Easter in Orange County

Last Sunday, sitting on the steps next to my container garden outside my Long Beach apartment, I heard a group of people singing in the next building. I thought of the seder I’d had a couple of nights before; my friends and I had sung the Ma Nishtana, which I only learned a few years ago and forget every year. Only two of the guests remembered the melody at first, but it only took a line or two for it to come back to the rest of us. I wondered if the neighbors could hear us. I’ve never had an anti-Semitic incident in this neighborhood, so I thought it’d be kind of cool if on the other side of our open windows, people were listening to us sing.

I watched families walking in and out of apartments, carrying children, greeting relatives. I smiled as I listened to the singing. Then I realized it wasn’t a hymn or some other Easter song – they were all singing a pop song. Blink 182 or something.

Oh. Well, it was still nice to hear singing. Yellow jackets buzzed around my bacopas. My bean seedlings were just starting to twine around the railing, and my lavender was blooming like the world was going to end.

***

According to the Slingshot Collective, “the modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirtiest, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.” I don’t know if it’s the ugliest, the saddest, or the est of any of those other things, but many parts of it certainly are ugly and sad. I was thinking about that quote, along with various discussions I’ve witnessed about the “lack” of white American culture – whiteness as negative space – and white Americans’ need to appropriate more exotic cultures, when I tested a theory out on my husband: that the United States has one of the shallowest national cultures on the planet. Continue reading

About My Body

(Note: soon after I started writing this this morning, I realized that it’s heavily influenced by BFP and Jess’s (Re)Thinking Walking series at Flip Flopping Joy. I’ve had a troubled relationship with walking for a few years, but their essays helped me crystallize a lot of thoughts that were amorphous, and I doubt I would have come to this essay without them.)

About five years ago, I worked as a computer services aide at a public library. Most of my job consisted of running around the main branch fixing problems and installing software. Sometimes the running around was virtual – we had a program called VNC, which allowed us to freak out librarians by manipulating their computers remotely – but more often than not, it was physical. I’d run around. Well, walk. I loved this job because it allowed me to move, exercise, be active, interact with people, hide out occasionally in the stacks with a book as software installed or there was a lull in demand. So one day I was walking around, carrying a box of floppy disks from one project to another, when on the mezzanine between two floors, I felt a sudden stabbing pain in my hip.

I stopped, stunned. I’d never felt pain like that in my life. Holy shit, was it strong! What the fuck!?

But by the time I’d even registered it, it was gone, so I kept walking. About ten minutes later, I felt it again. It was so absurd that I actually laughed out loud. It was perversely fascinating.

That day, my hip felt tender for awhile but it went away by nightfall. I didn’t even think to mention it to my boyfriend. Over the next few days, though, it started to come back gradually – not a sudden, stabbing pain anymore, but rather a sharp ache, like a cramped muscle or a joint that needed popping. It would almost reach a crisis point and then fade. I’d always had back problems, so I assumed it’d go away on its own, but it didn’t – instead, over the next few weeks, it got so bad that I began to have trouble walking. Not that I stopped walking; after all, I didn’t think anything was actually wrong. I considered myself kind of a sissy about pain. The limping? Oh, whatever, I figured everyone got that sometimes. Every day I’d walk downtown to meet my boyfriend for lunch and ignore the stabbing, aching, and squeezing that was going on around my tailbone. I’d have to stop several times to rest it and rub it (not that either had any effect). I still rode my bike. I refused to take pity on my pelvis. I kept pushing it to do whatever I felt like doing – except, as the pain got worse and worse, I began pushing it just to behave normally. Continue reading

Nadya Suleman Receives Death Threats

From the AP wire:

LOS ANGELES – Police said Thursday they will investigate death threats against octuplet mom Nadya Suleman and advise her publicist on how to handle a torrent of other nasty messages that have flooded his office.

Word that the 33-year-old single, unemployed mother is receiving public assistance to care for the 14 children she conceived through in vitro fertilization has stoked furor among many people.

Police Lt. John Romero said officers were meeting with Suleman’s publicist Mike Furtney about the flood of angry phone calls and e-mail messages against Suleman, her children and Furtney.

“We are aware of the media accounts of the threats, and that they are being sent to the West Los Angeles detectives for appropriate action,” Romero said.

Furtney said 500 new e-mails were received early Thursday.

