Fuck God!

Fuck God!

by

Howard Adelman

Wow! Neither the crusading atheists, Richard Dawkins nor Christopher Hitchens, wrote that. Hitchens did say to religious believers, “Fuck you” and Fuck off,” but never wrote or verbalized “Fuck God” to the best of my knowledge. That is because he was more interested in writing about his disbelief in God than indicating any relationship to God. For someone who blasphemes God suggests an irritation or anger with God, Otherwise, why say it? Irritation or anger with someone is not denial or banishment to an unspoken world. I wanted the reader to have at least a sliver of understanding about the powerful effect of blaspheming God.

Nevertheless, the expression in the title remains ambiguous. Not in its meaning! It is unequivocally a blasphemous statement. But it is ambiguous in the sense that the reader does not know whether I am asserting what the phrase says or whether I am writing down the phrase as an object for dissection. I could have put the expression in quotation marks, but that would not have helped much. Because I could be quoting myself. Further, I would have lost some of the impact. I want readers to grasp what blasphemy is directly since we are far removed from a world and a time when blasphemy was not merely shocking, but a reason to stone me to death for making such an utterance. If I may cite an eminent authority, Prince Charles declared that we had lost the sense of the sacred in our public life. We no longer recognize that cursing God should arouse revulsion, rage and revenge. When religious identity is at the core of who you are, then cursing God is akin to calling someone a dirty Jew.

Last evening, I saw an excellent Israeli Bedouin film called Sand Storm. At one point in the movie, a first wife not only disobeys her husband, but talks back to him and goes further and even insults him. She is not stoned. But she is “banished” from her husband’s compound and, in disgrace, sent back to the home of her parents and separated from her four daughters. We would not only regard the punishment as unacceptable, but as cruel and unjust. On the other hand, in the rabbinic tradition, capital punishment for blasphemy was avoided by resorting to the lesser penalty of banishment for limited periods, say seven days, though in the most liberal of states, the Netherlands, Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated in the middle of the seventeenth century for life for his pantheistic interpretation of God. (The condemnation has never been reversed.)

On my birthday two years ago on 7 January 2015, the newsroom massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo took place in Paris. The instigation for the attack was alleged blaspheme – and not even of God, but of one of his most important prophets – Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo spent years mocking believers and institutions like the Roman Catholic Church. Its cartoons were trenchant and telling, for the target was the marriage of belief and power and the elevation of some subjects to the sacred. The Catholic Church sued Charlie Hebdo 14 times, each unsuccessfully. The constant object of attack was the hidden and not so hidden racism in French society that hides behind white robes and the so-called civility of society.

This was precisely the subject of debate when two brothers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, with Kalashnikovs and a grenade launcher stormed the offices of the magazine shouting, “Allah Akbar,” God is great! as they fired indiscriminately and insisted that, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.” (On the same day, in addition to the journalists, a policeman as well as members of the Jewish community were murdered at other locations.) For Al Qaeda had vowed revenge when Charlie Hebdo first printed the portrait of the prophet on its front cover and then republished the infamous Danish caricature mocking Islamic fanaticism nine years after the cartoon first appeared. In defence of Al Qaeda, does not the Hebrew Torah also condemn cursing Abraham as well as God? (Exodus 22:27)

Canadian law (Criminal Code Section 296) still prohibits blasphemy, a critical issue for many now that Bill M-103 has passed condemning Islamophobia. Blasphemy is the act of showing contempt or failing to display reverence and respect for religious symbols or persons. Though the penalty is not execution or stoning, you can get up to two years in prison.

  1. (1) Everyone who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years

(2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in contrast, in 1952 in the case of Joseph Burstyn v. Wilson ruled that “it is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures.” Under the blasphemy laws until Cromwell intervened, a Sephardic Jew and physician, Jacob Lumbrozo, whose family had once fled the inquisition, was charged in Maryland, a Catholic colony, in 1658 with blasphemy under the ironically named Toleration Act of 1649 that adumbrated the language of the laws of George Orwell’s 1984.

The fight was over freedom of expression. For in our contemporary Western secular civil religion, freedom to say what you want is far more sacred than any reverence for divinity. But not everywhere. Specifically, not in the Middle East. Fanatics were causing mayhem and murder in their war against the new secular civic religion. In defence of the latter, some journalists were willing to risk and even sacrifice their lives. And sacrifice they did. All for insisting that laughter had to be protected in the face of assaults on it in the name of something else regarded as sacred. Charlie Hebdo was not against, was not opposed, to those who would elevate God or Jesus or Muhammad to sacred status. It did fight against those who would deny its right to have its own set of sacred values. Charlie Hebdo was not Islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo was philofreedom.

On the other hand, would Charlie Hebdo defend the right of Islamicists not only to openly advocate suppressing blasphemous speech, but to urge a community to stone or kill by other means anyone who engages in blasphemy? Would Charlie Hebdo not insist on some boundaries to free speech as a central core value, i.e., when free speech is used to advocate attacks on free speech and the murder of its defenders? When or if caveats are used to limit free speech in the name of free speech, especially if the defender of this position is an anarchist and/or pacifist like many of the journalists writing for Charlie Hebdo, is this not hypocrisy? Whatever one’s position, it does make clearer the strong motivation behind laws against blasphemy.

Whatever criticisms I have had of the French secular civil religion of laicité and its own paranoid intolerance of hijabs, that religion does affirm the right to be blasphemous. (See Caroline Fourest (2015) Éloge du blaphsphème, In Praise of Blasphemy, Grasset.) The civic religion of North America does not, and no English edition was published even though the United States is far ahead of Canada on this subject. Further, the current compassionate Pope Francis in some sense defended the murderous response to blasphemy as “normal.”

And it once was. Blasphemous, irreverent or sacrilegious words about God are not only condemned, but acts not strictly in accord with God’s instructions for behaviour in the holy of holies are worthy of capital punishment as well. God killed the two eldest sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, for making such an error. Profaning God’s name was equivalent to profaning God’s home. Fanatical Islam simply expands the targets to anyone insulting the Prophet of Islam. One of the deep roots for the condemnation of blasphemy is to be found in this week’s portion of Leviticus. And not only in Leviticus. Exodus 22:27 reads:

אֱלֹהִים לֹא תְקַלֵּל וְנָשִׂיא בְעַמְּךָ לֹא תָאֹר. You shall not revile God, nor put a curse upon a chieftain among your people.

Insulting the head of state is also considered blasphemy.

The opening chapter of Parashat Emor (verse 6 of chapter 21) reads:

קְדֹשִׁים יִהְיוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְחַלְּלוּ שֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיהֶם… They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God.

The injunction is repeated in 22:32. “Don’t profane my Holy NAME that I may be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel.”

The wording in Leviticus 25:14 sets out the penalty:

ויקרא כד:יד הוֹצֵא אֶת הַמְקַלֵּל אֶל מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְסָמְכוּ כָל הַשֹּׁמְעִים אֶת יְדֵיהֶם עַל רֹאשׁוֹ וְרָגְמוּ אֹתוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָה. Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the whole community stone him.

Leviticus 24:15 states:

ויקרא כד:טו …אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי יְקַלֵּל אֱלֹהָיו וְנָשָׂא חֶטְאוֹ. כד:טז וְנֹקֵב שֵׁם יְ-הוָה מוֹת יוּמָת רָגוֹם יִרְגְּמוּ בוֹ כָּל הָעֵדָהכַּגֵּר כָּאֶזְרָח בְּנָקְבוֹ שֵׁם יוּמָת. Anyone who vilifies his God shall bear his guilt. And the one who invokes the name of YHWH shall surely die, all the assembly shall surely stone him; the ger and the citizen alike, he who invokes the name shall die.

The impression seems clear. Blasphemy is verboten and deserving of the harshest punishment. However, is that the lesson of the text? I suggest otherwise. The text offers one case study. (24:11) The son of an Israelite woman who married an Egyptian gets into a fight with an Israelite and says the equivalent of, “Fuck God!” Moses, upon God’s command, orders the community to remove that individual and stone him. Banishment alone was insufficient given the perceived enormity of the crime.

וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת הַשֵּׁם וַיְקַלֵּל וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת דִּבְרִי לְמַטֵּה דָן. The son of the Israelite woman invoked the name, vilifying it, and he was brought to Moses. And the name of his mother was Shelomith, daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan.

But then why is the description of this event immediately followed by a universal injunction against taking another’s life? Is the passage and the general narrative really about an objection to blasphemy or is it an objection to a norm which justifies murder provoked even by blasphemy? For is not the implication of the initial tale of a fight between an Israelite and a child of a mixed marriage that the fight was about racism? This fight ran contrary to the injunction to welcome the stranger, to welcome the ger. And even within the laws of blasphemy, was not the ger to be treated equally with any Israelite? The key question is whether the incident illustrates how important and sacred are laws protecting the sacred so that those who defile God’s name are to be put to death. Or is the story told to carry the message that racism is wrong and that murder in the name of blasphemy is heinous?

We have two interpretations of the same narrative that are totally at odds. In one, a standard version, the text stresses the enormity of the crime of blasphemy and the consequent severe punishment for engaging in it. For blasphemy was an attack on the central core beliefs of the Israelites in their one and singular God. Reverence for God is absolutely necessary to preserve and strengthen the identity of the Israelites as holy, as God’s chosen people. Profaning the name of God detracts not only from the reverence for God, but turns the utterer away from being holy to being profane. (21:6) God, in turn, may, as a result of such treatment, turn his back on His chosen people and abandon them as unholy. Further, when the sacrilege of blasphemy takes place, it is necessary to unite the people in defence of God’s name.

In the other interpretation, the real issue is racism and the gross mistreatment of someone who curses God. What is the evidence for questioning the standard interpretation? A least, what are the puzzles that give rise to questioning the standard traditional account?

