God, I love John McWhorter. Not only is he a descriptive rather than prescriptive grammarian (sorry, dear friend, co-blogger, and prescriptive grammarian!), one rarely sees work on such a thorny subject (race) written with such nuance, such honesty, and totally without fear or cant. I don't always agree with him, and many times I don't know enough to agree or disagree. But he is always worthwhile to read.
Anyhow, he has a fascinating piece (have you noticed how frequently people at TNR, excluding McWhorter, use the words "fascinating" and "piece" to mean an article?) up about the figures influencing black history (not all of them black) that he'd like to erase. Part of what is interesting to me is how many scholars and writers are on the list. McWhorter doesn't just go for the cultural icons, but traces the source some of the cultural ideas that motivate the black community and that he wishes did not. You should totally read it.
Someone in the comments attempted a similar list of Jews. However, he seemed to miss the point of McWhorter's fascinating piece and merely listed Jews who embarrass all Jews who might be tarnished with their brush (e.g., Bernie Madoff, that gonif, that putz, may he grow like an onion with his head in the ground). But it got me thinking: there are certainly ideas that shape the Jewish community that I wish do not. I don't always know the source, and am not sure if there is a single source for some of them. But here they are:
1) That building West Bank settlements is a right, an obligation, or a reasonable response to terrorism.
2) The defensive crouch in response to criticism of Israel. Is Israel criticized unfairly for responding to attacks? Absolutely! Is some criticism of Israel veiled anti-Semitism? Absolutely! Are some people who take on the mantle of Very Brave to Criticize the Israel Lobby, Because You Know How the Jews Get, and Just Watch and See If I Lose My Job Now for Saying What Needs to Be Said trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes? Absolutely! Is Israel above reproach? Absolutely not! Has Israel ever acted in bad faith? Absolutely! When we can distinguish valid criticism from invalid (at which Israelis seem much better than American Jews), we do not give proper grist to the Very Brave folks' mills.
3) That intermarriage is the second Holocaust, and that it will be the death of Judaism. Imagine if we had welcomed the non-Jewish spouses of Jews instead of shunning them. Not only would there be a hell of a lot more Jews now, not only would Reform and Conservative Jews be less outnumbered by ultra-orthodox, so many families would have been saved from so much heartache.
4) The movement in reform Judiasm that agitated for being more like church, and therefore less chit-chat and more standing quietly at attention. Boo-oo-ring. Also, I like more Hebrew!
5) The self-deprecating jokes. That Jews can't fix things, are bad athletes, are over-doting mothers, etc. Because most of these jokes have a subtext: we are smarter than they are and care more about our kids. And jokes about the goyim - jokes about how different is goyische culture, jokes about drinking, about supposed emotional coldness. (A common joke among both Jews and Italians is that Jews and Italians are the same, except Italians have better food. I heard a different, and more pernicious version: "Italians are just like us, except they hit their kids and don't believe in higher education.") It's hard sometimes to separate ethnic pride from ethnic feelings of superiority, and I wish more of an effort were made.
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