Monday, February 16, 2009
Gordon Gartrelle finishes off this batch of Chitlins and Gefilte Fish: "We need to be more like the Jews..."
A few months ago, T.R.O.Y.’s RHS penned an extraordinary piece on the Juggaknots song “Generally,” a song he describes as “a dissection of the racial subtext of The Dukes Of Hazzard television show.” As thorough as his analysis is, RHS doesn’t mention what I think is the song’s defining line:
“sure was a brainwashed kid but never had a fad with rockin’ a swastika.”
It comes as rapper Breeze reflects on the fact that, through The Dukes of Hazzard, the Confederate flag became a symbol stripped of its history and mass marketed to an eager public—a feat Breeze deems unimaginable for the ultimate symbol of modern anti-Semitism. Initially, I read the aforementioned line as a simple condemnation of mainstream America’s callousness toward blacks: “white people don’t respect us because they don’t value black lives.” I now see Breeze’s line as a critique of black offense politics, especially as measured against Jewish offense politics. To me, the topic underlying this line—black self-conceptions vis-à-vis the perception of Jews—is even more interesting than personal interactions between Blacks and Jews, positive or negative.
Old school African American race men and women often say that black folks should model their behaviors after those of a host of ethnic groups: Koreans, Arabs, Mexicans, Jamaicans—basically, any group but our own (for a variety of reasons, previous generations of black people are like a foreign ethnic group to modern black folks).
Black people regularly praise other ethnic groups’ success, work ethic, commitment to education, cohesiveness, and self-sufficiency. What all of this says about our estimation of ourselves is a topic for another day (no, really. Chauncey will be tackling this subject soon).
In any case, black folks’ “model minority” envy extends to Jews as well, of course, but Jews represent something else in the black imagination, namely, the idealized vision of what right wingers call “grievance politics” and “PC identity politics.” At the heart of this idealization is the practice of defending the collective public image from a constant stream of attacks. While “Generally” never explicitly mentions Jewish activism, Breeze could very well have added to his lyrics the following appeal to his black brethren:
“White folks continue to disrespect us and ignore our indignant cries of offense because we don’t stand up for ourselves. We need to be more like the Jews. Jews would never allow mainstream America to get away with such levels of disrespect.”
Jewish elites stick to the public script (on the Holocaust, Israel, anti-Semitism), and they devote waves of resources to shaming and punishing those who depart from it. Jewish people who critique this process have their authenticity questioned and are labeled “self-hating Jews.” We should be that disciplined. We must stigmatize offenses against black dignity and history to the extent that Jews have stigmatized offenses against Jewish people…or so the story is told by black race men and women.
Black folks are certainly aware that we have our own rigid public speech norms (on the middle passage, American bondage, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement) and our own authenticity- questioning slur (Uncle Tom). We just think that our forms of speech policing are nowhere near as effective or serious as Jewish people’s. Ask a politically-inclined black person to name the third rail of public discourse. Anti-Semitism will likely be the response. Incidentally, if you were to ask the same question to a politically-inclined Jewish person, the answer you’d get would probably be anti-black racism.
Triangulation is central to the internal and external politics of blacks and Jews. This triangulation—this psychic bond of mutual (mis)perception, this constant measuring against the other, this notion that the sympathy grass is greener on the other side—forms the core of our “special relationship” and is a big reason why calls for more Black-Jewish dialogues won’t subside any time soon.