Archive for the ‘interracial relationships’ Category

Mommie Dearest

Friday, May 16th, 2008

A reader recommended Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love  a few weeks back when I took a survey of what everyone was reading.  I grew up reading Alice Walker and was eager to find out what had happened to the daughter who was frequently mentioned back then in her mother’s iconic poems and books.  

Baby LoveIt took me a day to read Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After A Lifetime of Ambivalence (2007). But it’s taken four days to catch my breath and figure what I think about the book’s content.

Believe me, getting through the memoir of a self-absorbed,  emotionally starved young woman who spends much of the book writing about shopping, eating, getting pedicures, obsessing over every infirmity in her life, and consulting a small army of healers (birthing doula, homeopath, pedicurist, masseuse) for her every psychic ailment took some doing.  But discovering that her newborn son managed to make it through the frightening medical complications he endured his first few weeks of life was heartening. 

Yet Baby Love did try my patience. But I kept reading believing I would be rewarded for giving myself over to what felt like a black woman’s narrative version of “Sex in the City.” (I avoided the TV show but  recognize the genre a mile away. Young female narcissm run amok.)

Exploring the abortion she had at 14, her stormy relationship with her iconic mother, her bisexuality, and the ecstasy of bearing a child at 37, the contents of Baby Love (Walker’s second memoir) has enough in it to keep the feud between women across the generational divide going for years. Talk about the women we long for!

Rebecca Walker was born in 1969 to Alice Walker and husband Mel Levanthal a Jewish civil rights attorney. The two lived and worked in Mississippi back then trying to change the racist, murderous politics of the time. Rebecca’s birth, like that of many biracial babies born back then, was supposed to prove to Mississippi and the rest of America that love trumps race. Alice Walker writes movingly and hauntingly about that period in her life in The Way Forward is With A Broken Heart (2001), about the youthful passion and idealism she and Mel, and others of that generation, clung to, and admits that when it came time some years later to leave Mississippi she and her Jewish husband limped out of Mississippi, broken, disillusioned, and headed for the divorce court. Mississipi won, Alice Walker writes.

Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self (2001), Rebecca Walker’s first memoir, is the daughter’s tale of what felt like her parents’ failed experiment, beginning with their failed marriage and ending with the custody agreement the two settled upon that sent Rebecca shuttling back and forth every two years between her father and stepmother’s world in New York’s conventional, rich, Jewish, Upper East Side; and that of her mother with her bohemian, black, mostly poverty stricken activists and feminists friends in California. Rebecca grew up with deep feelings of not belonging.

Rebecca Walker takes feminism (and her mother) to task in Baby Love for what she sees as one of its most crippling legacies. It leaves young women in their 20s and 30s ambivalent about parenting and romance. Walker sees her book as providing the counsel she wishes her feminist mother and godmothers (Gloria Steinem being one) had given her when she was in her 20s. What advice might that be?

Plan to have a baby as you would plan out your career.

In other words, don’t leave having children to chance. And don’t let feminists tell you that it’s impossible to be a mother and stay sane, active, creative, and productive. It is possible, says the younger Walker.

In contrast to her mother whom the daughter feels found meaning in writing and activism, motherhood, Rebecca Walker claims, has given her the purpose and identity she longed for: “I feel like I have arrived in myself to where I want to be and who I want to be,” Ms. Walker says. “Motherhood is the first club I’ve unequivocally belonged to.”

WalkersRebecca Walker is convinced that she was harmed by her mother’s choices. The younger Walker accuses her mother of leaving her with friends and neighbors a lot while she (mother) went off to write or fight some cause; and she failed to understand  that Rebecca’s promiscuity and abortion at 14 was her way of pleading for her mother’s love and attention. The public battle between a daughter and her iconic mother (the mother who ironically penned the now classic “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”)strikes me as terribly sad. “It’s like listening in on a dysfunctional family therapy session—painful, but oh so fascinating,” says one friend. 

Not surprisingly, the younger Walker is harder on her mother than her father for what she sees as the deprivations of her childhood. And while she seems intent upon proving in Baby Love that she is prepared to do what needs to be done to be a better mother than her mother was, what Rebecca Walker ends up really proving, unintentionally of course, is that she’s good at playing the dozens and using her mother to score points for herself.

For all her complaints about her mother’s choices, one thing is clear: the daughter is obsessed with duplicating her mother’s life. Like Alice Walker, Rebecca Walker is a writer and a feminist. And like her mother who was once involved in a lesbian relationship with Tracy Chapman, Rebecca Walker is bisexual who for eight years was involved with musician Meshell Ngedecello. (By the way, Rebecca Walker lives now in Hawaii with Glen, Buddhist teacher and African American father of her son.) Independent with strong opinions like her mother, the younger Walker is determined to prove herself to be the better feminist, mother, and writer even it it takes exposing her mother’s failures, repudiating her mother’s feminism, and using her mother’s fame to carve out a name for herself.

