By Guest Contributor Sarah Gladstone, cross-posted from Ravishly
Twix, zebra, reverse Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, mulatto, milano, Oreo, Uh-Oh Oreo, blewish, I’ve heard them all. People always want to talk to me about being black. Or Jewish. Or black and Jewish. Or when they hear me talk about my racial identity, they want to share their own racial experiences. I know that in a lot of ways I am a cultural and ethnic enigma. But in all honesty, it can get old. Like, real old, real fast.
So I haven’t done a movie review for this site in forever, and I probably will never again. That’s because before I started this gig, I watched movies like this:
And now I watch movies like this:
But the other Knights wanted to go, it looked pretty, Hova did the soundtrack, and I was hoping it would be as much fun as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.(Huh? Plot? We ain’t got time for alla that. That’s what the book is for.)
So, Gatsby was fun–as one of my friends noted, it’s “Art Deco Porn.” But of course, there’s also race things. Some quick observations after the jump. *SPOILERS TOO!*
“I remember your grandfather leaving the house in blackface to perform at the local Jewish community center,” my mom told me. “They just didn’t know what it meant back then,” she explained, “not until after WW II.” As an activist involved in contemporary solidarity work across racial lines, I was shocked to discover this racist history in my near past. As an Ashkenazi Jew* (of European descent) whose grandparents immigrated to the US around the turn of the century, I don’t always see myself implicated in the American legacy of slavery, but I was forced to reconcile the fond memories of my jovial grandfather with this haunting image of him performing racial minstrelsy. Trying to make sense of this image, I began researching the history of Jewish blackface between WWI and WWII and was surprised to discover a connection between my current activism and this history of blackface: When we are not rooted in our Jewish identities, we risk stereotyping, appropriating, and over-identifying with other cultures.
To understand the complicated history of alliance, disconnection, and overlap between Ashkenazi Jews and African Americans in between the world wars, I turned to Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity, which considers how Jews negotiated competing claims on their identities and Michael Rogin’s Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot, which looks more specifically at the role of blackface in Americanizing Jews. As European Jewish immigrants arrived in the US, their presence intersected with the dominant black/white system of racial relations in various ways. At different times, Jews and African Americans were linked tightly together in American consciousness as evidenced by the case of Leo Frank (1913-1915), which sets the stage for Jewish-Black relations in between the wars. A Jewish factory manager in Georgia, Frank was accused of raping and murdering a white girl who worked in his factory. Frank was found guilty (in spite of flimsy evidence) and sentenced to death, but the Governor commuted his sentence to life in prison. A journalist warned in a headline: “The next Jew who does what Frank did is going to get exactly the same thing we give to Negro rapists” (Goldstein 43). Frank was then kidnapped from prison and lynched by a white mob. Read the Post The Line Between Solidarity and Appropriation: Learning from Jewish Blackface in History [Essay]
I know some were here last year [on my Twitter timeline], so I’ll try not to bore you. I just want to remind us that we are here among you, living, thriving, sometimes barely surviving w HIV/AIDS. I’d like to tell my story: why I made choices I did and what I’ve learned–because I have learned a great deal about myself from this disease.
To start: I have been positive for 15 years. March 10, 2010 was my anniversary. I am 41 yrs old. In fact, I was born exactly 1 week before Stonewall rebellion in NYC. I was born and raised in Boston in a working-class neighborhood. I grew up in uber-dysfunctional family: brother diagnosed as sociopath in teens, dad an alcoholic, mom mentally ill. It was hell in that family, I was a little “sissy” who knew at early age he was gay. I was OK with it but knew others wouldn’t be. I was terrorized as kid–ass kicked a lot. My city didn’t like femme boys. Also, I am mixed: dad was white, mom Latina….looong before mixed folks were cool. We just were odd. So I grew up alone…and lonely. Went to college and didn’t just come out of closet..
I blew the doors off hinges! I became popular…and, most importantly, saw that men were attracted to me. So I became BHOC–Big Homo On Campus–who also partied hard at clubs. I felt what I thought was acceptance for the first time. I was an activist, a feminist, just thinking I had to it together…but I was promiscuous. It filled a need. Men wanted me; I was desirable. Because of my background I mistook it for love. At 22 I was in my first relationship with an AIDS activist [and] always used condoms. Broke up after 3 years and saw a man I had dated briefly in college.
