Monday, May 18, 2009

The Color of Jewish

Most Americans, when asked to picture a Jewish person, imagine a Caucasian, probably with curly dark hair and dark eyes.

Most American-Jews, when asked to picture a Jewish person, probably do the same thing

Y-love, a self-described 'Modern-Orthodox Hip Hop Revolutionary' wrote an interesting piece today on his blog entitled, "How are you Jewish?". The post really got at how being a non-Ashkenazi, and beyond that, a non-White Jew in America still comes with baggage.

It's an interesting piece, and the issue is not one which is commonly discussed outside of those effected.

This issue breaks in two ways. The first has to do, ultimately, with the relative hegemony of Ashkenazi history, thought, and liturgy in American Judaism. The issue here is how Sephardic, non-White Jews' history and traditions are brought into the mainstream.

The second issue is one of conversion. Jew who are more recent entrants into the faith and culture may often feel as if they have to defend themselves, their beliefs, and intentions.

Neither of these issues are uniquely Jewish in nature. America has long since driven wedges between White and non-White peoples. Even within the Black community, there are large schisms between descendants of slaves and those who migrated to American of their own free will.

The uniquely (maybe) Jewish aspect of this is that Jews often see themselves as a single people, united by history and purpose beyond merely a religious faith. This tribe mentality often means that that heterogeneity is only accepted to a point. It also explains the distrust, or discomfort towards recent converts.

As the 'ingathering of the exiles' continues in Israel, hopefully more positive representations of Jews of color will come to the forefront. As these narratives are incorporated into mainstream Jewish education, hopefully these schisms will close up, and we'll all develop a new appreciate for the different histories and expressions of Jewish traditions all over the world.

1 comment:

Aliza "La Jewminicana" Hausman said...

I think it helps that there are public figures like Y-Love showing everyone that Jews come in all shapes and colors. Hopefully, little by little, we will chip away at this idea of Judaism as a homogenous-looking people with a homogenous culture.