Many years ago, I sat in the house of friends in San Francisco and listened to them rant about the Filipinos who lived next door. The Filipinos had committed the sin of having an extended family all living on top of one another. For my friends, a childless, upper middle class couple, the idea of an extended family was anathema. But the vitriol soon became directed at Filipinos in general and that’s where I said, “Really?” I turned to my male friend, a Jew like me, and said, “How can you as a Jew be so ready to put people in a group and label them as other considering who you are?”
There was no response other than a roll of the eyes. It gave me pause.
Yesterday, after staying off Facebook for much of this young New Year so that I can focus on a book and other writing, I opened up my page to find the entire newsfeed had blown up with homage and posts about Amiri Baraka who had passed. It did not escape me that he died in a hospital called Beth Israel.
Here is a man who wrote:
Smile, jew. Dance, jew. Tell me you love me, jew,
“I got the extermination blues, jewboys.
I got the hitler syndrome figured.
Maybe for Baraka, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were only in Mississippi to further line their own pockets full of gold because to some that is truly who a Jew is at her heart – a merchant exacting his pound of flesh. Later, even after his own contrition for being an avowed anti-semite, Baraka wrote a poem suggesting Jewish people who worked in the twin towers had been warned to stay home and inferring it was the Jews who blew up America. He was fired from his post or rather his post was removed as poet laureate much in the same way that Phil Robertson was let go from Duck Dynasty and people are calling for the firing of Melissa Harris Perry.
I wonder what the families of the 500 Jewish relatives who died in 9/11 feel about Baraka’s passing yesterday. His transitioning in Beth Israel Medical Center? I wonder if Baraka’s family know the meaning of Beth Israel, the same name of my family’s synagogue here in New Orleans?
House of Israel.
Nowadays and for Baraka it is easy to condemn Zionism without understanding it – it can all be summed up in with: zionist are religious Jewish zealots who kicked Palestinians out of their home land and then established apartheid. That’s one reality and it ignores history. Plus it’s a reality the equivalent of saying that America is a country of war mongerers and infidels – it’s true, but it’s not everyone’s truth.
It’s 2014, a new year, and yet anti-semitism is on the rise in Europe while the situation in Israel is at a stale-mate.
I recommend all of my armchair radicals on Facebook might do everyone and themselves a favor by reading a little more history – perhaps start with Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land – and opening up their minds to multiple realities.
And I would remind all parents to teach our children to lift every voice and sing, not to put others down so that you might shine.