Outraged at her daughter’s characterization of her in Black, White and Jewish  Alice Walker dashed a string of blistering emails off to the younger Walker a few years back (says the younger Walker) that ended with the mother cutting her daughter out of her will and signing one of her final emails to her daughter with the words, “I resign as your mother.” Not to be outdone, Rebecca Walker responded by writing Baby Love.   

Talk about drama. Move over Jerry Springer. Take note on how the rich and famous do things. Publish your version of the story.

Looking back there are probably some things Alice Walker the mother wish she had done differently. But here’s hoping for the younger Walker that the the reality of mothering lives up to whatever fantasies she has about being a mother. And that the constant giving, sacrifice, worry, and putting on hold one’s own dreams that comes with being a mother provide Rebecca Walker the lens she needs to be able to look back on the failures, ambivalences, and cruelties of her iconic mother with perhaps a little more compassion and empathy.

Someone on another website who identified with the younger Walker’s views and confessed to being around Rebecca Walker’s age left this comment: It must be hard being Alice Walker’s daughter.

As a mother who knows what it means to have a wild, irrational love for your child but catch yourself staring out in space from time to time and wondering “what if”, I say: 
Touch your neighbor and repeat after me: “It must be hard being Rebecca Walker’s mother.”

The Color of Love

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I have not been able to get the last installment in the NBC’s “African American Women: Where They Stand” series out of my mind. You know the one that dealt with black women in interracial relationships.

Search and you’ll find dozens of websites out there by black women promoting and defending interracial marriages. They exist to encourage black women to exercise their option to broaden their dating and marriage pool. It’s an option black men have taken more often than black women.

My Lord, times have changed.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. John Rolfe and Pocahontas. Frederick Douglas and his second wife Helen Pitts.

They were all guilty of breaking the law, the miscegenation law, that is; the law forbidding marriage, cohabitation, and sexual relations between people of mixed races.

Miscegenation.

Now there’s a term that’s racially charged enough to make folks leap across the tables at each other. Miscegenation. It even sounds nasty. Sounds like something you do with animals. Which is probably what those who used the word to oppose mixed marriages had in mind when they moved in 1661 to ban marriages between people of different races. “Interracial” has replaced the more controversial “miscegenation,” but race relations in this country see to it that the topic of relationships between black women and white men continue to inflame passions. The last of the miscegenation laws in this country were struck down just 40 years ago, in 1967, when the Supreme Court, in Loving vs. Virginia, ruled that Virginia’s miscegenation laws were unconstitutional

Snapshots of interracial couples like Alfre Woodard and Roderick Spencer, or Iman and David Bowie, or Janet Langhart and William Cohen make me grin with glee at the thought of a black woman getting the love she deserves. On the other hand, the picture of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, the interracial couple who ran off in 1958 to Washington, DC to marry and returned to their homestate of Virginia to build a family, leaves me with chills. How did they do it? The price for that kind of love in the 50s was higher than most of us would want to pay.

If asked my opinion fifteen years ago about black women dating white men I wouldn’t have hesitated to answer. And I didn’t need scripture to defend my position. Fear alone was enough to make me dig in my heels.

Fifteen years later, my position has softened. I just want to see black women loved. I’m just glad to know that my friends with white, latino, asian, and arab men who adore them are happy. I wish every black woman who wanted to be loved and revered by a black man would find that, but that’s not always possible. So, date who you will and love who loves you back, and move on. Falling in love with someone who shares your race and background does not keep you from being hurt.

Here’s what I know about falling in love. There’s no such thing.

Call me Cruella, but I do not believe that you can not help who you fall in love with. People do have sudden passionate attachments, which aren’t easily explained. But the attachment is usually based on fantasy, not anything or anyone that’s real. Falling in love, if you insist upon using that sort of language, is a decision. By that I mean, you love on the basis of who choose to be and who you choose to be with. Romantic love, the sort that leaves you in an altered state of consciousness where you are helpless, uncontrollably, overwhelmingly consumed with passion – gosh, can that sort of love be fun and enjoyable. Just as long as you don’t do something foolish like try to construct your life around it.

True love is work. Whether the two of you are black or from different races, love is something you’re gonna have to work at cultivating. It finally makes sense to me why in some cultures people marry for more practical reasons, and trust true love and affection to kick in later after the tests and trials of committed union. The search for someone to build a life with is a search for someone who is willing to experiment with loving and living with you in ways, speaking heterosexually, he’s never imagined, but ways he’s eager to experiment with. You find him, you’ve found a good a thing. Regardless of his color, his nationality, his religion, or his background.