Magazine article Tikkun

The Colors of Jews

Magazine article Tikkun

The Colors of Jews

Article excerpt

The Colors of Jews Excerpt from THE COLORS OF JEWS: RACIAL POLITICS AND RADICAL DIASPORISM by Melanie Kaye/ Kantrowitz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007

THIS BOOK DEPARTS FROM several assumptions about Jewish life with the explicit intent of changing them. That all Jews came from Eastern Europe and spoke Yiddish. That Jewishness is only religion; that secular Judaism is a contradiction in terms; that real Jews are born Jewish. That calling (all) Jews "white" explains anything. That calling (all) Jews people of color explains anything. That American Jews and African Americans used to be best friends and are now enemies. That Jews and Arabs were always enemies and could never be friends. That life in the diaspora has always been a vale of tears which all Jews aspire to escape.

I write this book to overturn these assumptions, but also to strengthen the identity and practice of Jewish antiracism, including the often-buried strand of economic justice. To heighten understanding among Jews of diverse backgrounds/cultures/ ethnicities that we need each other in part because q/our differences. To help Jews grasp that those Jews who are cultural minorities within a hegemonic Ashkenazi community are often best equipped to help the Jewish world reckon with our multiculturality, and that this multiculturality is an enormous asset when it comes to combating racism and anti-Semitism, and to building social justice coalitions.

I name this identity and practice of Jewish anti-racism "Diasporism."

The common Jewish practice is to name our experience differently from those with whom we might share it. Jews say antisemitism, not racism against Jews; Jews say Zionism, not nationalism for Jews. We cling to the term Holocaust as ours only, anxious about whether other genocides deserve the name. All this separate naming makes it harder to identify and analyze commonality and difference.

I want to contextualize Jewish experience in a common language. Diaspora-of Greek origin-has had a Jewish life; galut in Hebrew and Ladino; goles in Yiddish: both mean exile. But centuries of migration for many mean many live in diaspora, and not always- Jew or not- experiencing diaspora as exile. Ella Shohat, whose family migrated from Iraq to Israel, stands on its head the exilic psalm, "By the waters of Zion, we sat and wept, when we remembered Babylon. …

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