Skip to comments.The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother
Posted on 05/05/2008 7:50:19 AM PDT by jalisco555
In the mid-1980s, The New York Times ran a profile of the American writer and activist Alice Walker. Her novel, The Color Purple, had won the Pulitzer prize and was being turned into a film by Steven Spielberg.
The article was illustrated by a photograph of Walker sitting on her teenaged daughters knee. It was meant to be a fun picture; but, in retrospect, according to Rebecca Walker, the photographer unwittingly portrayed the true nature of her relationship with her mother.
Alice Walker was, and remains, an icon of the American civil rights movement. People adore her. I cant tell you how many people have said to me, Your mother saved my life and I have an altar to your mother in my bedroom. They feel a connection to her and revere her greatly, says Rebecca.
Walkers success as a campaigner was to her detriment as a mother. Like Dickenss Mrs Jellyby, who neglects her home and her children as she directs her energy towards the poor of Africa, so Americas icon often went to feminist meetings and rallies and left Rebecca to fend for herself. Her daughter experimented with drugs and became pregnant at 14.
My mother\did a lot of leaving to go to her writing retreat, which was over 100 miles away so shed go there and leave me a little bit of money, leave me in the care of a neighbour, recalls Rebecca, now 38.
When I was pregnant at 14, I think it was because I was so lonely that I was reaching out through my sexuality. My mothers a crusader for daughters around the world, but couldnt see that her own daughter was having a difficult time. It was me having to psycho-emotionally tiptoe around her, rather than her taking care of me.
Walker is furious with Rebecca for making such sentiments public, and mother and daughter are estranged with little hope of reconciliation. Rebecca has a three-year-old son, Tenzin, whom her mother has never seen. Their last meaningful exchange, during Rebeccas pregnancy, ended in Walker sending a terse e-mail in which she resigned from the job of being her mother, and told her that in any case their relationship had been inconsequential for years.
The depth of her anger was such that she refused to budge even when Rebecca had a difficult birth and Tenzins life hung in the balance in a special-care baby unit. My father called her to tell her what was happening. He couldnt imagine that she wouldnt run right over . . . In some ways, I wanted her to but in other ways, I didnt. I knew she wouldnt be able to be there for me in the way I wanted. It would be problematic.
Walker, the eighth child of poor sharecroppers, grew up in Georgia during segregation. Her extraordinary intellect and determination won her a scholarship to study in New York; and after university she returned to the South and became involved in voter-registration drives and setting up childrens education programmes in Mississippi.
There she met Mel Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. In the midst of the feverish, sometimes murderous, racial politics of the time, they became the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi, defying both their families disapproval and death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
The marriage did not last but it produced Rebecca: a living, breathing, mixed-race embodiment of the new America that they were trying to forge. The problem was that, during her childhood, Rebecca felt precisely that a political symbol rather than a cherished daughter.
Being progressives, Walker and Leventhal decided on shared parenting but came up with the agreement that Rebecca would alternately live two years with each of them. From the age of eight, she lived in utterly different worlds: with her father and stepmother in New Yorks conventional, rich, Jewish, Upper East Side; and with her mother among bohemian, black, mostly poverty stricken activists and feminists in California.
She felt she did not fit into either world. In New York, she was the only black face in the neighbourhood. Yet she felt she was far too steeped in white privilege for her mothers friends taste. And, if she tried to talk to her parents about any of this, she was ignored.
My father had come out of world war two and the Holocaust, my mother from the segregated South. Their attitude was, The Gestapo isnt after you, youre not getting beaten up by mobs just for sitting at the lunch counter whats your problem? she says.
Walker had also joined the early feminist movement Gloria Steinem is Rebeccas godmother and it was her politics, more than anything, that shaped mother-daughter relations. The so-called first wave feminists believed that housework was another form of slavery and that women did not have an innate need to nurture but had been conditioned into their subordinate role as wives and mothers through centuries of patriarchy.
