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Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  2,229 Ratings  ·  175 Reviews
When Mel Leventhal married Alice Walker during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, his mother declared him dead and sat shiva for him. By the time her parents divorced, when Rebecca was eight, the excitement of the milieu that had brought her parents together and produced a "Movement baby" had died down and the foundation that gave her life meaning dropped out from und ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published December 28th 2000 by Riverhead Books (first published 2000)
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Jul 30, 2008 Danika rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read Black, White & Jewish while I was in high school. It was one of the single most important autobiographies I read during that period. At the time, I felt like the only mixed kid on the block and was going through severe identity issues. Black, White & Jewish has one simple message: you are the architect of your own identity.

I'm not sure how much I agree with that statement now, but it is a cornerstone of the way I reflect upon myself and how I choose to live.
Erin Rouleau
Sep 30, 2008 Erin Rouleau rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
Easy read, but I fixated on the fact that her parents didn't parent instead of the point of view of the book in explaining how hard it was being black, white and jewish and not fitting in with extended family or groups of friends. In fact, the majority of the read I was infuriated with the parents and couldn't get over it.

I also heard that Alice Walker, her mother, stopped talking to her after this book was published. If I'd been her mother and read this account I think I would have felt I need
Laura Avellaneda-Cruz
Dec 21, 2008 Laura Avellaneda-Cruz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Provides (beautifully narrated) insight into:
-why girls use sex to get attention and affection and fill painful little gaps in their lives
-some challenges that mixed race youth may face
-what happens to children of neglectful, in attentive parents
-the effects on youth of parents who do not embrace all of their identities and attempt to impose identities on them
I liked the beginning of this book less than I'd hoped to, and the end much more than the beginning led me to believe I would. Confusing, perhaps.

After reading Walker's Baby Love, and the record of her relationship with her mother falling apart so spectacularly, I wanted to read the book that was - for Alice - a large part of the cause. In the end, the Alice here is not the dragon I had expected to read about. She's withdrawn and self-controlled and there are glimpses of her depression, but she
Aug 15, 2008 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Everybody has a childhood issue that has to be dealt with during adulthood. Walker's birth symbolized the ideal of blacks and whites (and Jewish in this case) embracing in a segregated America at the height of the civil rights movement. Alas, dreams are usually much sweeter than reality, which Walker makes abundantly clear. After her parents' divorce when Walker was just a few years old, she was shuffled between them for two years at a time. It is this tension, between the permissive parenting o ...more
Oct 20, 2008 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting…this was not nearly as much about being “Black White and Jewish” as being parented by parents lacking parenting skills. I wanted to shake the begeezes out of both her mother and father for the ridiculous set up of living in New York (or its suburbs) for two years then San Francisco and then back again. That’s just poor, no common sense parenting from two intelligent people.

The amount of sex Rebecca engaged in, especially in middle school, horrified me. It’s just plain scary because
Apr 04, 2011 Zack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick, engaging read, Walker covers the terrain of her fascinating, if troubled childhood, split between multiple homes, schools and identities. Simultaneously, she paints a rich portrait of the different layers to American culture in the 1970s and 80s. As a child of divorce whose parents took two-year turns with her in different cities and then on separate coasts, she was often left to her own devices and had access to many different communities, of which she never felt quite a part. Walker h ...more
Mar 11, 2008 Chaz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ekkkk- this memoir was a required reading for my graduate social diversity class and was a complete failure and waste of time. Since the majority of reviews have been female --here's my take as a male--stay far away!

O.K book -- for coming of age adolescent girl. I found it to be a overly melodramatic, perfumed exposition of a upper-middle-class brat who pities herself while boasting about her numerous sexual relationships and experiences from the age of 12 on.

