My first substantive encounter with the oppressive Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories came several years ago at an event held in the local Dutch Reformed Church here in Brooklyn, New York. Till then, what I knew about Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank and in Gaza had relied heavily on mainstream media reports. But the event that night featured two speakers, both Israelis, one an 18-year-old about to be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces, the other a middle-aged American who had lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before moving to Israel. The younger man intended to refuse service in the Israeli army and expected to receive a jail sentence in consequence. The older man had already served time in the reserves. The church was mostly full, the pews largely filled with people sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. But a substantial contingent critical of what the speakers had been saying later turned up in the rear of the church and made themselves heard. One woman was especially vocal, shouting “cal-UM-ny! cal-UM-ny!” in an attempt to drown out the speaker. A lone policeman assigned to the event restored order….
America has changed less radically in the last 80 years than has Germany, but it has changed nonetheless and in essential ways. We no longer legally discriminate. But we have not allowed those who wear our own version of the yellow star, those whose skin color makes them “black” ( a word that means different things to different people, the only common thread being ancestry from “dark-skinned” Africans), to entirely take it off.
Read my essay in the current Eclectica. Let me know what you think.
“Dirty Linen” (click on “Essays and Reviews” on the panel at the top of this page) is something I wrote several years back and then updated for publication in Ecelectica (where all the essays on this blog, so far, were originally published). It’s the longest and most ambitious essay I’ve written. Sadly, it still seems relevant, and that’s why I’m including it here halfway through Black History month.
The idea for the piece was originally generated out of the O.J. Simpson trial, but that was just the launching point for my thoughts and feelings on the subject. I think it’s difficult to gain a perspective, any real objectivity, on a phenomenon as deeply embedded in our social fabric as is “race” (you’ll understand why I insist on the quotation marks if you read the essay). It’s like trying to examine the back of your own head. I made an attempt to do so in this piece not because I am any more free of this social pathogen than anyone else but because the subject has preoccupied me for as long as I can remember. Writing is largely a matter of exorcising old demons and realizing what frequently lies below the level of consciousness. If you’re lucky, you find readers who share your possessions and enjoy or at least are willing to suffer through the birthing of those realizations. Hopefully, that will be you.