My mother is very ideologically based, and her ideology is much more important in many ways than her personal relationships, says Rebecca.
When Rebecca became pregnant at 14, Walker wasnt shocked: she calmly picked up the phone and arranged an abortion. Her feminist thing was about empowering me to have an active sexuality and to be in control of my body, and that trumped any sense of boundaries, Rebecca says.
Certainly, Walker believed that what she was doing was right. Leaving her teenaged daughter to do her own thing was a way of fostering Rebeccas independence and avoiding inadvertently passing down patriarchal values.
Her circle were questioning power relationships and whether a mother had any more knowledge than a child. Some friends of hers were living on communes. I know those kids and theyre totally screwed up.
Some were sexually abused, all kinds of bad stuff happened, but even those who survived intact dont want to create communes for their children. They didnt want to be raised by 10 different parents again, it was this ideological thing trumping the maternal instinct.
Towards the end of senior school, an ecstatic Rebecca showed Walker her offer letter from Yale. Instead of celebrating her daughters success in landing a place at one of the worlds top universities, Walker asked her coolly why she wanted to go to a bastion of male privilege.
Rebecca went to Yale anyway, and started thinking about feminism for herself. Her first book examined what feminism meant to young women and what role it played in the modern world. When I began to challenge status quo feminism, my mother started to feel very injured, she says. To have a daughter who was questioning feminism it was seen as a threat. Imagine Margaret Thatcher having a hippie child who wanted to live in India and become a Hare Krishna. It was that kind of schism.
I keep telling people feminism is an experiment. And just like in science, you have to assess the outcome of the experiment and adjust according to your results, but my mother and her friends, they see it as truth; they dont see it as an experiment.
So that creates quite a problem. Youve got young women saying, That didnt really work for me and the older ones saying, Tough, because thats how it should be.
The debate goes on: Rebecca, who lives in Hawaii with Tenzin and Glen, his Buddhist-teacher father, recently wrote about why she was supporting Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton and immediately came under fire.
The response from older feminists was that I, and other young women, were naive in thinking Obama could ever truly represent us, and we should be supporting the female candidate. The belief is that women become more radical as they get older, that were naive and well get it later on.
Predictably, Walker was upset at Rebeccas next publication, Black, White and Jewish a memoir about growing up in her fractured family. My father was quite shocked at first, but he got behind me 100%. However, my mother felt very injured, says Rebecca. Im not blameless. I can be very direct and strong in my opinions and I wasnt as sensitive to other peoples feelings as I could have been.
My mother is a celebrity, and celebrities need to constantly police their reputation. If you put a chink in their public persona, it can be very dangerous and threatening to them.
The final showdown happened while Rebecca was pregnant, and is chronicled in her new book, Baby Love a diary of her pregnancy in which she explores modern womens dilemmas about relationships and motherhood.
Having been raised to believe that its not nature, its nurture, she was not prepared for the strength of her feelings for her baby. I adore him, she says. Hes really into running and jumping and hes very attached to me. Its all, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, and its very difficult to leave him.
People she meets constantly express surprise at whats happened surely having a child should have brought her closer to her mother, rather than splitting them asunder? She agrees.
People dont really understand how strong ideology can be, she says. I think sometimes of that group and that feminism as being close to a cult. I feel I had to de-programme myself in order to have independent thought. Its been an ongoing struggle. When you have a cult, you have a cult leader who demands a certain conformity . . . And when you have a celebrity who has cultural-icon status, economic power beyond what you can imagine, you cant resist that person if you want to stay in their realm. Because once you start challenging them, they kick you out.
Baby Love by Rebecca Walker is published by Souvenir Press at £15. Copies can be ordered for £13.50, including postage, from The Sunday Times BooksFirst on 0870 165 8585
From Rebeccas diary
June 29, 2004
Two days ago, I checked my e-mail to find a note from my mother threatening to send an attached statement [to a website.] In a nutshell, she took offence to a section of my 2001 memoir, reprinted in a publication two weeks ago, in which I wrote that my parents didnt protect or look out for me . . . In the statement, she calls me a liar, a thief (because when I was eight, I took quarters from her purse during my parents divorce) and a few other discrediting unmentionables . . .
