Saturday, November 19, 2011

Black White and Jewish

Black White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self  by Rebecca Walker
Weight:  1.1 lbs
Method of Disposal: Leaving somewhere or giving away to the first person to ask for it

In 11th grade I (finally) had a lot of friends.  I had been on the periphery since coming out as a lesbian in 8th grade, but people had started to move on and grow up.  Or get intrigued.  My close friend, Chris, ultimately lived with me, and we were always playing with fire or drinking too many screwdrivers.  I dated several beautiful and interesting women.  Some of my teachers seemed particularly invested in me, and I was doing okay despite the underage drinking.  

I was also receiving your standard anti-gay death threats, was taunted on a weekly basis in front of my entire sociology class, had my car keyed, and my nose shattered.  

The memories blur together, particularly with Mrs. Galloway, my 11th grade English teacher.  I remember, and I fabricate.  I was dressed as Marilyn Monroe for a history class, complete with blond wig and beauty mark.  If you know me at all you will know that is a strange get-up for me, but I did love me some Marilyn.  I excitedly told Mrs. Galloway about it.  I ran to her class early so I would have a few minutes of talking time before the other students filtered in.  She was blowing bubbles into a hallway of teenagers.  A video camera was involved.  My camera, not allowed on school property.  Later that day an administrator would try to take it away thinking it was a cd player.  I remember trying to tell Mrs. Galloway about one of the worst days of my then life and not succeeding.  It was difficult to explain that day in sociology class—how they has finally found a way to wound me.  Did they even do anything different from all the other days?  I just remember that once I was away from them I started crying and could not stop for hours.  I had to leave school early.
I remember when she asked us to write about our feelings the day after 9/11.  We would then read them to the class.  I wrote about my brother, my fear of him going to war and then I volunteered to read it aloud.  I got up in front of the class and the further I went the more I choked on air.  I could not breathe.  I would never again be quite comfortable when speaking in public.

Mrs. Galloway introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Conner.  She talked about teaching during the race riots and how much she admired and worried about her students.

I hated everything about the oppressive South before I met her.  She taught me that we had some incredible literature and strong women.  I did not have to ignore the negative aspects in order to appreciate the good.  That many of The South’s shining moments arouse out of adversity.

She let us read and write about books for extra credit.  I read as many as possible and then some.  She would lend me her own.  I remember when she gave me Rebecca Walker’s Black White and Jewish and Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.  She let me keep these, and I have kept, carried, and cherished them.

I read Black White and Jewish last week.  I read every recommendation she offered me but, for some reason, owning this book allowed me to put it off indefinitely.  It’s too bad because after I finished it I could see why she might have given it to me then.  It would be useful for a teenager, particularly one struggling to find her place.

I do not think Walker realized the full potential of her writing in this work.  It seemed like she had a lot of experiences that she knew were linked together, but that she could not work out in a rhythmic way.  As a teenager I would have loved the style, but as an adult it seemed to stretch out and periodically falter.  Sometimes she seemed to backpeddle, or she included some unnecessary details that took you out of the moment.  Maybe it was how the experiences were ordered.

This is not to say that I was ever bored.  I never was.  I was invested in every word.  I admire her courage and honesty.  I was caught off guard by how much she opened up.  This is a good book.
Unlike many wise readers, I was stunned by the inactions of her mother Alice Walker.  I naively did expect so much more out of her.

Rebecca stands on her own.  She had a strong and important voice.  I feel privileged to have been allowed this insight into her life and now it is time to pass it on to someone else.


  1. Have you already disposed of it?

  2. I am glad to report that it belongs to you now. I will bring it over the next time I see you, along with the neck warmer thing, and the tea thing.