Note the following:

  • The boy (not man) who commits the “crime” of blasphemy is the child of a mixed marriage.
  • There is an implication that the altercation that gave rise to his cursing God was the use of a racial epithet against him.
  • Though the son is not named, the Israelite mother is, Shelomit (a peacenik (though Rashi calls her a strumpet), daughter of Dibri (from dever, destruction) of the tribe of Dan; there is also the suggestion that she was a single mother, possibly the mother of a son that was the result of rape by an Egyptian man in an inversion of the Moses story.
  • Professor Wendy Zierier has pointed out that the phrasing used is both unusual and follows the same formulation as the reference to the matriarch, Rebecca, “who is referred to as רִבְקָה בַּת־בְּתוּאֵל הָאֲרַמִּי מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם, “Rebecca, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, from Paddan-Aram,” a formulation also used to depict the kings of Israel.
  • Why is the parent of a blaspheming son provided with such a lofty designation and what had her preachiness about peace and her heritage from a shit-disturber have to do with the meaning of the story?
  • There is the repeated stress that all children of God, not just Israelites, fall under the injunction not to profane God’s name.
  • Further, Israelites are specifically enjoined not to wrong the ger, the stranger who lives amongst them.
  • However, there is the suggestion that an Egyptian, unlike the stranger, is not to be treated equally because he introduced an “impurity” into the Israeli blood – if this sounds racist, that is the intention; after all, Leviticus insists that it is wrong to wear clothes made of mixed materials or to take one breed of cattle and “mix” it with another.
  • Further, the father of that son was an Egyptian, a ember of a people whose oppression the Israelis fled; the boy is not just of a mixed “race,” but his father was an enemy and not just a stranger living among the Israelites.
  • In the punishment, the boy is first banished from the camp and stoned outside it.

The answer to these puzzles, which I can only sketch, interprets the tale, not as a defence of blasphemy laws, not as a defence of racism, not as a defence of patrilineal descent, but as a stricture against such values. It is precisely because laws of blasphemy can be abused by those in power, as Queen Jezebel used them to punish and take away the vineyard for her husband, King Ahab. Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is made of the same deformed spirit who would punish those not absolutely loyal to and in service of his regime so that what he says is not hate speech, but what the critical media write.

The meaning of the tale is given by the ending – do not murder. Do not kill. Especially, do not kill in the name of protecting God’s name. If that is the case, why does God order Moses to tell the people to stone the boy? I suggest it is a parallel to God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son. Only this time, God does not intervene and save Moses from such a heinous act. Moses carries it out and stains the future of Jewry and of all humankind just as he once, in rage against an Egyptian overseer’s injustice, killed that Egyptian. In the end, Moses never learned to overcome his rage and all humans had to be enjoined not to kill.

Deplorables IIIb – Birtherism and Bruce LeVell

Deplorables IIIb – Birtherism and Bruce LeVell

by

Howard Adelman

In mid-August in the aftermath of the Democratic nomination that had been so devastating to his campaign, Donald Trump did a reset and appointed the media bomb-thrower, Stephen Bannon, executive chair of Breibert News, as his campaign CEO. In 2012, a year after Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate, Breibert promoted a book claiming that Barack Obama had been born in Kenya. Breibert News was dedicated to usurping and destroying the liberal narrative that Barack Obama had so clearly articulated at the Congressional Black Congress meeting. Breibert News was rooted in blogger journalism which offered an outlet for rage against government, politicians, journalists and Democrats.

These bloggers were not bounded by norms of truth, coherence, consistency or any other recognized norm for protecting the values of truth and integrity. They form the basis for Trump expressing birthism by stating, “Many believe…Instead, conspiracy theories abounded and Breibert News promoted rage rather than reason as a foundation for politics. These people of passion rather than reason constituted the solid core and base of the Trump campaign. This explains in part why Donald Trump kept his link with the birthers and lent his brand until his very recently to the belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was an illegitimate president way after Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate on 27 April 2011. 23% of Republicans continued to express this view well after Obama tried to put to rest this effort at delegitimation.

How can a Trump surrogate defend such blatant untruths as those constituting the birthism movement? In Trump’s version: Hillary started the birther movement. I stopped it when I forced Obama to release his birth certificate. The people should be grateful. How can a pencil-mustached black apologist for Donald Trump, Bruce LeVell, an African-American Georgia businessman and Trump’s executive director of his National Diversity Coalition (NDC), deal with this flagrant violation of integrity and sensitivity? By engaging in flim flam. First the name of the organization.

The National Diversity Coalition (NDC) includes: The African American Economic Justice Organization (AAEJO), Asian Journal, The Chinese American Institute for Empowerment (CAIE), Cornerstone Church of San Diego (6,500), the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies at Laverne University, the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University, The Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce, MAAC Project, The National Asian American Coalition, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. One only needs to read this list and wonder how such an organization that engages in advocacy on behalf of charitable service organizations and educational units in universities dealing with minority issues can have as its Executive Director a surrogate for Trump. The answer, to put it simply, as a representative of one of the above organizations in Daly City told me, is that Donald Trump stole their name.

The name of Bruce LeVell’s organization is really the National Diversity Coalition for Trump financed by the Trump campaign and consisting of a variety of individuals from different ethnic groups. It was organized in April. Bruce LeVell is the Executive Director of an organization that employs two other members of his family. While predominantly Black, the members include individual supporters for Trump from various minority communities and from all across the country: Michael Cohen, Eve Stieglitz and Michael Abramson, Jewish; Sonya Elizabeth, Arab; Narender Redy, Indian; Jo-Ann Chase, Puerto Rican; Kevin Do, Vietnamese; Rabia Kazan and Albert Sirazi, Turkish; Sajid Tarar, Muslim; Joe Perez, Cuban; Lovilla Santiago, Filipino; Dahlys Espriella, Hispanic; Chandhok Singh, Sikh; Carlos Limon, Chris Garcia, Debe Campos-Fleenor, Gloria De Mummey, Mexicans (apparently the largest number of individual members other than Blacks); Lisa Shin and Kun Kim, Korean; Quinn Nii and David Tian Wang, Chinese; Zoya Conover, Russian; Francisco Semiao, Portuguese; Christos Marafatsos, Greek; and Angel Boey, Bulgarian.

All, or almost all, are there in an individual capacity. Almost all were flown to Trump Tower in April to form the organization in Trump’s efforts to create a visual impression of wide, even if shallow, support among ethnic minorities in the US. Bruce LeVell is the individual face of an organization that is not a coalition of minority organizations. It is not a coalition in that sense at all. Its members are individuals, not groups. It is an organization conceived and created by Donald Trump this year by recruiting individuals from across the country who come from minority communities and support Donald Trump. As Trump has learned over the years as a crackerjack salesman, one does not need substance; one only needs the wrap and the correct brand.

LeVell told Hallie Jackson of MSNBC in an interview that the “Hillary campaign surrogates, whoever you call it, started this nasty whisper campaign. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton started this. And unfortunately it perpetuated into this.” When Jackson stopped him and pointed out that the statement was a blatant lie, instead of defending himself when proven to be a liar, he tried deflection and referred to Obama in his Senate campaign in 2004 questioning Alan Keyes right to run in Illinois because he had not been a resident in Illinois, but had just recently moved from Maryland to take up the candidacy of Jack Ryan over a scandal. But whatever the details of that issue, it had nothing to do with birtherism. As Jackson pointed out, birtherism is not a matter of vetting a candidate.

LeVell then shifted ground again and insisted that Trump’s raising the issue of Obama’s birthplace had nothing to do with Obama’s race. When Jackson asked why Trump did not raise the issue of the birthplace of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, LeVell went back to his starting position and insisted the colour issue came from the Clinton campaign. Finally, in that 16 September interview, LeVell committed the ultimate Trump sin, confessing ignorance and owning up to having made an error. LeVell collapsed intellectually and said that he didn’t know “what was going on when Trump was running or thought about running” for President.

Why are Trump surrogates so determined to lie and obfuscate when defending Trump against charges of racism that focus on the birther issue? The answer is that Trump Two-Two is in a very difficult corner. If he admits the birther issue was wrong, never mind even apologize for it, he would be crucified by a significant part of his core voter support. On the other hand, the birther issue is a front for racism just as the National Diversity Coalition for Trump is a false front for multiculturalism. Though 23% of Trump’s supporters may be hard core racists, 53% of Republicans are soft core racists who deny race is relevant, showing in that figure alone how relevant it is. 21% of Democrats say race is no longer relevant as well. That is the group which Trump must enlist in his campaign to marry hard core and soft core racists. Trump strategists have determined that it is better to lie and bully oneself out of the corner than have to do battle on the issue of racism. The birther issue had to be abandoned, not through admission and apology let alone compensation, but by declaring victory.

It does not seem to matter that the issue has provided steam, energy and motivation to the Clinton campaign. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might declare after Trump Two-Two’s statement that Obama was born in the US, period, that, “The birther issue is a done issue.” But you have to be suffering from mindblindness to fail to recognize that, without Trump accepting responsibility, without acknowledging his leadership role in perpetuating a lie, without apologizing, and without being sensitive to the feelings of the vast majority of Black voters, the issue will not go away. Why doesn’t Trump really care?

Clinton has never explicitly branded Trump a racist. Her supporters have.

Val Deming, former Orlando police chief running for Congress in Florida: “He’s a hater. He’s a bigot and he’s racist.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.): “We will not elect a chief bigot of the United States of America.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.): “Donald Trump is nothing more than a two-bit racial arsonist.”

As Bernie Sanders said in appealing to young voters, “You cannot elect a president of the United States whose campaign is based on bigotry. What they were trying to do, led by Donald Trump, was delegitimize the presidency of the first black president we’ve ever had.” Given this anger, even an apology, assuming that Trump was capable of offering one, would not suffice. Even if it were heartfelt. Even if there was some expression of a desire to make restitution. But that would give lie to his posing as the strong unapologetic leader who holds the fort at all costs.

And the reason, quite aside from Trump Two-Two’s personality and unapologetic bullying and lying, if you examine an important battleground state like Florida where Clinton is only leading Trump by 1% in one recent poll, Trump’s path to victory is not through increasing his support among minority voters. His gestures towards them are just to soften his image in the eyes of white voters. For Hillary has been bleeding white supporters with a college education to Trump so that she now only has the support of a minority of those male voters in Florida. And Trump needs to increase his support among such voters to win. A softer more presidential tone combined with his take-no-prisoners hard stance is the source of his appeal to those voters – not his policies and certainly not his integrity.

“Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 52% said the nation had made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights, while 39% said it had not. On this question, there were only modest differences in the views of white Republican college graduates (60% of whom said the nation has made needed changes) and white non-college Republicans (53%).”

