Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mitch Landrieu on Confederation Commemoration

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently decided to take down several city monuments honoring various Confederate leaders. Unsurprisingly, he faced significant pushback for this decision. This is a link to the speech he gave explaining why he did what he did.

It is one of the most powerful and unflinching speeches by a White southerner on the matter of race, the "lost cause", and southern identity that I've ever read. It's not long, and I'm not going to excerpt. Just read it in full.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Parodying While Minority: The Burden of "Black and Jewish"

A few weeks ago, I read another article (in the UK's Independent) about the latest set of antisemitism controversies in the UK's National Union of Students. There is a lot -- a lot -- that could be written about antisemitism in the NUS, and most of the article struck me as entirely fair play. But one of their examples was the following:

Meanwhile, another current NUS officer, LGBT+ Officer Noorulann Shahid, who uses the pronouns they/them, posted a link on Twitter to a comedy video that includes a number of anti-Semitic tropes and said they had “laughed out loud” at the clip.
The video, titled “Black and Jewish”, is a parody of rapper Wiz Khalifa’s song “Black and Yellow” and makes jokes about Jews having big noses and being stingy. It features two black women dressing up in traditional Jewish attire and singing lyrics including “my ass and nose, they’re both big” and “don’t spend no money but you know I’m rich”. The tweet dates from 2012.
I remember seeing this video when it came out. I thought it was funny (though not uproariously so), and not particularly offensive. Clearly others disagree. But there's one aspect of this video that was completely overlooked in The Independent's coverage (and virtually all the other stories I've seen):

Both of the black women in the video -- Kali Hawk and Kat Graham -- are Jewish.

It is initially notable that, despite the title of the video being "Black and Jewish", it did not seem to occur to the authors that the artists were, indeed, Black and Jewish. They just assumed that the women were dressing up in foreign cultural attire and mocking Jews. So, as a commentary on the erasure of non-White Jews, this story seems to capture that in a very literal sense. And lest we think this is only a function of an ignorant non-Jewish media source, Algemeiner (which ought to know better) also alluded to Shahid "shar[ing] a video that includes tropes of Jews being stingy and having big noses."

But beyond the failure to recognize the existence of Black Jews, I think there's also a more subtle form of marginalization in play here. It's not that Jews cannot make antisemitic remarks. But jokes like "my ass and nose, they're both big" are hardly far removed from Woody Allen-esque self-deprecation that has long characterized Jewish humor. And such self-deprecation, in turn, has long been a coping mechanism for Jews and other outgroups -- we dissipate the power of hurtful stereotypes by mocking them or applying them tongue-in-cheek.

Yet my strong suspicion is that if you're a minority-within-a-minority, that release valve can be closed off. There's much greater pressure to be, not just hyperauthentic, but hyper-earnest about it all in a way that I can only imagine must be maddening. Again, their participation in a rather ordinary form of self-parody is taken to be not an act of Jewishness but an act of antagonism towards their Jewishness -- in a way I don't think would happen if they had a background and an appearance more like, say, mine.

If, as one might say, certain jokes or mockeries are "ours" (as in I can mock Jewish noses, but you, the goyish reader, most certainly cannot), that raises the question of whether Hawk and Graham are really included in the "our". To the extent their Blackness renders their Jewishness permanently provisional, that functions as an exclusion from the full expression of their Jewish identity. Ironically, the demand that they constantly prove themselves authentic Jews (in a way that, say, I rarely am asked to do) operates to make that request impossible to meet.

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Keep Using That Term, "BDS"....

The Israel Group sent out a message to their listserv warning of BDS starting to emerge at two Israeli universities -- Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.

At first when I read the article, I was confused. Neither of the two stories -- BGU reportedly hosting an event by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, nor HUJ declining to play "Hatikvah (Israel's national anthem) at its graduation -- constitute a boycott, a divestment, or a sanction. Whatever one thinks of either happening, they're not cases of "BDS".

But then I reread the top of the article, where The Israel Group wrote the following (bold print original):
We strongly suggest that donors to Hebrew University immediately redirect their support to other Israeli institutions, and inform Hebrew U. as to why you are doing it.
And then I got it -- it was a call for divestment! The BDS link was to the right-wing response to the events. Calls to censor Israeli academic events or to divest funding from Israeli universities based on narrow political litmus tests represents the core of the BDS ideology. And it is indeed alarming to see BDS tactics emerge on the Israeli and "pro-Israel" right -- the Israel Group is sadly not alone in aligning itself with the right-wing BDS campaign. So hopefully principled opponents of BDS will call them out on it and protect academic freedom and independence in Israel -- no matter who happens to be threatening it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Heighten the Contradictions, Iranian Style!