The logic here is impeccable. I don’t like the fact that I will have to indirectly help pay to take care of this woman’s children. Therefore, I will kill her, necessitating several foster parents, and thus HEIGHTEN the cost to the state, which I will still have to help pay.

Kugelmass has it right: this actually has very little to do with who has to pay what and how many kids an unemployed single mother should or shouldn’t have. You don’t get this type of widespread, hyper-violent reaction from a question of economics – not even, I would argue, from people disgusted with the Wall Street bailouts. No, this is about “the worship of motherhood and the hatred of mothers.” And I don’t think you can have one without the other.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

A Gentile Privilege Checklist

I know most of us have pretty much said what we need to say about the Feministe debacle, but there’s one more thing I want to address before I try to put it behind me.

There were a few bloggers and commenters who, when responding to David’s reference to gentile privilege (a concept that immediately made sense to me), stated, explicitly or implicitly, that they didn’t believe it exists. In doing so, they broke one of the fundamental rules of anti-oppression work: you never, ever dictate to a group what its own experience looks like. If you haven’t lived as a member of that group, you simply do not have the right to tell them how they are or aren’t oppressed. This, for me, was the most hurtful aspect of the whole debate. If you don’t think you need to understand anti-Semitism in order to understand why Israel launched an outrageous and inexcusable attack on Gaza – fine, I’m glad you’ve got it figured out. If you feel you have the energy to learn about Palestinian oppression or Jewish oppression, but not both – fine, I’ll see you at half the meetings. But I think it’s clear here that if you’re not acknowledging the existence of gentile privilege, then you’re not acknowledging the existence of anti-Semitism. Oppression cannot exist without corresponding privilege. It’s just not possible, folks.

I feel like I should be inured to it – after all, it’s not like it hasn’t happened to WOC, the disabled, Muslims, and countless other groups who thought that social justice meant justice for them, too – but it’s been bothering me for days. Indeed, looking over my last post on the subject, I’m reminded that I mentioned it there, too. I didn’t think for a second that the concept of gentile privilege would, in a feminist, anti-racist space, be controversial. I should have, though. (No wonder so many activists I know just don’t read comment threads at all.)

So: a checklist. I wrote this based on my own experiences, so what you’re seeing is gentile privilege among American liberals and radicals from a white Ashkenazi point of view. That obviously means that it’s a work-in-progress and hopefully a collaborative effort, since I lack the expertise to write about Jews in conservative or apolitical communities, Jews in other countries, and American Jews of color. (I also think it’d be very useful to write up checklists on Ashkenazi privilege and male privilege within Jewish communities.) Because gentile privilege often operates in tandem with white and Christian privilege, I’ve included a sort of “prologue” of instances of white and Christian privilege that happen to apply to Diaspora Jews (items i-vii). It doesn’t make sense to look at complete lists of white or Christian privilege when talking about Jews, since most European Jews have white privilege and many Jews identify as secular or even Christian, so I’ve only included instances relevant to the intersection of the various identities that comprise Jewishness.

There were certain aspects of anti-Semitism that I couldn’t quite articulate as a form of privilege. Does that mean that they fit into one of the items I’ve already written? Take, for instance, the non-Jews who insist that since anti-Semitism is an inaccurate term, we Jews shouldn’t have a specific word for our oppression at all. Is that a function of denial (8)? Of mistrust (11)? Is it a separate kind of privilege that I’m not getting at yet – or does it happen simply because people don’t know that anti-Semitism operates differently than other types of oppression? Also, how do Jewish women factor into this list? Everything I wrote resonates with me – but at the same time, I’ve been keenly aware of the fact that, with the notable exceptions of the JAP and the Jewish Mother, Jewish women remain largely invisible in both Jews’ and non-Jews’ perceptions of Jewishness. Does what I wrote resonate with me because I genuinely feel it, or because, lacking my own solid identity, I’m forced to siphon it off of Jewish men?

If a “final” draft of this list is ever produced, it’ll probably be very messy and complicated – more like multiple lists connected under the umbrella category of gentile privilege. I think this is the only way it’ll accurately reflect the various interconnections and distinctions of Jewish cultures around the globe. Or maybe this list will just serve as a brief and limited addendum to David’s essay. I’d be happy with that, too.

