Monday, January 13, 2014

"I Decide"

Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes Frederick Douglass' wife:
It is easy to say, as has been carelessly said by some in commenting upon Mr. Douglass' life and career, that the intellectual power, the ambition, the talent which he displayed, were inheritances from his white father; that the colored strain disappeared except as it gave the hue to his skin; and that to all intents and purposes Frederick Douglass was a white man.
In parallel, he notes the ideology of German anti-Semites when encountering a Jew whom, for whatever reason, they liked: "I decide who is a Jew." Marcus Garvey made a similar observation, stating that "whenever Blacks do anything useful, they are no longer Blacks."

At the end of it all, as Coates says, these "isms" are about power. Power is rarely so directionless as to necessitate the slaughter or enslavement of every member of the outgroup. It can maintain its "good Jews" or its "model minorities". After all, even the most bigoted can Have Black Friends. Depending on what one wants to do, one can either define the favored Jew (or whomever) as an exceptional falsehood, or as the only authentic Jew. Though seemingly opposite, the two moves have much the same effect -- to announce that the bulk of the Jewish community is lesser and subhuman, worthy of the scorn and prejudice heaped among them. Those few, special few who are allowed to escape (in part) its grasp are not taken to disprove the prejudice but to confirm it.

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