Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Laboror and the Field

Ta-Nehisi Coates post on Dr. Benjamin Carson is heart-breaking because, for whatever reason, I suspecting exactly this about Dr. Carson.
For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Carson has special importance. Whenever the black folks at our summer camps or schools wanted to have a "Be A Credit To Your Race" moment they brought in Dr. Carson. I saw him speak so many times that I began to have that "This guy again?" feeling. As an adult, knowing how much it takes to speak in front of people, I can recognize that Carson's willingness to talk to black youth (and youth in general) came from a deeply sincere place. There were no cameras at those summer camps and school assemblies. No one had money to pay him. But he showed up. And that was what mattered.
It's perfectly respectable to think Obamacare is bad for the country. It's less respectable to claim that Obama isn't an African-American. It's perfectly respectable to believe in a flat tax. It's less respectable to tell a room full of white people that Obama, isn't "a strong black man" or that he has "never been a part of the black experience in America." It's respectable to believe that the Ryan Budget is the key to the future. It's less respectable to believe that equating same-sex marriage with child-rape puts you on Harriet Tubman status.

The corollary of that last metaphor -- the idea of liberalism as a plantation -- is especially noxious and deeply racist. It holds that black people are not really like other adult humans in America -- people capable of discerning their interest and voting accordingly -- but mental slaves too stupid to know what's good for them.

When Ben Carson uses this language he is promoting himself at the expense of the community from which he hails. More, he is promoting himself at the expense of the community in which I once saw him labor. That is tragic.
I think an interview session between Coates and Dr. Carson would be fascinating; all the more so because of Coates' experience as a child who saw him as a role model and recognized the sincerity of his labor.

Any Jew knows and respects the value of dissent, but any Jew also can recognize a member of the tribe who simply revels in the role of providing a Jewish voice for what non-Jews love to hear. Their role isn't to persuade Jews, it's to give non-Jews a Jewish facade to justify maintaining their prior beliefs about Jews and ignore any Jew who tells them differently. That role also exists in the Black community, and it was the part Dr. Carson chose to play. It's all the more tragic because as Coates' personal experience with Dr. Carson years ago documents, it wasn't always thus. Dr. Carson once (and for all I know, still does) labor in his own community -- with the cameras off, with the goal of making his people stronger. That I might disagree with some of Dr. Carson's prescriptions on what constitutes strength does not make that endeavor less laudable. But the fact that Dr. Carson has done the right thing does make it hurt more when he does wrong.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Jew is Always the Right Answer

I once played a round of pub trivia with the category "conspiracy theories". I proposed that we just answer "Jews" for every question. What are the odds we'd be wrong?

I bring that story up again with reference to this post:
There’s a post going around that rightfully brings up how unfair it is that when a Muslim is charged with a crime it is Islam, not the individual, that goes on trial. But it emphasizes that by asserting that when a “Jew kills someone” (and there a religious Jew with peyos and a kippa and the white shirt - black pants uniform is drawn shooting a fallen child with a rifle) “religion is not mentioned.”

The image itself I take issue with and how it’s another example of portraying Jews as child killers, though I have no doubt the intent was to hi-light how Israeli soldiers have killed Palestinian children without Judaism as a religion being vilified in the West.

But it’s also incorrect. When a Jew does something wrong, kills someone, or commits a crime, it is near always mentioned. Jews around the world live terrified, waiting for the day some Jew does something wrong and we’re all blamed and condemned. When I hear about something horrible happening, whether it be a killing, a political scandal, embezzlement, or just someone making a stupid comment, I close my eyes and think, please don’t let it have been a Jew, please don’t let it have been a Jew, please don’t let it have been a Jew, because I know that if it was, we’re all in trouble.
Obviously amen to that, and I would add that there is something particularly pernicious about taking a shot at Jews for mistreatment of Muslims that is not, primarily, instigated by Jews. Instead of a clear line of accountability, the grievance seems to be against Jews for having the temerity to actually (supposedly, and in fact inaccurately) be respected as equals.

But of course as the post notes, we're not actually exempted from these blanket judgments when one of the tribe does wrong. Indeed if anything I'd say what makes Jews special is that we're subjected to that treatment even when none of ours had anything to do with the underlying event. Muslims as a whole get blamed for al-Qaeda. Louis Farrakhan spouts bile, and all Blacks are repulsive "reverse racists." And Jews face that too, of course: our bad parts (Bernie Madoff, Jewish slumlords) get attributed to the whole too. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg -- we're also blamed for atrocities committed by other people. A white guy from New Jersey slaughters kids at a Connecticut school? Jews. Muslim extremists attack the twin towers? Jews. Hugo Chavez dies of cancer? Oh you better believe it's Jews (link warning).

To my knowledge, this does not happen to other groups. And the fact that the (grotesque) blanket condemnations of Muslims is held to be in contradistinction to the alleged privileged position of Jews, when in fact this particular facet of oppression may target Jews more severely than any other group, is deeply worrisome. It signifies at best a fundamental blindness to the reality of anti-Semitic discourse, and at worst a form of ingrained anti-Jewish hostility that sees this treatment as normal, even desirable.