Quick note: I’m one person with a short history of anti-oppression work and an even shorter history of Jewish activism, so constructive criticism and collaboration will make the list better. But I’d like non-Jews to please remember that you are not an expert on Jewishness. If you see an item in the proper list that would be better placed in the prologue – awesome, thanks. But what I do not want to see is people who have never walked around as a Jew, never opened a book on Jewish history, or never heard of terms like “blood libel” lecturing me on how I’m whining and how a disagreement about Zionism or Gaza or the rhetoric in an essay excuses everything they said in the Feministe threads and how I obviously misunderstood what they meant in this thread or that post. If you’re not familiar with one or more of these items – some of them are pretty esoteric – April Rosenblum’s The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere is a great place to start, and has a good bibliography. If you read it and still have a question about one of the items, I’ll gladly answer it, but don’t start from the assumption that I pulled it out of thin air.

The Gentile Privilege Checklist (Liberal and Radical Edition)

White/Christian Privilege

i. My religious and cultural holidays are national holidays. Even if my job requires me to work on some holidays, generally speaking, I and my community members don’t have to explain ourselves to employers and teachers, request time off to celebrate and/or worship, and risk falling behind or losing pay when we take that time.

ii. Even if I “pass” for a member of another group, I can advertise my identity through my appearance, language, or other markers without fear of discrimination, harassment, or assault. Revealing my group identity has never felt like “outing” myself.

iii. I have never felt pressure to alter my body – chemically, surgically or otherwise – or engage in displays of strength or violence to compensate for perceptions of my group as ugly or weak.

iv. I can visit my place of worship or a community building without fear of injury or death.

v. Even if I’m in a sparsely populated area, it is never difficult to find other members of my group.

vi. Generally speaking, my community is not targeted for hate crimes or threats.

vii. When other members of my group commit violent crimes, I will not be held personally responsible for it, expected to explain or condemn their actions to members of other groups, or punished for continuing to identify as a member of my group. Others do not use those crimes to justify instigating or ignoring assault and harassment against me.

Gentile Privilege

1. If I achieve success in my career, it will not be attributed to a predisposition to cunning and greed, or my group’s supposed control of the field, community, government, or world.

2. If I save money, accept money, or don’t spend as much as others think I should, it will not be attributed to a predisposition to stinginess or miserliness.

3. If I am angry, upset, or worried, my emotions are not attributed to my group’s supposed neurotic or infantile tendencies.

4. If my group suffers a monumental, culture-altering tragedy, no one speculates or tries to prove that I have exaggerated or fabricated the tragedy for material gain.

5. If I am robbed, it is not because the thief assumes, based on my group identity, that I am unusually rich.

6. When other members of my group commit violent crimes, I am not regularly portrayed as a monster that engages in demonic, inhuman acts.

7. In liberal and radical circles, It is not widely believed that my group has caused its own oppression, and I am not viewed as selfish or hypocritical for speaking about my oppression. It is generally accepted that fighting my oppression is not tantamount to endorsing the oppression of another group.

8. In liberal and radical circles, the very existence of my oppression – in any form or in any part of the world – is not routinely called into question or denied.

9. If, within a liberal or radical discussion, I feel that an individual’s criticism of members of my group is problematic, it is not immediately and universally assumed that my objection is delusional or a deliberate attempt to halt discussion. While it is acknowledged that one can “play the X-card,” legitimate instances of my oppression are given more attention than false accusations.

10. When economically oppressed groups organize to fight poverty, racism, and other injustices, they do not scapegoat me for those injustices.

11. When I work with liberals and radicals who are not members of my group, they do not view me with suspicion, require that I prove my loyalty to their cause, or wait for me to distinguish myself from the “bad” members of my group before they decide to trust me.

12. I can speak out against, or work to put a stop to, activities that promote hatred of my group without confirming beliefs that I am controlling the media or using a position of uncanny power over the community, government, or world to quell freedom of speech.

13. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – goes to war, I will not be blamed for starting it.

14. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – loses a war, I will not be blamed for sabotaging it.

15. No one assumes, based on my group identity, that I am physically deformed. Upon meeting me, no one violates my privacy by asking to see that deformity, nor do they violate my bodily autonomy to search for it.

Thoughts?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A blog.)

Why I’ve Stopped Talking About Gaza

Short answer: because I can’t think of anything to say.