To read a page and a half about her
Sep 29, 2016 Vonetta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the best memoir I have read since "The Glass Castle" or "The Liar's Club." I would beg to know why "Black White and Jewish" is not as popular a memoir as the previous two, but I already know the answer: the title is contentious and scary, so people stay away from it. And they should not, because this was a joy! Walker, like her mother, has a way with language that is so poetic, and her imagery is essentially photographic. I will admit that the dialogue not being in quotation marks threw ...more
Amy Keyishian
Ech, I don't know what to think. I'm not so naive as to expect novelist Alice Walker to be a perfect person, but her daughter's tale of being left alone as an early teenager for days and even weeks at a time, eating fast food and schtupping for comfort, made me want to tear my hair out. On the other hand, there were amazing benefits to her upbringing -- an amazing private high school, jobs and internships that were surely easier for her to access given her mom's reputation -- that she comes off ...more
Jun 29, 2010 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-10
Black White & Jewish is a compilation of compulsively readable memoirs by Rebecca Walker, who happens to be Alice Walker's daughter. I call them "memoirs" rather than autobiography because the author makes many stylistic choices which, astute though they may be, definitely mar the chronological format. The chapters are also artistically brief, sometimes mere vignettes, divided once again by theme. This singular style, compounded with Walker's direct but moving prose, is what makes her story ...more
Dec 27, 2008 Ciara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mixed race kids, teenagers, parents of mixed race kids, people who like good memoirs
rebecca walker is the only child of a white jewish father (a prestigious civil rights lawyer, though damned if i can remember his name) & a black mother (author alice walker, who wrote the color purple, possessing the secret of joy), etc. this is her memoir of growing up mixed race & trying to navigate the two different cultural worlds she inherited upon her parents' divorce. i don't know what to say about this book besides, "it was really, really good & you should read it." i mean, ...more
Apr 13, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The focus of this important memoir is to convey the fullness of Walker’s experience as a bi-racial female from childhood to adolescence. The memoir stands as testament to the social construction of gender and race. (The sociologist in me loves this.) Walker must assume distinct dialects, body language postures, and pop cultural tastes depending on whether she is in San Francisco with her mother, the African-American acclaimed author, or in Jewish suburban towns of New York with her father, a civ ...more
I read this book for several reasons. First, I heard an interview with Rebecca Walker about a year ago and was captivated by her story. I love a good memoir, particularly one that deals with identity development. I fully admit that my second reason for reading the book was that it was written by Alice Walker's daughter. I am not familiar with Rebecca Walker's work as a feminist and writer, but my respect for her mother was enough to draw me in.

It took a few chapters for me to ease into Walker's
Apr 23, 2016 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book was very real. she doesn't hold back on intimate details and i'm ok with that. i mean, there were parts and while i was reading i was thinking, "omg. her mom is gonna read this." or "omg. her (insert family member here) is gonna read this." i'm honestly not sure if i could have been as open as she was about some things. i really enjoyed the book. i found myself frustrated with her parents at different times because, in my opinion, they did some jacked up stuff. the only thing i didn't ...more
Aug 04, 2009 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is "autobiography of a shifting self," Walker was born in the 60's with a black mother and white, Jewish father. Her writing is vibrant with imagery and conversational and random dialogue. Walker writes about her life based on finding identity through a world of symbolic interactionism. She discusses her experiences from toddler to college years, through transitions of different cities, trying to find a purpose in a time where people were inquisitive of interracial children.

I recommend
Aug 07, 2008 Michi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: biracial women and those who have to live with us!
Recommended to Michi by: a women's studies prof
When your racialized personhood is ambiguous, everything you do is scrutinized for others to categorize you, based on who you fuck, how you dress, the lightness/darkness of your skin, your language, your name, your class. This book brought back all the painful moments of adolescence in which all my friends were finding out who they were, and I always felt like I was finding out who I wasn't; that all the suburban Clinton-era propaganda about what it is to be a child in diverse America was a grea ...more
Doris Raines
Apr 15, 2016 Doris Raines rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: doris-shelf
A. Good. Book. A. Good. Title. Deserves. 5. Star's
Scottsdale Public Library
I heard of Rebecca Walker’s writing while reading an article about another individual, so I became interested in her work. It wasn’t until I was a quarter of a way into "Black, White & Jewish" that I realized she’s the daughter of famed African American writer Alice Walker. But her work definitely stands on its own, both in style and candor. Her biography focuses on her upbringing, in which she was shuttled among family in Mississippi, San Francisco, the Bronx, and Washington DC after her mo ...more
Jen Hirt
Jun 05, 2016 Jen Hirt rated it liked it
I'm way late to the game on this 2001 memoir, and I picked it up because I was intrigued that Alice Walker married a white Jewish lawyer and they had a daughter, Rebecca, who is largely credited with coining the terms "third wave feminism," and then Alice got very mad when Rebecca published this book, which became a bestseller. Whoa. What rock had I been under? This book introduced me to the term "movement child," which is what Rebecca smartly defines herself as at one point, and that made the r ...more
Apr 02, 2016 Faith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not a fan of books by children of celebrities who trash their famous parent(s). For years, I stayed away from this book for that reason. I read it when a friend donated it to my Little Free Library.

