Treading Water in the Intertidal Zone
by: Schvach Yid
In an earlier blog entitled A Yeke’s Tale I discussed my cousin, one generation younger than I, who is Jewish and Black. She has been very fortunate to have grown up in the current age of personal liberation and societal support most of us enjoy in
She’s family gold, and she's beautiful to boot!
The development of a high self esteem and ease with one’s identity has not always been a matter to be taken for granted; in fact, in our society here in
become a right to live one’s life free of the harassments that can obstruct one’s personal development. The difficulty with self acceptance is sometimes exacerbated in individuals of ‘mixed’ backgrounds, what is currently referred to in politically correct terms as ‘mixed race’. A recent episode on CNN hosted by Paula Zahn explored this matter in Asian Americans.
Back in the old days, when I grew up in the 1950’s to 1970’s, we summered in a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains of New York. This has already been referred to in the earlier blog When Be’ezrat Hashem Became Baruch Hashem. There, my closest companion, an age peer, and I hung out together incessantly. Our favorite pastime was hunting snakes. As we grew older, we parted company, and once we were in college we completely lost contact. Then, a bit later in life, in our late 20’s, we restarted our friendship.
My summertime childhood friend had become a pharmacist and had left his native
This one had a title, Self-Portrait, and consisted of a portrait of a Black chassid with exaggerated facial features: a large bridgeless bulbous nose, thick lips, kinky hair, kinky peyos (side locks), a kinky beard, and a yarmulke. As I viewed this picture my friend screamed niggarrrrr. His effort to inform me went right over my head, again and again.
As the years passed, we got together on occasion, and each time he hurled some hint or another about black identity, and each time I responded with oblivion. In addition he frequently referred to his Black friends, about his love of basketball and his participation on his former high school’s basketball team (which he described as functioning more like a street gang).
When we were children we only saw each other during the summers in the bungalow colony. He lived with his parents in the
His parents had a family photo gallery on one of the walls of their apartment. The whole mishpocha was there, except for his paternal grandfather. So I asked. ‘We don’t show his picture; he raped my grandmother’. Okay, I was 10 or 11 years old. What did I know, but by the time I finally caught on I was in my 30’s!
His father had served in the US Army during the Second World War. When he was drafted he had already completed a year of college. He identified himself as Jewish, and off he went to Officer’s
He was dark skinned, but not black; his hair had tight waves but wasn’t kinky. He was Black and Jewish, but passed as a Jew. In the ‘Human Stain’ mentality of that day, to thieve the title of Philip Roth’s novel on the same subject, he had escaped the hatred commonly dolled out to people of his background. And that ‘Human Stain’ mentality was passed on to the next generation – his son, my friend. And I was oblivious, and utterly uniformed, about my friend’s pain. His efforts to connect with me on this matter were met with indifference. Who knew? Who suspected? Who cared? I didn’t select my friends on that basis.
I can only speculate about his father’s pain, about his efforts to maneuver his way through a bigoted society. In the US Army of the Second World War, Black soldiers were treated rudely. The celebrated Tuskegee Airmen are an exception to the usual rule of the menial function to which these solders were obligated. My friend’s father, who could believably claim to be something else, had a better, non-offensive existence as a serviceman.
My college-era girlfriend had a similar background. Her physical appearance announced Polynesian, perhaps, but she and her family made no bones about their Black identity. Bravo!
Her father had grown up in
Well, why write about all this history? Because, jadies and jents, the commemoration of a historical event is only one and a half weeks away, and I can’t wait. It’s my favorite day of the year, previously written about in my blog BYOK. It’s the National Holiday of France (no, I’m not a Francophile) – Bastille Day. Revolt is wafting in the air, at least in my immediate space, and the above related tales of personal doubt and triumph incite a strong desire toward rebellion. But I’m a reticent type of Joe, so I’ll keep my place. When it rolls around on the Shabbos after next, think about striking a blow for personal liberty and self esteem. And don’t take any merde – from anyone.