Why? Because of race. Because there is some explicit and a great deal of latent racism among such voters. That group has become increasingly enlightened towards women. So Trump’s misogyny, now suppressed, used to turn them off. But the fact that he led a birther campaign riddled with racism does not turn away a majority of them. A majority of Republican male voters believe that the country has made enough gestures towards Blacks and wish to end that period of American history. Though the proportion of non-college voters on this issue is higher, the differences are not that significant; both groups get turned off the Democratic campaign when using birthism to charge Trump with racism.

That means that if Trump is to both hold and increase his vote among this group, a real prospect, he merely needs to become a clutch boxer in the racial corner, conceding little, offering few opportunities to strike back, while not coming across as a brutal hockey player on the issue of race. So while it appears that on this issue, Trump has been cornered, it really is the Hillary Clinton Democratic campaign. For Hillary needs the racial issue to mobilize Black voters. But in using the birther issue to do so, she turns off more and more white male voters, including 23% of Democrats who want to remove racism staring in their faces. She is the one in the no-win situation.

That is because this presidential race is at heart about race. Other than LeVell and a few others like Ben Carson, Trump’s minions are overwhelmingly whitebread, quite aside from the unrepresentative faces of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. Though there are a number of white hosts who have taken on Trump or his surrogates, all the analysts and commentators that I have cited are Black. Further, it is they who occupy the high ground of morality and dogged adherence to truth and reason. The surrogates are defenders and users of irrationality. The old stereotypes have been inverted. Those driven by passion at the cost of reason have been overwhelmingly white. Those most upholding enlightenment values have been disproportionately Black.

So America now faces a choice, not simply in having a Black president, but in adopting liberal and enlightenment values and conceding that the leadership in this area is largely coming from the Black community. But Hillary already has them in her pocket. The Clinton campaign is stymied on how to counter-punch to win back more of these college-educated white males without alienating Black voters who she needs to mobilize to turn out and vote. That is why she, like the Republican contenders who ran against Donald Trump, have been put off their game. The Tea Party Conservatives succeeded in their purism in making the Republican Party ripe for a takeover as the party lost all disciplinary power. The Tea Party Conservatives thrived on protest and made room for the most protestant candidate of all protesting against the whole edifice of Washington built on order and institutions. The Tea Party constituted the shock troops that prepared the Republican Party for a takeover based on a strong self-interested individualist who used the defeat of the ruling whites to lead a campaign to take back the country in their name. Parochialism had to be his trump card rather than universalism. Hence the birther issue as the main initial highway to accomplishing his takeover first of the Republican Party and then of America.

The Virtues of Donald Trump III: Stiff-Necked and Stubborn

The Virtues of Donald Trump III: Stiff-Necked and Stubborn

by

Howard Adelman

Thus far I have described the virtues of Donald Trump as a clever calculator and as a pushy promoter. I have two more categories to round out his character in terms of a core of virtues. DT is stiff-necked and stubborn. Both these characteristics are so much in evidence in the blowback to his criticisms of the Khans, the Gold Star parents of the Muslim-American war hero. But before I go into those characteristics, I want to offer up some blowback to my own previous musings about DT’s virtues. They are related, one referring to his racism and the other to my use of the term “tolerance” applied to DT.

Instead of going through the piece by Nicholas Kristol ten days ago – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/opinion/sunday/is-donald-trump-a-racist.html?_r=0 – that offered evidence that DT was and remains a racist, I include my reply to distill the piece down to its essentials. There is no question that the Trump organization discriminated against blacks in its housing in the seventies. That is well documented. But Trump did not evidently discriminate against blacks in employment. As usual, the housing discrimination was based on the fear based on the self-fulfilling widespread prejudice and lack of enforcement and penalties to ensure blacks had equal opportunities to find housing. Once blacks moved in, there was an expectation that there would be a white exodus. This happened to buildings and to neighbourhoods when I worked in the Bronx in the seventies. Prejudicial and racist policies do not necessarily entail racial prejudice. I did not know previously about DT’s father’s arrest at a Klu Klux Klan rally in the twenties.

I also forgot about Trump being a leader of the equivalent of a lynch mob in the case of the five black teenagers, but again that could simply be his self-identity as a bully indifferent to the rule of law and principles of human rights. What makes him a racist in the story of his casino managers clearing out blacks when Donald and Ivana arrived. That is incendiary information on his racism and would make my explanations totally beside the point. The paragraph: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.” This paragraph has been in wide circulation, but I never knew the context. But given its Trump rhythm, it is certainly something that Trump might say – and afterwards say he was only joking. Nicholas Kristof is correct that the evidence justifying the charge of racism and not just bigotry is cumulative.

Another response by BG questioned my equivocal use of the term, “tolerance.” BG in part wrote:
What exactly does it (the term “tolerance”) mean to you in this context? If TD barks at or wants to do away with someone or some idea or some group, does that mean he is intolerant or is just expressing a contrary view? If, for a change, he does not diss somebody, does that mean he is tolerant towards them, or maybe just indifferent, or ignorant of their existence, or they have not, as of yet showed up on his ever so sensitive radar as dissenters? Thoughtful criticism is civilized; mindless barking is intolerant. Is tolerance a steady state of mind, or is it just a sudden outburst kinda response? Is it DT’s unique brand of delivery? The volume? Is it the brutishness? Is it the spontaneous blurting out of incoherent noises? There must be more substantial, necessary and sufficient conditions to being deemed tolerant/intolerant. Please clarify.

Actually, I do not like the term ‘tolerant’ very much because it feels like inwardly one’s black heart of hearts may be filled with seething contempt or even hatred and other evil sentiments, while outwardly the person bites her tongue, remains calm and civilized and may not say anything awful: she tolerates us (barely). I always associate ‘tolerance’ with a cauldron full of hot water, threatening to boil over. Is this really the attitude we wish to be met with by our fellow human beings?

Another thing occurred to me: DT likes to hang out with the disenfranchised, like the foreign construction workers – they are no threat to him. When we train for becoming a counselor, we must seriously question our motivations as to why we would want to surround ourselves with those worse off than ourselves, those needing professional help. It would be the wrong answer to confess at this point that their troubles make us feel better and more secure about our own wretchedness – even though some counselors are known to use their clients for this purpose…Similarly, DT is not driven by the principle of equal opportunity (I know you are being sarcastic when you call him that sort of an exploiter); he is dividing humans into two simple categories: those who boost his ego, and those who bust it. Boosters vs busters. These role assignments can shift at a moment’s notice: just make one critical comment or raise an objection and you will find yourself on the wrong side of the ramp: He will lash out and destroy you indiscriminately like a wounded animal.

I loved the characterization, “booster or buster” as two mutually exclusive and, taken together, exhaustive categories for seeing the Other. I also totally agree that “tolerance” is not respect, for “tolerance is a negative term – not expressing bigotry towards the Other versus someone who embraces the Other in all his/her Otherness as long as the Other is not an enemy. Tolerance is passive more than active and that is why I question Museums of Tolerance.

Let me offer an example. Donald Trump is tolerant of Republicans who remain silent towards him, uses Republicans who embrace him, but disses Republican leaders who hesitate in backing him fully (Paul Ryan and John McCain) and then declares war on those Republicans who not only blast him, but sign up in the “enemy” camp towards whom he expresses no tolerance. To various degrees, mindless barking is the expression in which DT responds to the opportunists who jump on board (and for whom he seems to retain contempt rather than tolerance or intolerance), dissenters but backers, and those he regards as traitors. On the other hand, he is tolerant of what used to be called “sexual deviance” and even abortion. As we saw this week, he is really only intolerant of the different degrees of busters who are not fully behind him on his train.

At the very least, it did not seem to be a deep-seated prejudice until I read the essay on his alleged racism. He may indeed be much worse than I thought. Let us see how his stiff-necked stubbornness fits in. But first a note on calling all these traits, “virtues.” This goes back to the classical Greek idea of virtues as the cardinal foundations of a highly moral individual. The cardinal virtues were justice, courage, temperance and wisdom. Pushy promoter, clever calculator and stiff-necked and stubborn hardly compare to these lofty virtues and very few would consider these traits virtues in the first place. But that is the precise reason I use them, because they do not start from an aspirational ideal but with characteristics as you find them but without looking at his dominant characteristics as vices. For the Donald, they are his virtues. I will expand on stiff-necked and deal very briefly with stubborn.

Stiff-necked is a biblical expression (qesheh oreph, קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף), literally, hard of neck, specifically the back or nape of the neck. The term was applied to the Israelites. It is often used interchangeably with stubborn or obstinate, but I suggest, that although there is some overlap in the two terms. stiff-necked has a specific connotation that stubborn does not have. A mule is stubborn, but one would not say a mule is stiff-necked. Stiff-necked is stronger than stubborn for it suggests that the individual has a determined and intractable spirit that is not just resisting being pulled forward but seems to have determined its own way, to have a mind of its own, even if it is only driven by instincts. If you are stubborn, you do not want to be led. If you are stiff-necked, you are off in your own direction and often insist on leading.

In Exodus 23:9, God says to Moses, “I have seen these people and behold they are a stiff-necked people. וְהִנֵּה עַם קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף הוּא רָאִיתִי אֶת הָעָם הַזֶּה Why? Because they would not be led by God. Further, they had started worshipping idols. In Exodus 33:3, God instructed the Israelites to go to the land flowing with milk and honey, but God would not accompany the Israelites lest He destroy them because they were “a stiff-necked people” (קְשֵׁה עֹרֶף). In Exodus 23:9, God was going to annihilate them. You do not threaten to destroy people just because they are stubborn. In this case, they were far more active contrarians.

It is in that sense that Donald Trump is stiff-necked. He will and does not listen to others. He certainly will not take directions from the establishment in the Republican Party. His refusal to back down in his controversy with the Khan family is a case in point. DT insists on not only staying within his defensive bubble, but blowing it to a greater and greater size. A further dimension of what it means to be stiff-necked is revealed in his Washington Post interview with Phil Rucker the day before yesterday. It was an active session of self-inflation in which he is his own idol constantly focussed on himself.