Rebecca's memoir should be required reading for all couples who have children and are contemplating divorce. Alice Walker and Mel Leventhal settled on a clod-headed arrangement where young Rebecca would stay with each of them for 2 years, then travel to the opposite side of the country for another
Peggy Walt
Not sure how I feel about this book - parts are very compelling and Rebecca Walker (daughter of author Alice Walker) had anything but a normal upbringing - in fact she kind of brought herself up, which often made me very sad. How her parents could think it was a good idea to spend two years with one in New York, then two with the other in San Francisco is a bit of an unexplained mystery. While this book is very much about her experience and her coming to terms with who she is, there is so little ...more
Dana Nucera
Jan 29, 2014 Dana Nucera rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an interesting autobiography. I very much enjoyed the author's writing style. She just wrote her thoughts down, randomly and cohesively. She weaved a very good thread of life as she lead it. It wasn't the usual timeline of events, etc. She wrote from the heart and you really got a feeling of what was going on in her head. She did very well at explaining what it means 'to identify' with yourself, when yourself is not so cut and dry. It was definitely a story of what exactly it feels like to ...more
May 12, 2015 L.A. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Walker, who is Alice Walker's daughter, was conceived of as a "movement child," a kid her white father and black mother hoped would help usher in a new era of cooperation. Obviously, that is not how it worked out. Moving from place to place, sometimes living with black relatives, sometimes white/Jewish, and occasionally both, Walker talks frankly about what it's like growing up biracial in America, being forced to negotiate multiple identities, and still deal with all the other coming-of-age stu ...more
Feb 21, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was interesting and painful to read. I want to shake Rebecca's parents for their inability to actually parent her. They isolated her in a hundred small ways, and although they both sound like intelligent people, they seem uninterested in providing emotional support to their child. I've never heard of a custody agreement where you relocate your child every 2 years. What was the point? Her father was incapable of seeing how miserable she was in a white suburb, and her mother couldn't be ...more
Sep 20, 2014 Wanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"How sad," is the only coherent thought I have right now, five minutes after completing the book. She was given so much and so little all at once. Perhaps after my shocked, projecting soul has had time to process what I have read I can be more specific.
I did not enjoy this book at all. I don't think there is anything wrong with it, but I'm not really into descriptive narrative (I rarely read fiction, for example) and this book is unbroken descriptive narrative, AND written in the present tense. It's what people would call autobiography rather than memoir - it's descriptive, not reflective.

I see that other commentators in similar situations as the author have found it useful, and I can see how that could be the case. And, as I said, I have no a
Oct 10, 2007 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I have no sympathy for Rebecca Walker. She manipulates the system, embraces the different pieces of her identity when it serves her to do so, dismisses and trash talks them when they're not going to work to her benefit. Ugh.
Libby Andress
Mar 21, 2016 Libby Andress rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spoiler alert: Took me a long time to fully understand the authors decision to choose sides, but now I live in a really classist city, where the white Christian communities seem to be so busy hating on each other, that they forget they ghettoized blacks and jews to the middle turf of their war. I now understand why it's important to align or at least explore in depth the most marginalized aspect of one's identity. Siding doesn't have to do with hate, but more with love for oneself. One can have ...more
where were her mama's people to tell her that this was not for publishing? eeek. really bad. she did not inherit alice's talents.
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