Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I'm very prolific today! I don't know whether it's because I'm excited about all the additional traffic that's been generated by Amp's link or whether I'm just in a frenzy of procrastination.

Anyway, I'm a fan of No Rock & Roll Fun, and it's nice to see a male music geek who actually occasionally notices gender-y stuff. But I think he's missed the boat a bit in his post on musician Seal's remarks condemning hip-hop. Commenting on misogyny in rap, Seal said that it was particularly bad that black people were attacking their own. He suggested that other ethnic groups don't do that kind of thing . "Take for example the Jewish culture. They've been persecuted just like the black people, right? But you never see them eating their own."

Simon has issues with the "eating their own" bit: he thinks it harkens back to the blood libel that Jews eat Christian babies. I think that's kind of a stretch. But the quote bothers me anyway.

First of all, it's not true. If he's specifically discussing misogyny, he'd have to know exactly nothing about Judaism to argue that Jewish men have never oppressed Jewish women. When scholars try to tease out why Jewish women have been so active in the feminist movement, they often point to the explicit, theological misogyny in Orthodox Judaism. And plenty of Jewish entertainers have offered highly problematic images of women. We are, after all, the people who originated the borscht belt mother-in-law joke.

More than that, like pretty much every oppressed and ghettoized group, Jews have a history of internal oppression. In the early 20th century, Jewish garment factory owners paid starvation wages to their Jewish workers, and Jewish workers fought back by founding unions. Jewish gangsters demanded protection money from Jewish small business owners. As Jews have been given wider opportunies and more access to the mainstream society, this kind of intra-group oppression has probably lessened, although I'm sure you could find instances today. But at any given time, I'd say we've been no more and no less guilty of "eating our own" than any other similarly-situated group.

The problem, for me, is that this kind of apparently-flattering comparison seems to put a slightly positive gloss on what are, in the end, potentially anti-semitic stereotypes. "Jews don't eat their own" sounds an awful lot like "Jews take care of their own," which sounds an awful lot like the conspiricist language that has Jews plotting for world domination or at least increased ethnic power. The folks I study were constantly talking about how their constituents should emulate "the Jews," who were expert at getting politicians to listen to their concerns. But implicitly and occasionally explicitly, they relied on negative stereotypes about a highly-disciplined, close-knit community which used cunning and manipulation to achieve disproportionate power. And when a Jewish person behaved in ways the writer didn't like, the author would immediately revert to the uglier, anti-semitic aspect of this idea.

So while I can hardly blame Seal for being distressed when black men insult black women, I wish he wouldn't revert to sketchy ideas about Jewish ethnic cohesion.

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