I have included my deconstruction of the interview as an appendix. Its essential features reveal DT struggling to say what he wants to say. He lacks fluency, but he desperately wants to be heard above the general cacophony. He bathes in the loving oil of the millions who watch him and his belief that they adore him. He views the establishment and the media as bullies in their treatment of him. And there are always his most serious crimes – insulting the Other whether that Other be the establishment or minorities. He loves to stick it to them. He is pithy but very repetitive. He is very easily distracted and has a propensity to go off on tangents. He is sometimes charming and genuinely funny. But he is always the artful dodger engaged like a street magician in playing switcheroo. He is one of the best examples of the dictum that the best defense is an attack. In the process, he readily reveals his ignorance, such as the fact that at the time of the interview he was in Loudon County, one of the areas used as a predictor of the outcome of the election. He also has a great deal of difficulty not only in listening to another, but hearing that other person – hence his confusion between Clinton as a change-maker and Clinton as a woman incapable of changing.

Always, however, there is the idea that perception is everything. Hence his obsession with ratings, with polls, with numbers of people who attend his rallies. At the same time, he has this deep conviction that people are out to get him, especially the media. Though TV ratings are everything, he also feels himself to have been victimized, that the world has dealt him bad cards, that it is unfair and in that unfair world, he will be cheated out of certain victory through the absence of ID cards. He is obsessed with ID cards because he himself lacks an idea, is, in T.S. Eliot’s words, a “hollow man.” IDs are not perceived to be used in the way that they are, as a way to disenfranchise voters in the way they are being used, but to disenfranchise his entitlement to the presidency through an alleged fraud where there is virtually none, through an election process that is rigged. His contention that Khan “attacked” him may be true, but “viciously?” And what virtues does he himself worship – not courage but strength, not justice but revenge against those who are disloyal, not temperance but coming out swinging, and certainly not wisdom.

Let me go into one of the habits repeated over and over again, his strong propensity to repeat something he says, not once, not even just twice, but a few times amidst what Kristol called his “syntactical train wrecks” of a speech. He reminds me of an exaggerated man-size version of Mordecai Richler’s fictional version of his own six-year-old son in Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. DT is not a case of an adult suffering from arrested development and behaving like a teenager. Rather, he speaks and acts like a six-year-old and for some of the same reasons as the imagined Jacob Two-Two without by any means trying to insult Jacob Richler.

DT appears over and over to me as a young person desperate to prove himself, desperate to have his voice heard, desperate to be recognized in a world of adults and older siblings. He is stiff-necked, desperate to do all of this on strictly his own terms. He is a young child desperate to destroy dragons produced by his own imagination. DT is savvy, but regards the behaviour of others as arbitrary, intent on blocking his own growth and development. In that effort, he refuses to acknowledge boundaries, Trump may be psychologically a pygmy, but he will stand up to any dragon. That is why he is stiff-necked. He stands up to God at every turn and worships his own creations. DT is truly an Old Testament character, and that, I believe, may be why evangelical Christians love him. He instantiates empowering innocent young children.

And that is why DT is not only stiff-necked. In his own imaginative world, his life is perilous. God could destroy and obliterate him at anytime. But he will only get by if he stands his ground, if he resists what he takes to be intimidation and intimidates in his own right. He brags and boasts and blows himself to an enormous size for how else do you fight the dragons that haunt your imagination? He has to be stubborn.

And, to repeat what I already wrote, he is tolerant and not ideological. Women should respond to sexual harassment by getting out, staying in to fight the battle or do both, get out and fight the battle from a more comfortable place. It depends on the woman. It depends on the situation. H is a believer in situational ethics rather than abstract ideological norms. Slights roll off his back like pills of water.

APPENDIX

Deconstruction of DT’s interview with Phil RuckerPhil

Rucker asks about Hillary’s bounce in the polls after the Democratic Convention. DT replies: Yeh. True. But it was because her Convention came second. That gave her an advantage. DT then changes the subject and goes on the attack. I get the crowd, he says. At Hillary rallies, they fall asleep. Rucker then asks DT about what he thought of the Vice-Presidential Democratic candidate, Tom Kaine’s impersonation of DT. Impersonation. It was terrible, says DT. Not popular here and then goes off on a tangent with Rucker informing DT that the very county in which they are sitting now, Loudoun County, forecasts the outcome of the election. Who wins Loudon wins the big prize. This evidently is news to DT.

Rucker tries again. Bill Clinton described his wife as “the biggest changemaker he’s ever met in his life.” DT replies: “She’s been there for 30 years. She’s not going to change. Because you look at her donors. So you heard my speech?” What has Hillary’s being around for thirty years have to do with whether or not she is a changemaker, let alone the best one Bill ever met? The question was not about whether she could change, but whether she could make changes and how effectively. So again, DT does not answer or even seem to understand the question and then switches the dialogue back to himself. What did you think of my speech? Rucker, though at first taken aback by the switchback, finally equivocated. “It was interesting” and then immediately got back on course and asked about DT’s advice to his daughter, Ivanka, if she would have been working at Fox News and had been sexually harassed.

DT interrupts. “I’m surprised people are talking about it,” and before Rucker fills in the rest of the question, DT answers that it could have gone either way. Rucker asks more specifically whether he (DT) would advise Ivanka to follow Gretchen Carlson’s path, stand up for her rights and sue Rodger Ailes rather than resign and go work somewhere else as DT seemed t initially advise. Trump now, unusually, equivocates. “I’d want her to do what makes her happy. I’d want her to do, Phil, what makes her happy.” He quickly shifts his attention to the TV. But Phil Rucker will not let him go. “Why should she have to change careers or jobs?” DT said she could do either or both. This was DT’s answer and for the life of me I could not figure out what DT meant initially, though Rucker said he did. Here is the exchange:

DT: You can go through the process. You can also change. You can do both. Uh, you can do one, the other, or both. And I think it depends on the individual. You understand what I mean by that, right?
RUCKER: Yeah.
TRUMP: One, the other or both.

Though DT does not initially explain how you could do both when he is asked what DT would recommend, he offers at least a sensible answer even if it does not fall within the options feminists would push: “I think it’s gotta be up to the individual. I think it depends on the individual. It also depends on what’s available. There may be a better alternative, then there may not. If there’s not a better alternative, then you stay. But it could be there’s a better alternative where you’re taken care of better. But some people don’t like staying in an atmosphere that was so hostile. You understand that?” Then he finally clarifies the both/and option “— meaning fight it out but be in a place that’s more comfortable.” In other words, get a new job and sue as well.

This voluntarist non-moralist or non-ideological position is very different than the impression he first gave. The questioning then switched to the debates. And what does he focus on when he discusses the debates? Not the topics. Not the techniques. Not the approach. But the ratings. “It will be one of the highest-rated shows in television history, if not the highest.” Then he goes off on his shtick about the conspiracy of the media. “She (Jill Stein of the Green Party) doesn’t get media coverage only because people perceive her as hurting Hillary Clinton.” And then adds, “I’m not sure that that’s true.” He offers an explanation and no sooner utters it than he takes it partially back and questions whether or not it is true. It is what people perceive not necessarily what DT believes. Hearsay is a constant reference for him.

In the process, he continually makes statements that could have come out of the mouth of Mordechai Richler’s childhood character, Jacob Two-Two. “There are plenty of dates that are dead nights that you could do. There are plenty evenings that are dead nights that you could have the debates in.” “I thought it was very unfair. I thought what happened to Mitt Romney was very unfair in the third debate. So, I’d want to be. I’d want to have somebody that I think could be fair.” There is one example after another.

Then DT goes off on another rant about fraudulent voter IDs when all studies have shown this to be an infinitesimally insignificant issue. The real issue is the attempt by a number of states to keep minority voters from casting ballots. When they switch to discuss the Khan affair, this is what DT says: “I’ve said everything I can say about it. I was viciously attacked from the stage, and I have a right to answer back. I’ve said everything I could say. I was viciously attacked on the stage, and I have a right to answer back. That’s all I have to say about it.” And then he goes on to repeat himself when asked how he would answer the charge that his treatment of the Khans was indecent. “I think frankly a lot of people agree with what I’m saying. I was viciously attacked on the stage. All I did was respond to it. Pure and simple. It should’ve been a one-hour story and they [that is, the media] make it a longer story.” And his sense is that the biased media are piling up on him more and more.

Then there was the question of whether he supported or did not support Paul Ryan. After five dodges, he finally answers and says, “No. I never said I’d support him. I’m giving it very serious consideration.” And then to various queries about, for example, his relationship with his vice-presidential running mate, he shifts to comments about TV. And it is always the same. “I’d hate to say, Philip, if I wasn’t running, the television networks would be doing less than half the business.” The media is biased, but the media cover him the most because he, and he alone, attracts the largest audience. He does the same when the discussion reverts back to whether he, DT, will endorse Paul Ryan. “Everybody wants my support. You know why? Cause I had more than 14 million people that voted for me. And nobody gives us credit. There were 17 people in the race. I got more votes than anybody in the history of Republican politics. By millions.”

When the conversation turns to other Republicans who are ignoring Donald Trump, this is what DT had to say: “You have a Kelly Ayotte, who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot. You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us? Okay? You tell me. I don’t know Kelly Ayotte. I know she’s given me no support, zero support, and yet I’m leading her in the polls. And I’m doing very well in New Hampshire. We need loyal people in this country. We need fighters in this country. We don’t need weak people. We have enough of them. We need fighters in this country. But Kelly Ayotte has given me zero support and I’m doing great in New Hampshire. You know, as you saw, I’m eight points up. I’m leading Hillary Clinton by eight points.” And he culminates the discussion by threatening Republican candidates who do not support him with revenge. He will launch super-PACs against them.

How is it possible that the strongest nation in the world might risk electing a man with a six-year-old mind as its President?

With the help of Alex Zisman

National Identity

National Identity

by

Howard Adelman

In a very recent blog sent by Rabbi Dow Marmur, he opened with the following joke: “When a rabbi who knew both countries [Israel and the U.S.] was asked to describe the difference between Israel and America, he said: ‘In Israel they give me advice and ask me for money; in America they give me money and ask for advice.’”