A few days ago, I came across this video on Jewschool:

There’s a midrash on the Jacob story that Avraham Burg mentions in his new book. According to the story, Jacob was “anxious and distressed” as he went to fight his brother Esau. He was anxious, the Talmud explains, because he knew he might die – but he was distressed because he knew he might kill.

Even if the attack on Gaza were 100% justified – even if there was absolutely no other action Israel could have taken – don’t these people care about how un-Jewish it is to celebrate killing people? Even if you believe this had to be done, what about it makes you want to dance a horah? Even if you believe that every single Palestinian who has died deserved to die, why would the task of ending someone’s life make you happy?

I meant to write about that video days ago, but I was distracted by the slew of anti-Semitic comments on, ironically, two parts of an essay about anti-Semitism. If we can wrap our heads around the idea that one can do something racist without hating POC, then surely we can fathom that, say, denying the existence of Gentile privilege is anti-Semitic even if some of one’s best friends are Jewish. I want Gaza to be centered in anti-racist, anti-capitalist work right now simply because at the moment, their situation is one of the most desperate and time-sensitive. But I can’t stand it when non-Arab, non-Jewish Americans shriek that even mentioning global violence against Jews is somehow hurting Gazans, and then develop a fucking martyr complex when a Jew angrily points out that decrying Jewish liberation work is anti-Semitic. (I also can’t stand it when the rhetoric in a “discussion” becomes so angry and inflammatory that anti-Zionist Jews are accused of being self-hating and are basically forced to leave. Fuck. That. Shit.)

If you seriously can’t believe that we can work on dismantling anti-Semitism without advocating the deaths of Palestinians, then I doubt I can work with you. If you’re itching to leave a comment along the lines of, “Jewish liberation?! That means ZIONISM,* right!? You must be a Zionist, right!? Because only Zionists care about Jewish liberation!!” then for God’s sake, read a book or two before you accuse me of being a racist anti-Palestine warmongerer because I don’t like it when flaming cars are driven into synogogues.

(On the anti-Semitic attacks in Europe – you wouldn’t believe the number of people I’ve seen saying, “Well, those Israelis have to learn somehow.” If you can’t figure out the distinction between a European Jew and an Israeli, and if you can’t figure out that violence against any ol’ Jewish person probably isn’t stemming from a sincere desire to help Palestinians, then I say it again: I doubt I can work with you.)

I think Mandolin’s post is right on.

I saw Waltz With Bashir the other night. I’d planned on writing a very nice, eloquent review of it, but really it would have all boiled down to this: it helped me stay human. Please see this movie and stay human. Now if only Palestinian filmmakers could enjoy international exposure.

By the way, how do I personally feel about Zionism? Do I identify as a Zionist, an anti-Zionist, a non-Zionist, or a post-Zionist? I honestly don’t know. If we accept that Zionism has come to mean a Jewish state in Palestine, then I’m an anti-Zionist. If we were to consider a Zionism that meant a Jewish state anywhere, then, depending on how much violence or alienation I was personally experiencing, I would be either a Zionist or a non-Zionist (someone who supports a Jewish state but doesn’t plan on moving there). But I feel like the whole question of whether there should be a Jewish state is moot; the fact is, there is one, and it’s not going anywhere. So does that make me a post-Zionist? Not quite; that term means something slightly different. What about the question of keeping Israel Jewish? What will happen when/if Arab births outnumber Jewish births, and the ratio begins to change? More ethnic cleansing is unacceptable (even having to write that seems to diminish its truth) – but if Israelis let their national character change, do they risk violence against Jews? Why is addressing root causes always out of the question?

Why do I feel like any time I write something that’s not explicitly condemning the actions of Jews, readers are combing over my sentences, looking for anti-Palestinian oppression? Why can’t anyone accept that it’s harmful when so many liberal and radical Jews feel like our Jewish identities have to revolve around feeling ashamed of Israel? I’ve literally seen people – Jews! – claiming that Zionism is the sum total of Jewish identity. That doesn’t make any fucking sense! Maybe sometimes I want to read my great-grandmother’s letters or take my Yiddish classes without thinking about Israel!

I wanted this post to be about Gaza, but the truth is, I don’t know anything about Gaza. I’m sitting here in California with palm trees swaying outside my spacious apartment and I have no fucking clue.

