[Update: 7-12-16: Nothing in this blog should suggest that I agree with the premises of black nationalism, and certainly not BLM. But I do deplore those who underestimate the condition of black persons; though many have climbed the class ladder since the early 20th century (the Niagara Movement, 1905)), the black masses have been left behind.]
It would be very easy to join with conservatives who are indignantly denouncing black nationalism (Black Lives Matter, Nation of Islam, Black Panthers) as controlled by white leftists (or worse). This blog is about my rejection of this political strategy (despite the pervasive antisemitism in these all-black, separatist groups), spiced with my own life experience as a Jewish woman born in 1937.
What prompted this statement was Sean Hannity’s program 7-8-16, where he was covering the Baton Rouge demonstration (live), and kept asking his local Louisiana surrogate to ask the protesters why they were supporting Barack Obama, given the record of black unemployment, etc. or if they were not ignoring “the presumption of innocence” rule that should have led them to understand that their demonstration was inappropriate. He also kept urging the surrogate to denounce Black Lives Matter (for their chant “Pigs in a blanket….”).
The demonstrators (all young and black) were having none of this, and I think I know why, for I found Hannity’s long-distance confrontation with the protesters to be wrong-headed, unempathic, and gross.
My father volunteered for the Medical Corps in 1942, and, as he was a pathologist working at various army bases in Texas, Missouri, and California, we followed him around. In school after school, I was the only Jewish girl amid a sea of white Christians. The teachers took me under their wings, and made me the teacher’s pet, so I was sheltered from the rejection of my fellows.
It was not until after the war when we lived in a veteran’s housing project that I felt the wrath of white boys (and girls?) with Italian, Irish, and Polish names. I bonded with some, but was chased home one afternoon by a gang of Elmhurst boys, one of whom was brandishing a knife. My mother confronted the principal of P.S. 13, one Lillian Eschenbecker (a German name!), who pronounced that I was like a shiny red apple, appetizing “on the outside, but rotten to the core.”
I have forgotten much of my life, but that incident will always be with me, for the rest of my scholastic career, I was most comfortable among other Jews, male and female alike. But I turned my righteous anger against myself, and have symptoms to this day.
For other mature white people lacking empathy with angry, bottled-up residentially segregated blacks, railing against [white] authority or millionaire actors and musicians, may I recommend that you read 20th century black authors, who have turned to fiction to express their maddening rage and longing for solidarity? I remember reading Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, noting their candor– alongside of wistful desires to be accepted by a larger whole and not just as “gladiators.”
Once, at a big UCLA conference in the humanities, I turned around to face a packed room of faculty and students, pleading for integrated, not just the trendy separatist, classes in women’s and ethnic studies. Famous honcho Hayden White came up to me to ask (ironically?) if I was on the job market, while other big shots (all white tenured professors) mocked me for imputed racism and un-hipness.
At this point in my life, I have experienced enough injustice to understand the cry of “no justice, no peace.”
I wish that I had had similar instruction when I was young and foolish.