I went over to her house to find out what the hell was going on. Never have I been so frightened by my mother. She sat me down and called me someone who thinks she is a good person but really isnt. She said that because I wasnt from the South and didnt have the full memory of slavery (read: I am half white), that I dont know what it feels like to be sold down the river.
I asked whether she thought it was a little strange that I wrote about my struggle in an attempt to get her to take care of me, but here we were, talking about how I should be taking care of her.
She grew quite vicious. After two hours of trying to convince her of the merits of my existence, I left the house shaking. [My partner] Glen was extremely upset: This is how she treats you when youre pregnant?
E-mails have been flying back and forth. I ask her to apologise for the statement she threatened to send [to a website]. She tells me that she and all of her friends think that I have lost my mind. When I write that if she cant apologise, I dont want contact because I feel she is too emotionally dangerous for me and my unborn son, she writes that she wont miss what we dont have. She [adds] that she has been my mother for 30 years and is no longer interested in the job. Instead of signing your mother at the end, she signs her first name.
Hey, a lot of "political symbols" descended from these "progressives" are just outright killed, so consider yourself lucky.
To fems, children are a distraction, at best.
I am thankful everyday for my conservative mother.
Liberals pretend to care for “The Children”, even though they taught it so much. But in actuality, the opposite is usually on display.
To rich liberal feminists, adopted children from the Third World are ornaments. Madonna and Angelina are in a contest to see who can adopt an orphan from the poorest country.
Feminists and the Left in general, don’t understand the paramount importance of being a good mom (or dad).
There is no job, not neurosurgeon, CEO, high-powered attorney, butcher, baker or candlestick maker that is more important, not only for individual happiness and emotional health, but the future of western civilization itself.
My wife, a school teacher, works with an educational consultant in her school who is constantly spouting drivel about how we need to do more for the children. However, she has said that she never wants kids of her own and doesn’t understand how we could want children.
I read Bleak House many years ago and thought Mrs. Jellyby was a spot-on description of a lot of liberals I know, even though it was written is 1853.
Ben Stein said it best during the Murphy Brown controversy...liberals hate kids.
Liberals in English Departments love her black woman voice - sames goes for Maya Angelou. Neither have written much quality in the last decade or so.
It's a lot less work that way. You don't have to remember birthdays.
This is written from the daughter Rebecca’s perspective, of course, but she does appear to be a strong, intelligent, and loving woman who has her priorities straight. Her mother, Alice, appears to be a liberal and feminist who bought the propaganda entirely and refuses to recognize the damage it does.
I suppose a malignant narcissism is at fault for both these sad situations! Certainly seems that Alice Walker and my sister are two of a kind...
And what happens to the poor kids when the novelty wears off?
“Mommie Leftist” Alice Walker, another classic Lefty who prefers the abstract (it’s always cleaner and clearer) over the Concrete (hey,it’s messy!). This was all going along so
well, until the daughter identified herself as an Obama
supporter.So they’re both Lefties, and the daughter distinguishes herself from her mother, by moving farther left. They’re both equally deluded, it seems. Leave them all, mother, daughter, husbands, etc. to their politically-defined realities. They both and all have a highly inflated sense of how important they are.
Food for thought.
It ought to be a requirement that, before you are licensed to “help the children”, you should raise some of your own.
I can see why Alice is upset. But she should be upset at herself, for being a monster. I’ll pray for Alice.
So she gave birth to a boy 3 years ago huh? She must have been very shocked to learn the true nature of men.
Liberalism is a mental disease and this story just illustrates how a histrionic and narcissistic borderline personality neglected and abused her own child in the name of celebrity femininsm. Typical.