I think I’m going to start using this blog, in part, to rediscover and examine Yiddish culture. Partly it’s because I suck at timely commentary. Partly it’s because a Youtube search reveals a wealth of Yiddish theater, music, and dance. Partly it’s because the introspective styles of writers like BFP, Joan Kelly, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, and Little Light have taught me more about activist work than even the best political commentary. Maybe, by developing a firmer idea of where I came from, I can stop defining myself against the people celebrating the deaths of Gazans. Maybe if we remember how vibrant Jewish cultures can be, we can funnel our energy into art and writing and dance instead of wars. Maybe we can do the same for American cultures, maybe even for white cultures. Please, please, please, someone tell me you’re with me on this.

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

__
* I’m not even getting into the problem with the “Zionism=murderous bloodthirsty racism” mentality… maybe in another post. I know I can’t hope for people to just look it up themselves, or ever believe that early twentieth century European Jews could possibly have sensible reasons for wanting a state. I know it’s too troublesome and complicated to accept that, while the decision to “buy” Palestinian land was obviously racist and unjust, the desire to escape violence by forming autonomous territory was understandable.

When Palestinians Die, Americans Eat.

On the radio today: news about the recession. Story after story about dismal holiday sales. Explanations of why it’s not a good idea to be thrifty when money’s tight: if you don’t go out and buy stuff, people will lose their jobs! Why is it that our very survival depends on accumulating and then discarding useless luxury items? How did we get to the point where my lack of interest in a plasma screen may eventually lead to my starvation? What would happen if we decided that some of our needs and wants would be bought with currency, and some we would make or procure ourselves? What if the workweek was only 20 hours long? Why have we forgotten how to grow our own fucking food?

The military industrial complex: a mutually dependent relationship between a government, its armed forces, and the commercial sector producing weapons and other equipment. According to the documentary Why We Fight, every single state in the union has a stake in keeping this industry healthy – and, consequently, every single legislator faces pressure to green-light wars. Why do you think democrats cave so easily every time hawks want to attack someone?

As an interviewee in Young, Jewish and Left points out, Israel has never benefited from the occupation of Palestine; it’s the American weapons manufacturers who are making a profit. Could it be that the US, happy to have a foothold in the Middle East, isn’t just giving Israel its blessing – but actually pressuring Israelis to keep driving those tanks, keep using those bombs? Because when Israel attacks, Americans keep their jobs. When Palestinians die, Americans eat.

When will we figure out that capitalism is killing us?

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

Whoo hoo!

From the AP wire:

Miami judge rules against Florida gay adoption ban

MIAMI – A judge on Tuesday ruled that a strict Florida law that blocks gay people from adopting children is unconstitutional, declaring there was no legal or scientific reason for sexual orientation alone to prohibit anyone from adopting.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman said the 31-year-old law violates equal protection rights for the children and their prospective gay parents, rejecting the state’s arguments that there is “a supposed dark cloud hovering over homes of homosexuals and their children.”

She noted that gay people are allowed to be foster parents in Florida. “There is no rational basis to prohibit gay parents from adopting,” she wrote in a 53-page ruling.

Florida is the only state with an outright ban on gay adoption. Arkansas voters last month approved a measure similar to a law in Utah that bans any unmarried straight or gay couples from adopting or fostering children. Mississippi bans gay couples, but not single gays, from adopting.

The ruling means that Martin Gill, 47, and his male partner can adopt two brothers, ages 4 and 8, whom he has cared for as foster children since December 2004.

“I’ve never seen myself as less than anybody else,” Gill said. “We’re very grateful. Today, I’ve cried the first tears of joy in my life.”

But won’t this give our precious children a case of THE GAYS!?

The state planned a swift appeal, likely setting up a battle that could reach the Florida Supreme Court. A judge in gay-friendly Key West also found the law unconstitutional in September, but that ruling has not been appealed and has limited legal reach.

The state presented experts who claimed there was a higher incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among gay couples, that they were more unstable than heterosexual unions and that the children of gay couples suffer a societal stigma.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association all support permitting same-sex couples to adopt.

…oh. Forget The Gays – it is THE ALCOHOLS and THE SINGLES and THE STIGMASES that we must protect the precious children from! I once had a roommate who’d been raised by two mothers. She had MANY ALCOHOLS and THE STIGMA, and also I am sure her parents are now BROKEN-UPPED because of their being lesbians, who are unstable, as we know.

Ahem. Anyway, let me repeat: whoo hoo! I can only imagine how good it must feel to know that the children you love now have a permanent place in your home.

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