Gordon has been excited about beginning a Black-Jewish dialogue for some time. When I would come into town, he would suggest, "hey, let's talk about the relationship between Blacks and Jews." I would demur. We would talk on the phone since my exile into the land of obese white women and ghetto fabulous, underclass negroes who don't know that they are embarrassing themselves by acting out the worst stereotypes of black-female relationships at the local sports bar during the Superbowl....in a less than perfect world, these two, the PWT and her coonish suitor would be perfect mascots for a Klan postcard--a story for another time--and this topic would arise once more.
In regards to Gordon, I would share my anecdotes, and my response that perhaps being a product of the Tri-state area (Connecticut; New York; New Jersey...the cradle of civilization) I don't see a strict divide behind Jewish folk and White ethnics at large because to me the former are just Italians from another part of the world. This could also be a function of those long, hot racially charged summers of the early 1990s in New York where I would listen to Public Enemy and go to Crown Heights. It was also a time when I was becoming increasingly politicized, and would encounter open hostility from Hasidic Jews--as well as the shared mutual animosity between Blacks and that latter group in the City. I didn't feel friendship or even progressive, leftist, or minimal center-left empathy or sympathy in those encounters. Rather, I saw White (and other) ethnic hostility towards Black Americans, my people, whose arrival predated the great waves of European immigration from groups who were no more than a few years rooted in this country. I have never forgotten the hypocrisy and/or absurdity of those interactions where black citizenship, belonging, and personhood were questioned by those relatively new arrivals.
But, Gordon convinced me that my stories of W.A.S.P. status desiring Jewish folk, and my interactions with them, are entertaining and revealing of some deeper truth. I trust his judgment, so I will eagerly share.
In my little corner of the world, as a teenager who was one part Colin Powell and one part Prince (the camouflage when combined with purple velvet did go a long way with the ladies), I attended a High School where the Jewish kids were the most WASP-like--meaning more desirous of a normalized, elite, invisible Whiteness than the other White students with whom I went to school.
It was really an interesting schism. The Jewish students in my High School had their own fraternities and sororities. They had their own parties. They lived on the North side of town, i.e. the "good" part of town. They, as a function of class privilege, and maybe a sense of their tenuous hold on Whiteness wanted nothing to do with the Black or Hispanic kids in the school. No, it wasn't because on divergent interests, or "culture" or "class" per se. In hindsight, and as I have learned more about Whiteness and the (white, as we can't forget the Ethiopians and others) Jewish community's relatively recent, but now secure hold on that racial identity in this country, it seems those young people knew to be close to us was to be far from the goal they imagined for themselves.
Ironically, on matters of politics, these same students who also belonged to a proto-politically Zionist group by the name of Exodus--Zionist as in political Zionism not religious Zionism (my distaste for religion in all forms is well documented on this site, but I do offer that qualification) would reflexively defend the state of Israel and all of her deeds (both good and bad) with the requisite amount of militant guilt and quickness reserved for many in American Jewry. On cue, they would recite the mantras that 1) "the land was empty and we made it bloom" and 2) "any criticism of Israel is by definition Antisemitism."
For me, the rough parallel I draw is between those middle and upper class Negroes who have moved out of the 'hood but passionately portray a certain type of hip hop, minstrel, ghetto underclass blackness as a compensation for insecurities about identity and "authenticity." Like that particular cadre of young folk among the Black upper class, some of American Jewry try to out-radicalize the radicals.
In much the same fashion, if you were to ask these kind of conveniently Jewish students about their racial identity, the obligatory and narrow, "Who or what are you question?" i.e. the "What race are you?" they would almost always respond "White." But, if this ethnicized identity was threatened it would activate and they would reflexively become "Jewish."
I didn't have the language to describe the dynamic at the time. Now I see a parallel: this activation of identity mirrored the White, conservative, reactionary backlash that awaited the incremental gains of the Black Civil Rights Movement. Here, White racial resentment was activated as a knee jerk reaction to a sense of black progress and White insecurity. Ethnicity doesn't necessarily matter per se, until White ethnicity is threatened, or can be leveraged, in the face of Black progress. In my part of the world, WASP-Jewish identity seemed to function according to this model.
To conclude: I offer three stories which may or may not speak to the dynamics of a working class Connecticut Negro's experience with this Black-Jewish stuff--
1. I was never called a nigger to my face by poor white trash. Yes, they uttered it, but they knew better than to say it. The only time I was ever called a nigger was by one of the Waspy Jewish kids in my elementary school. Interestingly, he would later go on to be the president of our High School Jewish fraternity. We were in sixth grade and my "playmate" Jeremy called me a nigger. Now, respectable negroes certainly know that standing order number one in these circumstances, our prime directive, is to unleash a can of whoop ass on said offender--which I diligently proceeded to do.
The substitute teacher called us over and demanded an explanation. With great pride I explained what I did and why--without apologies. She was shocked and threatened to send me to the principal, to which I replied, "that was an agreeable solution as my parents told me that my self-respect could not be negotiated." The teacher was shocked. Upon reflection, she offered that instead of hitting Jeremy again, that a compromise was in order. I asked, "what compromise?" Her reply: "call him a kike as that would make things equal." I replied, "No, that is wrong and I don't think that is exactly the same anything and that those words are wrong and hurtful and people shouldn't talk that way to each other." She encouraged me. I said, "no!" Once more, much dejected, she surrendered and made Jeremy apologize. And no, I did not accept his peace offering.
2. In college, while I was in my early Black Nationalist phase, Norman Finkelstein came to deliver a speech. I was enthralled with the presentation and his intellectual sharpness. Innocently, after listening to his discussion of Israel as a Racial State and the hypocrisy of Black leadership in this regard, I asked how did he explain Cornel West's then recent work on Black-Jewish relationships and his endorsement of Israel's right to exist and its then expanding settlement program. Finkelstein, in classic, sharp, provocative prose (and in front of a a group of protesters from the ADL) replied, "that is easy, Cornel West is at Princeton and he is a whore for the Jews." Bombs exploded, people yelled, and I sat down.
3. I love women of all colors, hues, ethnicities, and races. I have my eyes affixed on a Black queen now, but I can't forget my past. Truly, there are days when I reflect on my adventures and I realize that I am Dr. King's dream come true (extra points if you get the joke). But, I do have two particularly great crushes in my life (besides of course the standard tripartite obsession of Sarita Choudry, Rosario Dawson, and Lucy Liu).
In High School there were two Jewish sisters I was enthralled with. The first was Sandra Bernhard. Lord, she was the stuff of fantasy. So sexy was she that I awoke many a night humping the bed Ghostface style aroused by her lesbian scene on the television show Roseanne.
The second object of my desire was more attainable but equally impossible to possess. In High School, a young woman came of age by the name of Taryn Chorney. I had no game at the time, and could only imagine having the courage to ask her out. She was utterly beautiful and charming: imagine a "Jewish" Eastern-Europeanesque Lisa Bonet from Angel Heart. Taryn was that kind of sexy. Effortless, intelligent, and sensual. Years later, I would see her at the popular late night diner in town, I am not crazy, and my instincts (then much refined) sensed an opening, but I reverted back to being the insecure Prince-Colin Powell of my High School years. Ultimately, the Black-Jewish divide kept us apart because I could not envision a scenario where mutual attraction overcame parental disapproval.
Maybe Gordon, with his grand experiment, can give me some advice about how to close that gap?