover. But after a boring friday night of no sleep I picked it up and entered the emotional world of an ethnically frustrated and socially confused woman. Rebecca Walker's story is not only unique but familiar to anyone who came across a time in their life when they needed to find out who they truely are. I would recommend this book to anyone, and in fact I have... I work at a bookstore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hon Approdite doesnt want any of her children Posiedon he cares about us .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If u wanna talk to her shes with me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
R u single?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name: Brice Age: 16 Birthday: June 28 Looks: reddish hair, brown eyes, 5' 11" Girlfriend: Savanah aka Savvy Family: Savvy, Anna 2 years old, Logan one day old