Remember those annoying Jill Stein voters who "honestly preferred" that Donald Trump win the election because it would inevitably hasten the revolution that brings about the glorious workers' paradise? And remember how we all agreed those people were, in a word, morons?

Elliott Abrams just wrote that column about Iran. And it's just as nauseating.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Blues of Self-Regulation

One of the odder tropes of current conservative discourse related to the possibility of constraining the excesses of the Trump administration is blaming (who else?) Democrats for eliminating institutional checks available to the minority party, like the filibuster. What's weird about this is that if conservatives actually believe that such constraints are important parts of our system of checks and balances, they're absolutely free to restore them. Nobody's stopping them. But the idea that Republicans will self-regulate is seen as transparently absurd by all parties -- Republicans included.

Yet there's an even more fundamental absurdity: the implication that were it not for Democrats changing the rule-in-question sometime in the past eight years, the rule would be there to constrain Republicans. The problem being that, even when Democrats didn't change a rule protecting the minority party, Republicans haven't even blinked before casting them aside the minute they interfered with their partisan agenda. We already saw this with filibusters on Supreme Court nominees (Democrats abolished the filibuster for lower-court nominees, but not SCOTUS). And now GOP Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is proposing that the Senate eliminate the "blue slip" rule, which allows Senators to block judicial nominations in their home states. Democrats had kept that rule despite its use by GOP Senators to obstruct Democratic judicial nominations in the Obama administration. But -- surprise, surprise -- it turns out that whether Democrats keep or change a minority-protective rule has absolutely no bearing on whether Republicans want to keep it.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Republicans Don't Care about Black People

FiveThirtyEight has an interesting graphic about which groups Democrats and Republicans think face "a lot of discrimination."

Democrats, as one might expect, tend to think that groups who face a lot of discrimination face a lot of discrimination, and groups who don't, don't. Republicans, by contrast, are oddly "egalitarian" in their beliefs. Yes, Christians are on top, because, you know, Republicans, but there isn't a huge gap between them and the rest of the pack. Eyeballing it, virtually all groups clock in between 40-50%.

With one glaring exception. Republicans seem willing to believe that a trans person has it as hard as a Christian or a Muslim is about as likely to face discrimination as the ever-oppressed White. But if there's one thing they're damn sure of, it's that Black people are made in the shade here in the US.

A Very Engaging Weekend

On the first weekend of May, my true love gave to me ....

Five restaurants to eat at;
Four Schraubs/Roddes with us;
Three days in Vegas;
Two stand-up comics;
And her hand to be married!

I'm so happy to announce that Jill and I are officially engaged!

(Many of you are no doubt surprised to hear this. Specifically, those of you who assumed we were already married).

Wedding date is TBD (we've already been together for 10 years -- what's the rush?), but great thanks to her family and my family for all meeting us out in Las Vegas so we could celebrate together.

Thank Goodness for the Jerusalem Post's Tough Questions

Jacob Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, on why his newspaper invited neo-Nazi-linked White House advisor Sebastian Gorka to speak at their conference (April 27):
We decided that ,,, he would be interviewed by me on stage while knowing that I will confront him with tough questions, including about the various allegations that have been reported in the press.
Jacob Katz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, at the conference (May 7):
Sitting on stage in an interview setting, Gorka was not pressed by Jerusalem Post editor Jacob Katz to provide any substantive explanation of his involvement with Vitezi Rend order in Hungary. Although he has denied being a formal member of the group, Gorka has repeatedly expressed support for the far right wing organization that the U.S. government says was under the control of the Nazis during World War II.
Katz allowed him to change the subject to his preferred topic of the threat of radical Islam.
Reports were that Gorka was showered with a "lengthy applause" by the "adoring crowd."

What a fantastic display of courageous journalism.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Israeli Singer's Detroit-Area Concert Canceled After Threats

A popular Israeli singer's scheduled concert in the Detroit area was canceled after organizers received threats and could no longer guarantee her safety.

A case of anti-speech extremists blocking cultural exchange between Israeli artists and the American public?

Well, the singer was Noa, a well-known member of the Israeli peace camp who has been outspoken in support of two-states and Israeli-Arab coexistence. The concert venue was going to be a synagogue. And the threats came from the Jewish far-right.

Which is to say, it is a case of anti-speech extremists blocking cultural exchange between Israeli artists and the American public. Anyone who is appalled by threats forcing cancellation of events on college campuses should be equally appalled by these threats; anyone who opposes BDS should oppose it with equal fervor in this case.

(Noa has been victimized by similar efforts before -- a Canadian concert was left in limbo after JNF-Canada falsely accused her of being a BDS supporter. Ultimately, the Israeli embassy stepped in to sponsor the concert).