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of spending three hours with a very old friend who lives in Italy. He told me a different joke. It was a philosophical rather than rabbinical play on national distinctions, but one that emphasized character rather than attitudes related to different circumstances. Various representatives of different nationalities were offered a complex lesson in philosophy, more precisely, in maieutics, that is, the philosophic method Socrates used in Plato’s dialogues to demonstrate we already possessed the knowledge that needed to be elicited. In the joke, representatives of different nationalities responded in quite different ways:

Japanese: studied and learned the lesson
American: asked how much the lesson cost
French: pretended to learn the lesson and recast it in abstruse language
Irish: said the lesson reminded him of a story and proceeded to tell it
Greek: argued about what the lesson was
British: snubbed the lesson and insisted it was irrelevant
Canadian: apologized for not grasping the meaning
Israeli: insisted that he had a better way to phrase and teach the lesson

Both jokes are twists on creating caricatures of national differences, either because of circumstances or predominant cultural patterns. More importantly, the jokes suggest that, whatever the common purpose of the lesson, our national dispositions subvert those goals. We give that universal treatise a national twist, so much so that the twist distorts the lesson so much that it loses its universal meaning.

The iconic story of the Tower of Babel – common to the holy literature of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – describes the universal wish of all mankind to reach towards the heavens, to surpass themselves. To do so, the builders adopted a global and inclusive approach to develop the skills and knowledge to accomplish that unprecedented feat. Instead of God applauding the effort, in the most popular interpretation of the story, He undermined those universal aspirations and the arrogance behind it by turning the builders into factious groups, each of which developed their own language, making them incapable of communicating with one another.

That is a reactionary interpretation of the fable which, like ISIS, insists it is literally the height of folly to have universal aspirations. If we reread the story, there is a quite opposite interpretation. For the most important condition of the inanity of building the tower was that each human group lost that most extraordinary and super-human quality, the capacity of empathy. If you do not understand and comprehend, if you do not know an Other, if one is denied this essential power of the heavens, it is not possible to surpass oneself, to evolve from self-loathing and resentment to a polity and community based on trust. Empathizing with another is not just a matter of promoting mutual understanding. It is the sine qua non for believing that you can be more than you are. This failure in recognition preceded the breakdown of the building of the tower and the scattering of peoples around the world into different self-enclosed language groups.

Socrates taught: “Know thyself.” The real lesson the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9) – and of the caricature jokes about national attitudes and dispositions – is “Know an Other.” For that is how we develop trust and faith. Faith then is not a creed, a condition for belonging to one group rather than another, but the highest aspiration that allows any creed to be transvalued to develop common goals. We worship God, not to become God, but to become something above ourselves. When the universal quest becomes a matter of turning ourselves into divine beings instead of turning towards one another to surpass ourselves, then our efforts at reconstruction and aspiration turn into megalomaniacal enterprises..

The scattering of peoples and the divisions among them were not the results of trying to aspire towards the heavens, but the failure to rise up with the tower, to grow beyond previous differences resulting in peoples being cast down to earth and swept by the winds on the plains into different territorial enclaves around which we tried to build walls rather than towers. God destroys the tower, not because we aspire to reach the heavens, but because we aspired to do so without mutual and reciprocal understanding. Towers built to trump others instead of being constructed to appreciate Others are doomed for destruction. God created nations so they could know and understand one another, not to be suspicious and distrustful.

The question then is why did they fail? Why did groups fail to understand one another? External misunderstandings begin with deep internal fissures. On the high beams of our efforts at globalization, we must learn to balance so that we can aspire to more without losing contact with those around and below us. We aspire for the highest, but can only achieve the higher by knowing what is lower and beneath, by constantly remembering where we came from. In such a context, faith is not a heirloom, a condition of being blessed, but a pinnacle of hope, a goal to be achieved. And it can only be erected on a foundation of compassion. That foundation starts with compassion for the condition of our own people.

We live in an era in which the quest for a global order wrestles with religions and nationalities seen as sources of division and misunderstanding rather than the means by which we truly develop our empathy and hone our ability to feel compassion. The issue is not overcoming perceived differences, but overcoming ourselves so we can understand and empathize with those differences. If we retire behind the fortifications of a newborn tribalism that, instead of enriching us and sending us forth into the world assured of our ability to become something more because we see what is more by understanding others, then we are doomed to look inward instead of outward, doomed to reify God as a fixed and limited entity instead of viewing God as capable of occupying all the heavens above.

No country, no religion, no ethnic group has escaped the scourge if an inward dwelling nationalism and the putrid stupefaction it breeds. The illness is pervasive. It is the same sickness which will once again render us incapable of reaching towards the heavens. The current wave of the divisive politics of resentment threatens the politics of hope and trust that Obama tried to create. Israel is another case in point. But if we sit on a high beam and revel in our moral superiority looking down and askance at those below, we lose our moral bearings. That is why parochial nationalism begins with internal condescension. That is why it is incumbent upon liberal cosmopolitans to see the links with those they might otherwise see as worthy only of contempt. The issue is our commonality rather than the differences between those who occupy lofty positions and those trying to preserve what are regarded as prejudices. The problem does not start with nationalism, but with equating nationalism and patriotism with parochialism.

Among Jews, one effluence is the division between diaspora Jews, particularly American diaspora Jews, and Israeli Jews that Rabbi Marmur discussed in his blog. As the peace process becomes ever more petrified, as Israel swings more and more to the right, more and more into an inward looking nationalism, at least as seen from the perspective of liberal Jews in both the North American diaspora and in Israel, the core of misunderstanding is reified. My friend Michael Barnett analyzed the effects of that rightward shift in Israel on diaspora Jews in America.in his recent book, The Star and the Stripes A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews.

As we approach fifty years of occupation, Michael finds a radical divide between the nationalism and tribalism predominant in Israel versus the liberal cosmopolitan outlook dominant perspective among American Jews. As a result, we have the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in which many young Jews and old style leftist Zionist like Bernie feel themselves forced to adopt a more pro-Palestinian outlook as they become more and more alienated from the predominant Israeli sensibility. The dilemma is that the American Jews are branded as cosmopolitans, aloof from the horrible cauldron of the Middle East, while Israelis are stamped as right wing ideologues increasingly racist and oriented inwardly.

There is plenty of evidence to support the latter charge. This spring, a Pew survey showed that almost half of Israeli Jews favoured expelling Arabs from the country. Among the ultra-orthodox, the figure went as high as 71%. Among secular Israelis, those numbers went down to 36%. The contrasts were even larger when the Jews were examined as political rather than religious tribes. 87% of the left opposed “transfer.” 72% of the right favoured such a program. The centrists split down the middle. Thus, complementing the external tribal splits, and, I would argue at the root of them, we find deep fissures within each tribe and between one tribe of Israelis and the predominantly liberal cosmopolitan views present among U.S. Jews.
Israeli cosmopolitan revisionist or new historians – Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev and Benny Morris (who disclaims any membership in that sub-tribe) – obligated us all to look at the history of Zionism from a much broader and higher lens, far less chauvinistic and defensive. But instead of greater understanding of all and by all, history began being read in radically different ways. Israeli liberals and human rights groups eschewed the chauvinism and adopted an intense sense of recrimination characterizing Israelis as oppressors. Other Israelis in defence of their history insisted that they were the victims, not only of others historically, but of their own university-educated liberals. The cosmopolitan liberals as they rose higher in the Tower of Babel detached themselves more and more from a passionate attachment to the land and the Jewish people per se. The right, on the other hand, clung to that attachment with greater strength and berated those who had risen to such lofty heights for their indifference to their own.

The political divide between Jews and Others, between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, became even more exaggerated by the internal divisions. Jews in America increasingly voted, not simply indifferent to the plight of Jewish Israelis, but contemptuous of that plight. Other Jews in America identified more solidly with that plight. And the split between American and Israeli Jews was mirrored in the deep fissures with both the Jewish community in Israel and the Jewish community in the U.S. Further, liberal American Jews have become more attached to the plight of those regarded by the right as intractable enemies of Israel than to the Jews of France and Belgium who face and deal with rising anti-Semitism.

So the American Jewish community (as well as the Canadian) grows, at one and the same time, both more distant from and closer to Israel, as its parts diverge more and more from one another. Solidarity is shattered and the squabbling leads to a cessation in creative construction. Each side increasingly does not hear the other. Those Jews whose connection to synagogues and Jewish communities has declined seem more correlated with those Jews whose connection to Israel has also declined. The reverse seems also to be the case. American Jews are both more attached and more detached from Israel as they become increasingly detached from one another. So the solitude increases. More effort is put into denouncing than in understanding the Other. As a consequence, there is less rather than greater understanding of the Other by both parties, one as a result of deep prejudices that either border on or are racist and the other on a condescension towards the Other regarded primarily as victims.

If forced to choose, the fissure will become a deep and unbridgeable valley. Issues like proportionality in fighting one’s enemies, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the troublemaking of Iran, bypassing any and all efforts to advance a two-state solution, became occasions for shouting matches rather than dialogue. So if Jews who ostensibly belong to the same tribe cannot speak and address one another with civility, how can either group communicate with other equally tribalized and fissured groups?

When we offer to teach the lesson of maieutics to others when we base that teaching, not on the dictum of “Know Thyself,” but on the dictum to “Know the Other.” We must also remember that knowing the Other who is oneself is a necessary prerequisite of knowing the Other who is other.

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II

Donald Trump and Hitler: Part II

by

Howard Adelman

I had already written a reply to an email from a reader of my blog in Miami asking for my take on the comparison of Donald Trump to Hitler before I wrote Part I. My reader cited Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s piece on the Hitler-Trump comparison and he personally thought that the Rabbi was dead-on in his criticism of various Hitler-Trump comparisons in a 7 March op-ed in The Jerusalem Post. Shmuley Boteach, a Lubavitcher orthodox rabbi with an amazing proficiency for self-advertisement and self-promotion that makes Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself look like the product of an amateur, is the author of such best sellers as Kosher Sex, Kosher Jesus and Kosher Lust.  Just this past week in the Canadian Jewish News (10 March 2016, p. 50), he enjoyed a full page Q&A session, but nothing to do with his criticisms of comparing Trump to Hitler.

In criticizing those who compare Trump to Hitler, who is Shmuley taking on? There are a plethora of candidates, but he specifically cited Louis C.K. and Darrell Hammond on Saturday Night Live, Colin Jost, Weekend Update’s co-host, and Bill Maher on his late show. C.K. wrote, “the guy is Hitler… Hitler was just some hilarious and refreshing dude with a weird comb over who would say anything at all… [Trump’s] an insane bigot. He is dangerous.” The Daily News wrote a story on “SNL takes on Donald Trump’s racist supporters and endorsements; comparing front-runner’s campaign to Nazi Germany.” President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico compared Trump’s pursuit of office to Mussolini and Hitler: that’s “how Mussolini got in, that’s how Hitler got in.” I could not find where The Daily News had on its front cover, “Trump is Hitler” as Shmuley claimed. Further, Shmuley insisted, correctly, that the others “made comparisons between Trump and Hitler, but after running through the episodes, I could not find anywhere where they simply equated Trump with Hitler.

