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Blacks and Jews are in the same boat and they better realize it

Michael Eric Dyson is known to many as a television commentator. But long before he became one, he had amassed a vast array of achievements. Ordained as a Baptist Minister at the age of 19, he went on to receive a Ph D in religion from Princeton University. He has a list of publications as long as your arm and he is currently Centennial Chair and University Distinguished Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at Vanderbilt University as well as University Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School.

From his Wikipedia page I post here only some of his writings:

  • Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. ISBN 0-8166-2143-8
  • Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-510285-1
  • Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line, Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley, 1996. ISBN 0-201-91186-8
  • Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture, Oxford University Press, USA, 1997. ISBN 0-19-511569-4
  • Why I Love Black Women, New York: Perseus Books Group, 2002. ISBN 0-465-01763-0
  • Pride: The Seven Deadly Sins, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-516092-4
  • Debating Race, New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2007. ISBN 0-465-00206-4
  • Can You Hear Me Now? The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson, New York: Basic Civitas Books, 200
  • The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. ISBN 978-0544387669
  • Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-250-13599-5
  • What Truth Sounds Like, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1-250-19941-6

On November 20, he published a most thoughtful article in the NY Times Sunday Opinion Section, entitled “Blacks and Jews Again.” In it, he discussed the recent flap over Kanye West’s antisemitic outbursts and Kyrie Irving’s tweeting a link to a vicious antisemitic film. The piece can be accessed online here:

Dyson introduced his piece thusly:

“The actions of Ye [Kanye West’s new name] and Irving bring spent tropes of Jewish control to the surface. Their provocations also compel us to grapple with sometimes conflicting Jewish and Black views of race and privilege and how the suffering of the communities shapes their identities and fuels their fight against bigotry. It is painful and a bit embarrassing to admit that African Americans and Jews have, for one reason or another, competed, quarreled and jostled with each other to gain attention and empathy for our struggles and the injustices we confront.”

This summary paragraph is a comprehensive introduction to the issue. The “tropes of Jewish control” are old saws that go at least back to the Czarist government’s forgery of the so-called “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

[For people who know nothing about this piece of anti-semitic garbage, it was created around 1901 and passed off as an actual agreement by a cabal of Jews to take over the world. It continues to come back like a bad penny and its so-called “facts” are often the jumping off points for assertions that Jews control the international banking system (the Rothchild banking family is often held up as an example), the media (Jewish producers in Hollywood and Jewish publishers of mainstream newspapers like the NY Times are held up as examples), and politics (the Jewish Hungarian millionaire George Soros is often “credited” with manipulating vast swatches of American and international policies).]

The most vicious American example of combined anti-semitism and anti-black racism is a horrible book called The Turner Diaries which tells a fictional story about how the US government dominated by blacks and Jews is destroyed by a white Christian uprising which “wins” through a suicide nuclear attack on the Pentagon!

Dr. Dyson makes a number of important points in the article. First of all, he does not mince words in recognizing that there are Jewish anti-black racists as well as Black antisemites. (A significant part of the article is focused on the so-called “black Hebrew Israelites” whose bull-horn tirades are heard on the streets of Harlem.) More importantly, he argues that blacks and Jews need to struggle against these tendencies – that they must recognize that in an era where white supremacy is rearing its ugly head in alliance with the former President of the United States, they are definitely both in the same boat. Among the many useful messages, I took from Dr. Dyson’s essay is the fact that there is no “oppression Olympics” where “my” struggles are much more difficult than “your” struggles.

As a Jew myself I believe it is wrong to argue that because six million of us were murdered by Hitler, that gives us the role as the “most oppressed.” As Dr. Dyson argues in the article, most American Jews are “white-eligible” while African Americans are definitely “white-excluded.” This gives most American Jews white-skin privilege --- something many white Americans do not even realize they have. (Even though it should be obvious to white Americans when they are pulled over by a police officer. Us white folks are able to respond to the officer without a sickening feeling of fear permeating our very bones!)

[Though many have traced this idea of white-skin privilege to what W.E.B. DuBois called the “psychological wage” that even the lowest income whites “receive” because of their sense of superiority to black people as well as their advantages in the era of Jim Crow, in fact, “… the concept really came into its own in the late eighties, when Peggy McIntosh, a women’s-studies scholar at Wellesley, started writing about it. In 1988, McIntosh wrote a paper called “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies,” which contained forty-six examples of white privilege.” For details see Joshua Rothman, “The Origins of ‘Privilege’,” The New Yorker (May 12, 2014) available here. ]

I imagine that Dr. Dyson would argue that 400 years of slavery and racism in the United States does not make today’s black Americans the “most oppressed” group in the country. (For example, before the COVID pandemic hit, Native Americans had a shorter life span than African Americans while undocumented immigrants of color have much harder lives than most middle-class African Americans.)

[For life expectancies of different groups within the US, see: https://www.statnews.com/2022/06/16/life-expectancy-native-americans-stagnated/]

Dr. Dyson’s most important point is that the explosive rise in racism and antisemitism (and he could have included anti LGBTQ sentiments as well) is a danger to all groups. He concludes his essay with the following:

“African Americans and Jews are passengers on the same ship facing the ferocious headwinds of bigotry and hatred. The author and psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon said he learned to be “responsible in my body and soul for the fate reserved for my brother,” understanding that “the antisemite is inevitably a Negrophobe.” That is a lesson we should all learn.”

[Frantz Fanon was a trained psychiatrist who was born in Martinique, educated in France, and participated in the Algerian War for Independence. He wrote a very influential book THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH as well as BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS. He died young (of Leukemia) in 1961 but his works have been highly influential over the decades.]

I take this entire issue very personally both as a Jew and as the father of a black American. Black-Jewish unity is in my family tree. My father, Abel Meeropol, the son of Jewish immigrants, wrote the anti-lynching classic Strange Fruit. (Ironically, Mr. Anti-Semite Kanye West sampled the Nina Simone recording of Strange Fruit in his rap song “Blood on the Leaves.”).

A short poem by my father, linked his Judaism to the black experience in America:

I am a Jew
How can I tell?
The Negro lynched
Reminds me well
I am a Jew.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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