When I first started doing comedy, I tried to steer away from issues of race. It seemed like a stereotype of the funny “fat Black woman” who takes pointed jabs at “The Man” or “The System”. I am really not that angry, I swear! But eventually I realized that I do have a slightly shifted perspective view on racism in Israel, as well as in the broader Jewish community, in part because I came in from the outside. Generally speaking, I have found that while racism against people of color, both Jewish and non-Jewish is an ongoing issue, for the most part it’s born out of ignorance and not outright antipathy.
In Detroit, friction between the Black and Jewish communities was all but inevitable, as the major suburban Jewish enclaves border upon or weave through those parts of the region with the highest African-American populations. Unfortunately, given the high levels of segregation of the Orthodox community of which I was a part, and the Black community living nearby, it was rare that any meaningful dialogue took place. And that is why my fellow Jews would feel comfortable making statements such as:
“The Blacks will never be able to pull together. It’s a curse from God, you know…”
At this point, whoever had spoken would turn to me and add, “Of course, you don’t count, because you’re a Jew…”
Well, thanks. I’ll just get on the phone and tell my mom (who had a post-grad degree in special education) that she was doomed to failure and should start collecting bottles or something. Or tell my dad (who ran a meat department at a small grocery store for 30 years) that he should go on the welfare rolls where he belonged.
The story of Ham and Noah has been used as an apologia for racism for centuries, and while recently there has been some effort put into giving a deeper explanation of the biblical story, schools which teach midrash are still exposing children to the idea that a group of people deserves a lesser status due to an obscure paragraph in the Bible, which has been expanded upon greatly in more modern times. This is unfortunate, and perpetuates the rift between Blacks and Jews, especially more traditional ones, which exists in many major metropolitan cities.
To sit and hear these stories is bad enough, but at least in my mind I can soften the blow as it is based on a misunderstanding of the biblical text, versus a willful desire to demonize the “other”. However, every so often, I am faced with point blank hatred so fierce that it cannot be ignored or explained away.
An acquaintance posted a story on Facebook about a young woman who seems to have been the target of some overzealous TSA agents, who caused physical damage while she was being searched prior to a flight. To make matters worse, the woman had several medical conditions, including a cancerous tumor, which understandably makes those reading the story feel extremely empathetic.
As a Libertarian, I support shining a light on the activities of our government and quasi-governmental agencies, and I feel that the public has a right, if not a duty, to hold those in positions of power accountable. Yet, my acquaintance felt compelled to add a personal note regarding her interactions with the TSA that made me catch my breath.
That’s right. Apparently, this woman feels that there are fat, Black female TSA agents who lie in wait for women who look sufficiently Jewish so that they can dish out physical punishment. And given that Jews make up roughly two percent of the American population, and 0.2 percent of the world population, it must be like Christmas when one sneaks into your line.
Okay, let’s be honest here. Being a TSA agent is a boring, thankless job with an incredibly huge penalty for getting something wrong. There are tens of thousands of agents. Some of them are not going to be very good at their job. And some of them are probably going to rub you the wrong way, even if they are doing things exactly by the book. I’m sure this goes for skinny Black women, fat White men, curvy Asians, and whatever other Tinder profile categories that the TSA might hire.
But once you feel comfortable stating publicly that you don’t like Black female guards because you have to be polite, or because you wear flowy skirts and they have to check your legs…
or you think it’s okay to note that they have good qualities, but are quick to show attitude…
You start to understand why the Black community is suspicious of the Jewish one, which generally was able to get ahead by shedding the traditions that made them outcasts, and then after gaining acceptance, returning to observance – if they CHOSE to… a luxury that, as a fat Black woman, I don’t have.
And the best part is that if we object to this treatment, then we are dismissed as being angry. I, for one, am not angry. I’m hurt and disappointed. And that makes it so much harder for me to focus on finding the next Jewish women I’m scheduled to oppress.