C.K. came closest, but it is clear from the context that he was claiming that Trump was Hitler with respect to his disregard of the truth. In the op-ed piece, Shmuley argued that the comparisons of Donald Trump and Hitler were “disgusting” and “vile.” They were “an affront to decency, the Jewish community, the victims of the Holocaust and to Trump himself.” Describing something said about and not by Trump as “an affront to decency” alone has to wake any reader from his somnolent state since Donald Trump is currently hailed generally as the greatest assault on decency by a public political figure in the United States. Does comparing Trump to Hitler trivialize the genocide of the Jews as Shmuley claims? Recall that Shmuley himself was forced to apologize when he claimed that, “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide.” He criticized Susan as “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the U.S. and Israel.

In none of the pieces cited could I find any hint of a suggestion of any trivialization of the Holocaust. Of course, Trump is not Hitler. Of course, there is no comparison between Trump and Hitler’s anti-Semitic quest to exterminate the Jews. No one suggested any such comparison. Absolutely no one I read had even hinted that Donald Trump is “a Republican presidential candidate… running for office to perpetrate genocide.” Shmuley seems to have the same propensity as Donald Trump to play fast and loose with facts and citations. When comparing Trump to Hitler, there never, as much as I have read or seen, been any comparison between Hitler exterminating the Jews and Trump’s desire to exterminate anyone. And what has the whole problem of comparing Trump with Hitler have to do with falsely charging Israel with “genocide” when it counters the missiles Hamas aims at Israel with rockets of its own?

It is also irrelevant that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an orthodox Jew and that Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism or that Donald Trump has orthodox Jewish grandchildren.  Whether or not the comparison between Donald Trump and Hitler is either valid or valuable, these assertions disqualify Shmuley as a reasonable critic of such comparisons. There is a fundamental rule in comparison, and in analogical argument more generally. Analogy may be the weakest form of argument, but when it is well done, it can be both funny and enlightening. But it must obey one simple rule. Comparisons should not be general.

Shmuley claimed that, “Comparing Trump to Hitler trivializes world war, genocide, the one-and-a-half million children gassed by the monster, and is a vulgar attack on the good citizens of the United States who are being accused of getting behind a murderer. Try telling someone who lived through the concentration camps and lost their entire family to the Nazis that Trump is Hitler.” But no one that I read or heard ever said, “Trump is Hitler.” Instead, as is appropriate in analogical argument, they compared specific traits or sets of traits. And this is precisely what valid comparisons are about.

Shmuley not only does not understand the nature of analogical argument, not only denies both the veracity, utility and value of those specific comparisons, but attributes qualities to Trump, like a great many others, that Donald Trump does not seem to possess. For example, Shmuley credits Trump with “straight talk”. Trump’s speeches are direct. They are plainly spoken. But they lack the one essential character of straight talk – honesty.

Examine Donald Trump’s speech when he announced his candidacy. Are any of these accurate about the most powerful and richest state in the world today? “Our country is in serious trouble.” What is the source of that trouble? Is it that there is a growing gap between stagnating middle class incomes and the dramatic increase in the incomes of the rich? Is it because America has not been quick enough off the mark in reversing the trend to despoiling this planet? Is it because there are still far too many Americans, even with Obamacare, who do not have adequate health insurance? None of these. “We don’t have victories any more.” That does sound like something Hitler might have said.

However, the closest comparison between Hitler and Trump is the reverence for a strong leader and the assertion that he was the only candidate for that strong leadership. Trump when he announced he was running to be the Republican candidate for the American presidency said, “Now, our country needs – our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.”

And who are the military leaders he admires. The ones who flouted civilian authority over the military. “[W]ithin our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around.” The Donald does not appeal based on his detailed knowledge of the issues, but on an appeal to the guts and the fears of Americans. “Trust me. I’ll get the job done. I’ll take care of you. I’ll negotiate the great deals that will protect Americans unlike the vacuous existing leaders in the Republican party and the dead end that they have led the membership into.”

After he cancelled his Chicago rally on Friday, he told Don Lemon of CNN, echoing Senator Marco Rubio, that, “No one understands immigration better than I do.” Trump said, “No one understands protests better than I do. I have had protesters at my construction sites. I have had protesters at my… Believe me, no one, and I mean no one, understands protesters better than I do.” Is that why he corralled and kicked out of his rallies any protester who dared to raise a sign? Is that why he cancelled the Chicago rally because 400 or so protesters turned up at is rally, too many to manhandle without causing a riot?

 

Trump in his hyperbolic mode of speech called America a loser in everything it did over the last seven years. There were no victories. Trump would ensure that the U.S. would have a record of victories when he became President. If Trump was referring to an absence of diplomatic victories, the Iran nuclear deal was a victory. On the military front, the war against ISIS in Iraq will be over in another year. In economic terms, Trump declares that, “China kills us, beats us all the time.” But China via the trade deal became the third biggest market for American exports. Further, America has exported high-priced services to China, services that have grown by about a third each year over the previous one. The excess trade in services dwarfs the China’s surplus trade in material goods. American investors have reaped enormous profits from their investments in China. America has exported high-value added items while it imports disproportionately low-valued merchandise. Yet Donald Trump declares that China “is our enemy” while he declares he loves China, but insists their leaders have outsmarted Americans in “how to make a deal.” The reality is that the American Congress and the U.S. President, given their deep divisions, have not been able to protect those negatively affected by the new globalized trade system.

Trump is so clearly totally ignorant of international political and economic affairs as when he declares that China is solidifying its economic and political influence in Iraq from which the U.S. has withdrawn. Quite aside from the fact that the U.S. is still very much politically and militarily active in Iraq, what Chinese scholar of contemporary Chinese foreign affairs would declare China to be active in Iraq? China does have important investments in Iraq, particularly in the oil sector. Beijing has a very watchful eye to ensure its oil wells largely in the south remain outside ISIS areas of control. China, after all, was the largest importer of Iraqi crude oil, 22% of all Iraqi exports (India was next at 19%.) Virtually all of this production where Chinese oil companies conduct business is still distant from the conflict zones, but China has been very wary. However, wariness does not entail China becoming active in Iraq.

China’s only significant presence in Iraq’s eruption of terrorism has been the discovery that one Chinese citizen joined ISIS. Ironically, China generally agrees with Trump that the U.S. became bogged down in a terrible quagmire in Iraq and China has stayed away to allow the U.S. to be eaten away by the seeds of destruction that it sowed. The only relevant point of all this, insofar as Donald Trump is concerned, is that he has absolutely no compass to discriminate between the truth and outright falsity. In that respect, he is directly comparable to Hitler. For Trump, “If I say it, it is true,” except if I say the very opposite the next day

Trump is the champion of the attacks on lies, obfuscation and cover-ups. Though I strongly disagree with his proposed policies, particularly the same attacks he makes against free trade as Bernie Sanders, the difference is that Trump insists he is a free trader. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests.” I applaud the fact that just as Trump has set the standard for dishonesty, Bernie Sanders has set a standard for honesty and challenging mendacity even though I disagree with his attacks on free trade while I agree with his criticisms that those details did not protect or retrain the workers affected.

Trump is a nativist protectionist and harks back to a mercantilist international economic order. He has politicized economic and trade issues in his advocacy of protectionism and making a better deal. Instead of arguing for enhanced trade in goods, capital transfers, technology and services, Trump shouts slogans – “get a better deal!” At least Bernie Sanders as an unqualified anti- free trader is consistent. The reality is that neither Trump nor Sanders really believes in a multilateral trading system. Trump believes in walls and containment, confrontation rather than cooperation, rivalries rather than partnerships.

Trump declares that China’s currency manipulation and other trade practices have crippled the ability of the U.S. and other countries to compete worldwide. He calls China a “big abuser” for keeping its currency artificially low and making it impossible for America to compete.  But the yuan has increased significantly in value in relation to the American dollar over the last decade, though, more recently, the yuan has fallen in value relative to the American dollar as the Chinese market slowed and the Chinese government has not adequately intervened to stimulate the economy. “They’re devaluing their currency to a level that you wouldn’t believe. It makes it impossible for our companies to compete, impossible. They’re killing us.” “Our leaders are not smart. Our leaders are being laughed at in China.”

Donald Trump is also a hypocrite. One of his Trump Towers was heavily financed by Chinese investors in a cash for visas scheme. Hitler may have demonized Jews, but Trump demonizes Mexicans, Muslims (immigrants in general and even women), and, as in the above example, the Chinese. The target for demonization may be different, but the practice of demonization and blaming others and the weakness of one’s own leaders in response for all problems is both a Trump and a Hitler trait. It is not as if the disrespect for truth has not become an integral element to American political life, but since McCarthy I know of no other political leader who has brought political discourse deeper into the gutter.

Derrick Peavy from Atlanta believes that Trump may very well become president, and may also have done the best job of pinning the tail on the donkey. We have not been watching debates in the Republican race, with the possible exception of this past Thursday, that have been anything else than examples of competitive sports and entertainment.

The audience and the entire country all know that you’re not in a debate. They all know that you are standing behind one podium and there is a monkey behind the other podium.  You are the only one who doesn’t know it. And so you start talking, and the moderator asks Trump (the monkey) for his reply. And the monkey looks around, makes a few noises, then reaches back behind his back, shits in his hand and throws it in your face. The audience is roaring and eating this schtick up. And you stand there shocked. You’re simply stunned and thinking of a comeback, but the audience is eating it up. You see, they didn’t show up for a debate.  You are the only one who showed up for a debate.  And any time you reply or say anything, the monkey just shits in his hand and throws it in your face again.  And the joke is on YOU!

