[warning: if “urban parsha” is the only exposure you’ve had to this blog, i suggest you read the other entries. these are my thoughts. this will not be over quickly. you will not enjoy this. i am not your king.]
i don’t think there’s a topic im more internally divided on. its complex, really, and my thoughts are divided along a secular/jewish axis.
i don’t consider myself a particularly judgemental person and im usually known to give the benefit of the doubt in highly improbable situations. however, i am a product of my environment, that environment being two african-american parents who came of age during the civil rights era and were part of the “blaxploitation” generation who ran to see horrible movies [cmon now, blackula??] just b/c it was a chance to see black ppl onscreen who weren’t the help or comic relief. as such, they instilled in their children a subtle sense of “us v them”—a sense which proved necessary to survive the weekly gauntlet of knesset/shul—and a sense which has always left me less stunned at incidents of raial prejudice than my peers. while most others of my generation have more or less bought into the “post-racial america” myth, i had weekly reminders of the ugliness that lurks just beneath the surface of society and so i was and am always on guard. it seems sometimes as if ppl watch newsreels of civil rights marches and forget that there were little kids in those angry mobs holding “nigger go home” signs alongside their parents. those kids didn’t disappear when civil rights ended. theyre in their 40s-60s now. theyre your teachers, your professors, your bosses, the parents of your friends. [and sure, not all of your teachers, bosses, et al, but you get my point].
now how does this relate to my views on interracial relationships?
well most don’t even phase me. korean/puerto-rican? cool. indian/haitian? whatever. but when the equation is caucasian/non-caucasian? that’s when, as an african-american, im a lil bit uneasy. after all, the civil rights movement ended barely more than 40 yrs ago and post-apartheid south africa is less than 15 years old. it was only just a generation ago when that same ethnic person would’ve just been taken against their will anyway with little to no legal repercussions. so i guess maybe i harbor a lil anger/resentment. maybe a sense of “how dare you?” [although, as i am also a product of a male-dominated, occasionally misogynistic society, of course im more ok with white female/ethnic male couples than white male/ethnic female couples].
however, since i do consider myself a progressive, free-thinking individual who realizes that ppl are individuals and that dwelling in the past solves nothing, i treat white/non-white couples like any other couple. [indulgingly pats self on back]. in fact, to use the clichéd apologetic line, some of my best friends are in white/non-white relationships. lol. but seriously, i don’t let it color my interactions, but i cant deny that initial inner sigh i feel when i encounter one.
well b/c society paints snagging a white partner as the ultimate sign of social success. whether we buy into it or not is a separate issue, but i think the reflex reaction to this is what causes that sigh in many of us. “here’s another sellout” we think. some of us, however, lack the ability to look beyond our knee-jerk race loyalty to realize that we don’t know random couple a. we don’t know their story. after all, i doubt when G-d is giving out soulmates He’s thinking “ok, lemme keep all my blacks over here, and my asians over here, and my whites over there.” however, it can’t be ignored that some couples are born from less savory motives. like “marrying up”. like fulfilling an [insert ethnicity here] fetish. [remember kids, just b/c you scored a marriage doesn’t mean you’re free and clear out of racism forest]. or wanting kids with “good” hair and light skin. or just plain old self-hate. these are all attitudes which cause the breakdown of community and culture and they should be called out whenever present.
now wander over to the jewish community and things get tricky. b/c as jews, we’re supposed to—have a duty, in fact—to rise above the pettiness of social constructs such as “race”. a jew is a jew is a jew. there’s no such thing, really, as an “interracial” jewish couple. its not G-d’s fault that we’re extremely socially screwed up, but socially screwed up we are. centuries of the invisibilityof jews of color [invisibility, not absence] has created the presupposition that jew=white, an idea that jews themselves have largely bought into. so not only is there the standard of white= ive made it, but also the notion that to legitimize your judaism you have to in some way be connected to something white. “of course im jewish! see? my spouse is white!” “my kids are obviously jewish! they’re part white!”
a distressing trend i find amongst non-white jews is to “hide” behind the label of being “jewish”. as if they use “jewish” as a synonym for “not [insert ethnicity here]”. or, if they’ve converted, they use judaism as an excuse for shunning ethnic friends and family and for spending all their time exclusively amongst and fawning after caucasians. so yes, while “a jew is a jew is a jew” we cant ignore the fact that the world we live in doesn’t allow for that ideal existence. non-white jews need to build community–one where we are accepted, not merely tolerated–and “interracial” relationships are not conducive to that.
now to those of you who just said “boo”, hear me out. and to those of you who just said “yay”, hear me out.
mostly likely right now you’re either thinking im being separatist or racist or that im sticking with black ppl and sticking it to whitey. im actually doing neither. consider this: yes israel was one people, but it was a people made up of 12 distinct tribes. each tribe was given an inheritance of land, but for 40 yrs, the tribes were forbidden from intermarrying. why? to ensure that tribal inheritances stayed within the tribe and to solidify it as a cohesive group. after those inheritances were established, the ban was lifted [on the recently passed 15th of av, no less] and tribes were allowed to intermarry again. the various non-white jews are simply not ready to “intermarry” with their white counterparts. what base are we moving from? what traditions are we bringing with us to an “interracial” relationship? show me a non-white jewish community, with its rabbis and minhags and organizations and beit dins and rosh yeshivas and mikvahs, and then ill show you a community—a tribe—ready to “intermarry”. whenever i propose this i keep hearing “oh, not everyone is gonna want to do that”. im sure not everyone wanted to stay within their own tribe in the desert either. but with an eye to the future, they did it. and in the long run a stronger people emerged from it. a chain is only as strong as it weakest link.
now for all my pro-black black jews, careful. b/c any kind of thinking that finds, measures or values its judaism based on skin isn’t torah. just b/c i’m not ecstatic about “interracial” marriage in judaism doesn’t mean i would shun an interracial wedding, doesn’t mean i would condescend on an interracial couple, doesn’t mean i wouldn’t let their kids play with my kids. because, again, that. isn’t. torah. to the rabbis out there who refuse to perform an “interracial” wedding: that. ISN’T. torah. what halacha is being broken? what averah is being committed?
cmon now ppl, think. judaism is a religion which accepts converts. whether you think the first jews were all black or all white, do you really think that everyone who converted was the same color they were? somewhere in there there had to be *gasp* an “interracial” couple. to the “jews were white” ppl: tzippora was ehtiopian, wasn’t she? to the “jews were black” ppl: onkelos was the roman emperor hadrian’s nephew wasn’t he? and again, do you really think G-d keeps his soulmates color-coded?
to end this, i’d prefer it if at last a generation was willing to make the sacrifice to stay amongst their own to build a foundation for future generations to build from. for those that don’t, hey look, you only have each other and Hashem to answer to, really, so just live your lives. but to those who are really just trying to wash away their ethnic with judaism, or to use it to finally get that white guy/girl: we see you, you’re fairly obvious, and you don’t hide it nearly as well as you might think.
and to the rest of judaism: if this conversation is any indication, we’re sadly a looong way from mashiach. if you don’t think so, just wait about 30 years when some of this “interracial” controversy has died down. and the wrong white jewish guy and the wrong black jewish gal fall in love. and marry. and have a kid. and then the chagim roll around.
and a half-black kohen gets up to give the priestly blessing.
[this blog should be read in conjunction with the next blog “this is the aftermath”.]
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