Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Beyond FINESSE: Rebecca Walker

Leave it to Rebecca Walker to shake up my day. I’d planned to write a quick post on her new book, Baby Love, and then move on to other projects but as soon as I visited her site I knew my entire day was shot. I could read and read about her and then read and read her own writings and still want to read more. I appreciate, for starters, that she identifies herself as a biracial author. This is who she is and what she’s written about in essays and articles and in her memoir, Black, White and Jewish, published in 2000. Now, though, she’s taken on the challenges of parenthood and familial relationships in Baby Love, and she’s in the midst of an extensive book tour. When an author lives and has a young family in Hawaii, the prospect of a book tour with stops on both coasts and places in between must be nothing less than daunting. In her recent blog posts and interviews, though, this particular author makes it clear she’s stepping up to a long list of challenges with humor and grace.

And the humor’s been a sweet surprise. I first read Rebecca Walker’s writing when I finally cracked open Chandra Prasad’s anthology of “short fiction on the multiracial experience,” Mixed. I’m taking my time with this book and look forward to reviewing it, but I have to admit Rebecca Walker’s introduction floored me with its vehemence:

“Speaking from experience, I can attest that a lifetime of being thought of as a traitor and misfit, a poser and malcontent, takes a toll. The pity of those who view mixed people as morbidly lost wears on the psyche. The opportunism of those who prey upon our plasticity and profit from our fifteen minutes of cultural currency is depressing. The bitterness of the race-war recruiters who shake their heads at us in disgust is demoralizing. We put on a good face, because that’s what we do, we soothe opposing factions in order to survive, but underneath it all, there’s quite a bit of something else brewing, and it ain’t pretty.”

I mean really, don’t mess. Rebecca Walker ends this introduction on an upbeat note when she calls contemplating her mixedness “like visiting an old friend, familiar, but no longer involved in the day-to-day goings on of my life.” Four years ago, though, she was still working to get to such a place. In her site’s collection of published articles and essays, I found this gem: “Pale As I Am,” published in Essence magazine in 2002. Rebecca loves and cherishes dark-skinned women like her “beautiful cherry-brown mother” and a friend, “an absolute goddess” who is “brown as mahogany.” After ruminating about her need for the sun’s browning effects on her light skin, Rebecca concludes she is learning to love what one friend calls her “multilayered fine self.” “These days I pin up pictures of striking light-skinned sisters, starting with my fierce cafe au lait grandmother, who stares back at me from the wall, daring me to doubt her stunning beauty. I cherish an image of a twentysomething Lena Horne, her hair pulled back in the early morning light. I keep adding to the collection. I know that one day soon I will feel completely at home in my natural unsunned state.”

Rebecca’s relationship with her “beautiful cherry-brown mother,” author Alice Walker, especially fascinates me since I heard Alice Walker speak in Denver about ten years ago. In the same way I could read and read Rebecca’s writings, I could sit and listen to Alice Walker for hours. During that session at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Book Festival, Alice Walker and author Clarissa Pinkola Estés spoke about writing and womanhood and the wonders of simply existing in this world in a way that reflected not only their innate wisdom but the many layers of experiences and insights they shared. Rebecca Walker has inherited so much from her mother, including many aspects of her beauty, but it’s that innate wisdom she so eloquently imparts through her writings that compels her fans to want to know and understand her well. Rebecca and Alice Walker have been estranged for some time now. Maybe we’ll have a Momma Love book to read some day when these two wise, beautiful women of words come to terms with their own love for each other. I, for one, certainly hope so.


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