That’s what Hitler did. He threw shit around and degraded both public discourse and respect for the truth though he generally avoided vulgar language. He just celebrated vulgar violent behaviour. The one thing Trump has been correct on is that the plutocrats in the Republican Party have sold Americans a bill of goods. Trump himself has bought into some of it – climate change is a hoax, the Second Amendment must be absolute so everyone can buy a gun – but he has thrown a spanner in the works by exposing the power of special interests, by disagreeing with the Republican dogma of damning Planned Parenthood as the epitome of evil, and insisting that Obamacare must be universalized instead of selling out to the insurance and drug companies – shades of Bernie Sanders.

Why did Trump not immediately separate himself from David Duke and the racist neo-Nazis in the U.S.? Why did he initially plead ignorance, blame his ear piece and finally offer such an avuncular statement disavowing that racist support? The answer is not that he is a racist, but that he lacks any sensitivity to racism. Further, he may even know that many of his supporters have been deeply upset and resentful that a Black man captured the presidency. And serious discourse is suborned to populist celebrity culture. Bernie Sanders has the same populist appeal, but for opposite reasons. He insists that the top 1% not be forgiven for the devastation they have wrought on the American economy, that Bill Clinton introduced by cancelling the controls and regulations of the banking sector.

The absolute prerequisites for good governance are honesty and integrity, accepting real responsibility and not blaming others, and accountability and verifiability. Donald Trump is severely challenged on all these grounds – as was Hitler. Without the gyroscope of truth, the Big Lie becomes the standard, the bigger the better. And so begins the moral degradation of a great republic. When it is fueled by ultra-nationalism – make America great again – and by xenophobia, we have the beginnings of a great tragedy. The irony is that history has turned on itself and the middle class worker has become the bastion of the neo-fascism in both Europe and America while ideological anti-Semites in the guise of anti-Zionism have become the foundation of the radical left. Who would have thought that fascism and eventually socialism when they were driven into their graves, the latter, even in its various non-communist guises, would be resurrected in such monstrous and perverse emanations. The new black beast for both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is both globalization and mobility, because the direction of the latter is viewed only as downward and the expansion of the former is viewed as exclusively at the cost of the native-born.

Accompanying the whole process, we have witnessed the vulgarization of public space. Angela Merkel is called a “whore”. Donald Trump boasts of the size of his penis. The authenticity of citizenship of Barack Obama has long been questioned by Trump; he was at the centre of the “birther” movement. He is the political leader closest to Marine Le Pen in France and Viktor Orban in Hungary, promoting nativism at the cost of multiculturalism. It is no surprise that Donald Trump claims he can get along with Putin.

Last Wednesday evening in the Florida debate between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, both were asked by the co-moderator, Karen Tumulty, whether Donald Trump was a racist. Clinton said she had called Trump out. “Basta!” (In Spanish, “Stop”, that’s enough.”) “You don’t make America great, by getting rid of everything that made America great,” she continued, leaving it up to the American public to decide. Bernie Sanders came closer to an explicit answer when he cited Trump’s leadership in the birther movement and the demand that Barack Obama produce his birth certificate (which Obama actually already had). Sanders added, “Nobody has ever asked me for my birth certificate; maybe it has something to do with the colour of my skin.” But Bernie could have gone beyond Trump’s insults of Mexicans, Muslims and Black Americans by citing Trump’s own answers, though perhaps he did not because it is difficult to find confirmation from more than one source for many of them:

  • when a New Mexico mob attacked a family of illegal immigrants, Trump assured Americans that when the wall went up (and Mexico paid for it) there would no longer be a reason to attack
  • though some Mexicans he assumed are good people, Mexicans migrating to America have lots of problems; they bring drugs; they are rapists
  • make the real [my italics] America really great again
  • when mosques were burned across America, he insisted tempers would cool when a temporary freeze went into effect banning Muslim entry into the U.S or travel between states without a special permit
  • the sporadic violence in Alabama between white supremacists and African Americans was just “a legit argument”
  • he called reporters liars when they brought to his attention anti-Jewish signs being held aloft at his rallies beside anti-Muslim signs.
  • he had nothing to say when ultra-orthodox Hasidim were insulted and driven out of one of his rallies near Albany
  • to a meeting of Jewish businessmen, he began with a vulgar joke and stereotype – ‘I am in the right neighbourhood because I know how to make a deal’
  • Louis Farrakhan, the Black Muslim anti-Semite – Jews belong to the Synagogue of Satan – and leader of the Nation of Islam, praised Trump for telling Jews that, “I don’t want your money’.”
  • After days, “OK, I disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; are you satisfied?” .

There was no need for equivocation. Donald Trump is a racist even if he has grandchildren who are Jewish. He practices the politics of resentment and appeals to emotional despair rather than any real vision. In that respect, he is directly akin to Hitler. This is not the reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy (Godwin’s law) and Trump is not a pussycat compared to the neo-fascists in Europe. He is just an American version of an Erdoğan or a Putin. So while it is quite correct to compare Trump to Hitler is specific respects, it might be wise to heed the advice of the German historian and authority on Hitler, Thomas Weber: “First and foremost, it (the comparison) is a distraction. The problem is that the moment someone brings up Hitler in a political discussion, in a way it’s the end of the political discussion, because then it turns into a discussion over the comparison rather than substance. That said, to answer your question, on a tactical level there are great similarities between the early rise of Hitler and Trump. But we should not forget that beyond the tactical level there are huge differences and that ultimately the danger that Trump poses is rather different from the threat posed by Hitler.”

Weber went on to write:

Both (Hitler and Trump) present themselves as anti-politicians with a great degree of tactical flexibility, whose rhetoric is to fix America and to fix Germany. Both basically say that if we go on the way we are, America or Germany will not survive in the form that we know it. So there is a similarity in the rhetoric, also in the early anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I am not talking here about the 1930s and 1940s, but the kind of anti-Jewish rhetoric of post-World War I Munich where there were demands to drive Eastern European Jews out of Germany. Here, there are great similarities. Another similarity would be that precisely because of their tactical flexibility, both Trump and Hitler are difficult to make sense of, as a result of which they become a kind of canvas on which people can draw their own image of Trump and Hitler, both positively and negatively.

And what are the differences?

The modes of politics of Hitler and Trump are fundamentally different. For Hitler, every compromise that was not a tactical compromise was a rotten compromise. So in that sense he defied the rules of politics. For Trump, ultimately a compromise is what you do… So I think in that sense the similarity lies more in the rhetoric than in the substance.

It is also important to bear in mind that the Trump we know very much represents everything Hitler hated about America –  this kind of billionaire who had made his money, not from something productive, but from either finance or gambling. What we often forget is that, for the early Hitler, anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism were as important as anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism. So in that sense there is also a major difference between the two.

The biggest difference – which takes me back to my point why the Hitler comparison may distract from the real danger that Trump poses – is that Trump is ultimately a demagogue and a populist. He will say whatever it takes to get elected and then to stay in power. In the most positive scenario, this would mean that once in power he may not be the type of President we like, but he would ultimately turn into something moderate. The reason why I don’t think this is going to happen is that Trump, by being a populist and a demagogue, is destroying the very fabric upon which American politics operates. And that is an extremely dangerous game…

My point is, Trump isn’t Hitler, but things won’t be fine. In Hitler, you have someone who is destroying the rules of the game in order to replace them with either no rules at all or right-wing/fascist rules of survival of the fittest. In the case of Trump, it is more of a reckless, tactical game, where Trump is outwardly using the rules of reality TV shows in order to destroy the existing rules of American politics. The real danger is that Trump would apply the rules of reality TV to international affairs once he was President and by so doing destroy the international system and make an already volatile world far more dangerous.

May God bless America.

 

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Rachel Dolezal and Racism Redux

Rachel Dolezal and Racism Redux

by

Howard Adelman

In response to my article on Rachel Dolezal and Racism, I received two important items in response. One by Cecil Foster is reprinted below and repeated as an attachment. The other goes to the heart of the issue of deception, the letter from the Executive Producer of KXLY News explaining their role in the affair. The letter of explanation can be found at:

http://www.kxly.com/news/spokane-news/rachel-dolezal-the-story-behind-the-story/33608002

Rather than clearing up the matter, the open letter indicates that the local media station approached the matter within two frames, that of somatic Blackness that I described, which is a matter of philosophical analysis and not just given facts, and suspicion that Rachel was dissembling about allegations of racial harassment. With regard to the first issue, the news outlet noted that, “we and other journalists heard rumblings that Dolezal was not being truthful about her race.” In other words, to be truthful is to publicly display that you are not genetically Black when your whole point and belief is that Blackness is NOT about race, but rather that race as a biological construct is a prime source of the problem. The issue for the news outlet was that the anonymous callers had no proof that Rachel was not biologically Black when a simple check of her records at Howard University would have established that she considered herself to be a genetically and biologically white woman when she had been a student and had not yet come to see that this way of categorizing the issue was part of the problem.

On the second matter of whether Rachel was lying or telling the truth to police about racial harassment complaints, the letter points to evidence that does not substantiate their suspicions, but that there was no proof of Rachel lying. So why is this part of the account except to provide additional ammunition on the main story line, that Rachel Dolezal was a dissembler.

On the first issue, the Executive Producer of News at the station wrote, “Humphrey [Jeff Humphrey, a senior reporter at the station] heard from a trusted source that there was more to Dolezal’s story. Specifically, that Dolezal had been lying about her race and misleading her employers, the city of Spokane, her students and the community.” In other words, the story focus became whether Rachel Dolezal was being open and honest about her race, even if she questioned the very framework of the question. It is clear that this News Media either did not wish to or was incapable of raising that issue about its own query.

That is when, so to speak, the “shit hit the fan.” “Humphrey reached out to her parents in Montana – on a phone number found through a simple search – and, they confirmed what the source had said: Dolezal is a white woman, born to white parents, with childhood photos and the birth certificate to prove it.” This simply confirmed that, contrary to the difficulty they claimed about ascertaining Rachel’s genetic roots, the answer could easily be found. What they did not do was ask why that was an important question and, even further, what was behind asking such a question. Then they might have confirmed that Rachel Dolezal believed that genetics was irrelevant to being Black and they could have written a much more interesting though more difficult to grasp story on that subject. The story that Rachel was simply a liar is far easier to convey. In my view and in my categories, if we are to reject the “one drop rule” and the premise of racism altogether, then depicting Rachel as a white woman is the source of the misrepresentation.