I still remember the night we met. His smile shut off every thinking part of my brain. I know you know those fine types–your brain disappears. He asked me home. I accepted after he asked my friends (we had a rule–we come together, we leave together.) They agreed–he was that fine. We went to my place & began to have sex. I noticed he wasn’t going to use condom. I thought about it but was afraid he would leave me. Yes, I was more afraid a man would leave than protecting myself. We never talked about status until 3 months in…he said he was too scared. That made me pause…
by Guest Contributor Collier Meyerson, originally published at Be’Chol Lashon
When I first saw Off and Running I was immediately taken, but then again, my own personal investment in the film’s subject matter was considerable. Like Avery, I’m an adopted Jew of color from New York City. I see only dualities in my maturation, which has been a series of racially charged incidents quelled by moments of encouragement by people and institutions that worked together in a bizarre alchemy to create me.
As a young child my parents sat me down and explained it was important for me to find a faith of which to be a part. I grew up in the predominantly liberal and Jewish bastion of New York City called the Upper West side and at the ripe age of 9, it was Judaism that I felt most connected to; it was what I knew best. I began to attend a Schul after school where we were taught stories from the Bible, Yiddish and about our history and culture. I liked the friends I made and the stories I heard at Schul. The formation of my Jewish identity at that age was informed by Schul where there were transnationally adopted Jews to my right and left and by my neighborhood where I felt my family the apotheosis of what the 21st century family looked like. At 9 years old, I thought being bi-racial and Jewish was a magical marriage of identities.
At 13 years old, in the planning stages of my Bat Mitzvah, my Hebrew School teacher called a meeting at his home to discuss details. He opened his door to see me, my father who is an Ashkenazi Jew and my black mother. Upon seeing my family, without asking, he regrettably informed us that the synagogue, would not allow me to perform the right of passage in their temple because my mother wasn’t a Jew. My wily mother, coyly and smarmily responded “oh, but her mother is Jewish.”
Yes, it turns out my biological mother is a white Ashkenazi Jew.
And with these words, my Hebrew school teacher, as though I was caught in the Woody Allen version of my own life as a film, threw his hands into the air and exclaimed “it’s Bashert [it’s destiny] then! You’ll have your Bat Mitzvah in the Temple!” In that moment I felt a definitive rage. I wanted desperately to be a part of the Upper West Side’s most exclusive and popular clique, Judaism, but felt what would prove to be an indelible stake in this idea of blackness, something pitted against Jewishness. And so there it was, in the home of my Hebrew School teacher that the two were separated, like oil and water.
I am from Toronto, though I now live in Houston. I get most of my Toronto community news through Facebook, and I have been watching with disgust and amazement for the past two months as my Facebook feed has filled up with reports about Pride Toronto, Blackness Yes! – a community organization that celebrates black queer and trans history – and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).
Long story short: Pride Toronto, which is an internationally famous week-long celebration of queer and trans pride, has made conscious or unconscious attempts to curtail the wholehearted participation of queer and trans folks of colour and their allies in Pride. They have attempted to relocate and shrink black-identified spaces, and they have banned QuAIA from participation in Pride 2010. This year queer & trans people of colour (QTPOC) and their allies may participate in Pride, but only as long as they check their histories and politics at the door. Short story long? Hang on to your hats, this is an epic tale.
The first news I heard of this mess was in April, when the Blackness Yes! Blockorama party was asked to move by the Pride Toronto organizing committee for the third time in 4 years.
Since 1998 Blockorama has been a party at Pride where black queer and trans folks, their allies, supporters and people who love them came together to say no to homophobia in black communities and no to racism in LGBTQ communities. To say Blackness Yes at Pride – loud and proud…We have built Blockorama out of love, through sweat and toiling. For 12 years, we have claimed space, resisted erasure, found community, shared memories, built bridges, embraced sexuality, and found home. Blockorama is not just a party or a stage at Pride. It is a meeting place for black queer and trans people across North America- Blockorama is the largest space of its kind at any Pride festival on the continent.
…at the same time that Pride Toronto has moved Blocko three times, Pride Toronto has also taken on the mantle of global human rights as its signature issue.
It is in fact the discrepancy between Pride Toronto’s treatment of local black communities participation in pride events and its attempt to position itself as a global player in the LGBTQ global rights movement that I find particularly offensive, disrespectful and unmindful of the very communities residing here that Pride Toronto would seek to champion overseas.
How can this be? How could it be that Pride Toronto did not see this ethical dilemma before it? Is it because Blocko is the last non-commercial space at pride? Is it because like much else in this country Pride Toronto too believes that black people as a constituency can be ignored? These are genuine questions, not accusations.
…We will not as black people here and globally stand to be exploited by white folks who now want it to appear that all is well at home, but not elsewhere.
On April 13 Blackness Yes! held a community meeting to protest these moves. Deviant Productions, an alternative youth media collective, made a video of the meeting: