An astonishing number of liberal journalists are accusing the entire opposition to the President as either covertly or overtly racist. These accusations may take many forms, depending on the context. For instance, one liberal friend of mine referred to John Silber’s opinion that Jews were “phenomenal” in their racism because they did not welcome non-Jewish spouses or converts into the fold. What he did not state was that Silber (a Protestant then in divinity school, later the controversial President of Boston University and a candidate for Governor) held that opinion circa 1947, as he described it in a 1990 interview in the Boston Globe. At that time, he was considering converting to Judaism, not knowing that his own father, a German-Jewish emigrant and an architect, was a Jew. *
From what I have read, many refugees and/or survivors wished to spare their children the agonies of European Jewry, and hid their “identities”. At the same time, other Jews, including the Orthodox, were traumatized by the Shoah and felt that their culture, i.e., their sense of belonging to a larger family, was being systematically demolished, and that it was hence the duty of living Jews to resist intermarriage and assimilation, and thus to reconstitute the lost, ever-threatened world of Judaism. Not to do so was to betray their cultural heritage and their own ancestors who had stubbornly struggled to hold onto an ancient religion as the route to Diaspora survival. Perhaps a Freudian would surmise that most or many Jews were in a panic state as their world with its libidinous communal connections (no matter how imaginary), was disintegrating, before, during, and after the second world war. (See Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1922, esp. Chapter V: “Two Artificial Groups: The Church and the Army”).
Indeed, Freud’s passing remarks stopped me short, as I thought about Michelle Obama’s honors thesis at Princeton, a paper that riled me up when I read it in 2008. Having grown up in a working class family, she was obviously anxious about upward mobility, and whether white people would ever accept her, a feeling that was tied with the (perhaps idealized) memory of a tightly knit black community in Chicago. Her bibliography featured black nationalists and she recommended more funding for the Black Studies Center at Princeton. I was very critical of her thesis because of the alliance with militant cultural nationalists and my aversion to separatism generally, but I failed to recognize her emotional defenses. It is true that many successful people, in whatever group, reject or stigmatize those in their group who are left behind, or who cling to what they think is a retardataire way of thinking and living. And those left behind may return the favor by shutting down all empathy for the successful among them. It is true that assimilation into the dominant culture extracts a high price for majority acceptance—a degree of conformity to a new set of rules compelling “moderation” in all things, a pose of serenity in their new social environment, and the denial that prejudice against them still exists. It is also true that those who are left behind feel abandoned and betrayed. On both sides of the class divide, conduct may not be pretty, but don’t look to me to throw stones at either party.
* [From the Boston Globe, 2-11-90, this excerpt from an interview with Silber during his campaign for governor of Massachusetts:]
As a 21-year-old divinity student, he took over a Baptist congregation in Connecticut when the minister he had been assisting quit. “I helped him leave because at the end he had asked me what I thought of his sermons and I would tell him,” he said. “They were awful. They were really bad.” The church was not Southern Baptist; he said it was “much more latitudinarian” than his own Presbyterian church.
To help pay for divinity school, he sang in the choir of a Jewish reform synagogue, where he found “the music was wonderful and the sermons were excellent.” He considered converting to Judaism. “I thought about it, and then found out that the racism of Jews is quite phenomenal,” he said. “If you are goyim considering becoming a Jew, you are going to be second-class in that synagogue, and I didn’t have any interest at all in moving into that congregation as a second-class citizen. I also thought that Judaism made a great mistake in not recognizing Jesus as one in the line of the great Hebrew prophets.”
In 1959, after Yale, while he was studying at the University of Bonn on a Fulbright scholarship, Silber said he discovered that his father was Jewish. He knows nothing of the Jewish background. In fact, his father had become so assimilated in the United States that a stained glass window in the First Presbyterian Church in San Antonio is dedicated to his father’s mother. “If she had been a practicing Jew, I don’t believe my father would have done that,” Silber said. [end Boston Globe excerpt]