What a compromised King David can teach us
What religion has to do with this time of racial unrest

American Jews are asking an odd question

There have been European immigrants to the U.S. -- including the Irish and the Italians -- who had to negotiate their way into a culture in which white people were (and are) the dominant caste in a country founded on the principle of white supremacy.

Star-davidIt took time for those two groups and others to be recognized as white. The book to read is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson.

It turns out, as this interesting article by  notes, that American Jews today sometimes struggle with the question of whether they are white. She says she and other American Jews are asking this: "Where do we fit into the country’s fraught racial landscape?"

Well, part of the problem of even asking that question, as Jaradat notes, is that it "overlooks our diversity. Researchers estimate that Jews of color number between 12% to 15% of American Jewry."

But as Wilkerson shows, in the U.S. being white means being part of the dominant caste, which means that even poor whites whose economic, social and other needs are not being met often imagine that no matter how bad things are for them they can take comfort in the fact that they're not part of the lower caste of people with darker skin. (Yes, it's a sick system, which is why we need to fix it.)

Some of this question for and about Jews in the U.S. gets into an ancient debate about whether Jews make up a race, a religion, an ethnicity or something else -- or all of them.

As Jaradat writes, "Some claim that even posing the question 'Are Jews a race?' is taboo because it plays into the hands of anti-Semites. After all, the Nazis used a racial definition of Judaism: anyone with three of four Jewish grandparents was considered Jewish, regardless of whether they — or their grandparents — identified as such or practiced the religion. The modern state of Israel also follows a racial definition, offering citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent."

See the kind of knots we all get tied in when we insist on identifying ourselves and others by race -- which, as the results of the Human Genome Project proved to us, is a political, not a biological, construct. Which is to say that the DNA of every human on Earth is about 99.99 percent the same, no matter what racial or other category they get put in.

Sometimes all of this just makes me want to shake my head and ask, "What the hell is wrong with us?" Part of the answer, of course, is that we have developed a racist and casteist system in the U.S. that I finally have more hope that people are recognizing and wanting to deconstruct. Stay tuned.

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American voters who are also people of faith, says this RNS opinion column, are looking for a presidential candidate who -- in the midst of the pandemics of Covid and racism -- can give them hope. Ryan Eller writes that it's quite possible that "the majority of religious Americans will vote for whichever candidate best understands their grief and shows deep empathy for them. . ." The "candidate they trust," he says, "will restore hope and help them heal. Call these swing voters the Forgotten Faithful." They sound like Richard Nixon's alleged "Silent Majority," but that term described people who were neither silent nor in the majority. We'll see about the Forgotten Faithful.


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