Now wait a minute, you might insist, are you saying she is not White? Yes. I am saying three things: 1) that she is certainly not White culturally; 2) she rejects being White as an aspiration; 3) the very premise of someone being genetically White is itself a fraud. It is the failure of the media outlet to question its own framework and premises that is far more important than whether Rachel Dolezal was trying either to disguise or to avoid the question of whether her parents were white.

Just read the triumphalist tone of the Executive Producer’s account of what took place. “As the world has now seen, Jeff confronted Dolezal and she stumbled, saying she didn’t ‘understand the question’ about whether or not she was black. She walked off the interview and we knew we had the next piece of our story.” How does one handle an interviewer who, stricken with mindblindness, refuses even to consider that his frame for asking his question may be misguided. Rachel was not and is not a philosopher, though she is very articulate. But she does stumble when trying to cut through the racial framing of one reporter after another. I am surprised, given how frustrating it must be for her, that she does not blow up and tell them how dogmatic and misguided they are. Instead, she retains her cool.

The Executive Producer then concluded, “At that point, it was shocking and confirmed our source’s information (and her parents’ information), but we needed to put it in context, prove why it mattered.” Did they ever establish why it was shocking, except to anyone steeply rooted in obsolete somatic racial stereotyping? No. Did the news station ever establish why it mattered, except to insist repeatedly that not openly owning up to one’s supposed genetic roots was deception. But what if you deeply believe that genetics is irrelevant to the issue? What if you get tired and frustrated that the reporters fail to open up to the fact that the way they ask the question is misguided and reinforces racism?

The account then goes on. “By the time we were ready to put Dolezal’s interview out to the world, Spokane Mayor David Condon issued a statement, saying the city was investigating Dolezal’s ethics in relation to the police oversight committee and we had a solid news hook.” Why was the news hook not an inquiry why Mayor Condon was investigating the issue in the first place? Had Rachel committed a crime? Was she even guilty of moral turpitude? She refused to engage in a discussion in terms of her identity based on racial stereotyping. I find that perfectly understandable, though it would not be a tactic I would personally choose.

“Our story – his interview – blew up. At once, this once-respected teacher, leader and advocate became a national punchline.” The fact that this Executive Producer was never able to conceive of a frame that rose above racial stereotyping is the real story. The fact that this was another case of using the media to create mass hysteria over something totally irrelevant to bring down someone whom the Executive Producer agrees was a respected teacher, leader and advocate, is the real story.

The mindblindness of KXLY News and most of the media coverage in the United States, including very highly regarded journalists, is the real story.

The account concludes as follows:

“So, why does it matter? Our community was misled. We trusted this voice to speak for those without a voice. We trusted her to teach our students. We stood by her when she said she and her family were targeted and afraid. We rallied alongside Dolezal and her family in front of city hall, with community members carrying signs of support. We’re a trusting community and she broke that trust.” But where did she break that trust? In her performance? In her refusal to accept the categories of racism fostered by the station’s own questions? And the fall out of the media failure is terrible, not only for Rachel, but for the community which will have learned little except to encourage people to be less trusting of what others say and not being able to ask questions about the presumptions behind their own questions. And it is very troubling for the role of journalists. “What did we, as journalists, learn from this? Trust your gut.In my interpretation, this means that you should surrender to the prejudices you carry with you in your mind and mental framework rather than learning how to analyze and question them. According to the Executive Producer, if you cannot trust your gut, you will never be able “to put news in context for the people you serve.”

That erroneous conviction is the story, and the Executive Producer missed it.

Now for Cecil Foster’s Response to My Essay on Rachel Dolezal

He first note I received was very brief:

“Thanks for sharing this interesting piece.  It is (by far) the most illuminating thing I’ve read about this case. It deserves a WIDE readership.  Has it been loaded onto any of the customary social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn)?  I’d like to forward/tweet it if possible.”
Cecil then sent a much longer and even better take on the story than I provided as follows:

Dear Howard,

I think you are justified in holding fast to your views on Rachel Dolezal. You might not be in the majority—and neither am I even among some black friends and academic contemporaries—but you are reasoned and justified. Of course being in my company might not be much of a consolation.

The two main events of the past week that caught our attention in a big way—Rachel Dolezal and the Mother Emanuel Church massacre/terrorism—are cut from the same cloth. Rachel Dolezal and Dylann Roof make us confront the meaning of an identity like black and blackness and what it means in the modern world.

1) Rachel Dolezal came into the black community, got to know it well, indeed, intimately. She willingly became a daughter of the community through marriage and produced for the community—not mixed race, transracial, postracial, half white, half black—but two black sons. She took on the mannerisms of black culture, spoke the lingo and even put a kink in her hair—and as every man of any colour or ethnicity knows, you don’t mess with a black woman and her hair. She joined the cause of the black community for social justice and took on a leadership role, ultimately heading up a local chapter of NAACP. When she had a choice of identity, she always said I am black. She lived black at a time when even some who were supposedly born black and never had to worry about this ascription were moving away from blackness. She fully embraced blackness. Like a modern woman joining a family through marriage or a profession of love, Dolezal became one with the community, took its name/identity, and out of her own body produced the fruits that would carry on the name and identity—not of her former affiliates—but of her preferred community and family. Her past might have been with others, and over that she had no say, but her future was/is with the black community. She sought to give the black community life from generation to generation and in a world of social justice.

Dylann Roof came into the black community. He was welcomed, as relatives of the slaughtered testified, with opened arms. He entered the inner sanctuary of blackness in America: the black church, choosing one of the most historic in the nation. He sat with those poring over the finer points of the community’s most holy text. They exposed him to their thinking and reasoning. He was taken into the heart of the faith that supposedly is the bedrock of black culture. They invited him to stay and share and to learn—to know and understand liturgical things that even many authentic members of the black community do not know or have forgotten. He was allowed to drink deep from this inner well. He endured it for almost an hour. He was distilled in the faith that was instilled in him. He was being initiated. The experience was so good, for he was treated so well by everyone, that he almost changed his mind from completing his “mission.” My belief is that they would have even offered him an altar-call, or would have invited him to come again for further preparation, so that eventually, when such a call came, he would accept and in the twinkling of an eye be transformed into a full member of the black church and community. They were all so nice to him, he said. But he pulled out his gun and slaughtered nine of them, hoping this would be the beginning of a reign of death on blackness. He did not transform—he remained a somatically white man with mythologically the most deadly of weapons “a black heart—evil.” That is the story of one type of the “other” who comes among the people (the initiated) in any known human, and sometimes, animal form, but who is only Evil. Only the heart makes the Other different from the people. In every black community there are stories about black-hearted men. Check out August Wilson’s play Joe Turner Come and Gone and those who stole the black men of the community. Remember the founders of the first black republic in the Americas. Those Haitians said based on the purity of their heart and their good works that the Poles and Germans among them, though somatically white, were black because they fought for the revolution and freedom from slavery for all. They said all slave owners—and some were black— regardless of somatic colour, were white. Roof wanted death for the black community. He was blackhearted. In this case it is clear who is black and who is white here.

2) Let us shift to an ethno-racial register where we try to make sense of this identity issue based on “hard facts” of genes and nature and biology rather than mythology. Perhaps Dolezal is teaching her parents—and by extension much of white America as historians as early as Van Woodward told them—that they aren’t what they think they are. So Dolezal’s parents outed her: they claimed the ancestry they gave her is a mixture of various eastern European bloods with some Native American added in. We know that for a long time much of Eastern, and even parts of Western Europe, were ethnically and racially black. In an Anglo-Saxon dominant world, which was the early North American formation, all but Anglo-Saxon Protestants were black. Indeed, the Hungarians, Italians and Irish—as well as the wandering Jew of any complexion—only recently escaped into whiteness from being black. If the KKK, Skinheads and the likes of Roof were to have their way, some of them would be kicked right out of whiteness pronto. But the parents say more—that there is a commingling of Caucasian and Native American. So after they were brought into whiteness as Caucasians there was degeneration: the Native American. Which means that somewhere in Dolezal’s past there would have been a “Half-breed,” and by the one-drop rule of Modernity, all “half-breeds” were black and so black that, as the unnatural product of superior and inferior races, the product had to be for evermore of the inferior identity. The family could, genetically, never be white/Caucasian again. Not only are Rachel and her sons black by Modernity’s miscegenation rules, but so are her parents. But that would not surprise us since the southern historians have long told us that technically almost all (southern in particular) whites in the U.S. are really black genetically.

3) This leads to the question of who is “authentically” black. And for some time we have acknowledged that there is no objective proof or that authenticity truths are not self-evident. So we moved to the solution of self-identification. You are who you tell me you are as only you can know yourself genuinely and I take your word for it until proven otherwise. Authenticity is proven analogously. We are all innocent until proven guilty—the guilt coming from our actions to portray the black heart within; or our innocence is proven by our personality of producing actions that could only flow analogous from a pure heart. Dolezal says she is black. What is the evidence against her to prove otherwise: that she “deceptively” acted to further blackness acting as if she were black and that she was so good at it that she darn well fooled everyone for so long. Why analogously her action would make us believe that she is what she said she was!!! Go figure. Roof identified as a white racist intent on destroying black people. He had the opportunity to change and walk away: he chose to be authentic to his whiteness. His actions confirmed the person he self-identified as truly Dylann Roof. No doubt here—he said he was what his actions proved; she said she was what her actions proved.

Modern society treasures, and is organized around, the ideal of freedom, especially freedom of choice. Ultimately, we are who we choose to be. Choice is at the heart of self-determination and particularly progressive freedom. As a modern being I can choose not to die the person I was born. I can change, and change as many times as I want, while searching for the ideal me. A truly free modern man/woman is a self-made. As creatures of a culture of freedom Dolezal and Roof made choices; they made themselves: Dolezal’s to be black and kind hearted; Roof to be white and blackhearted.

Finally,  black/blackness are in the end mere identities—empty signifiers. We are constantly emptying out old content and putting in new. Gay no longer simply means happy, and neither does fairy, or slut have negative connotations. The transgendered are who they know they are in their head regardless of how they look, smell, taste or appear to us. Barack Hussein Obama, the child of white and black parents, might never be black enough because he never lived in the projects and did not live the deep social inequalities of that lifestyle; nobly in his ancestry, he never lived on the “real” plantation. But then for those saying Obama is not black enough, neither are West Indians, even though their ancestors were on the plantations, for they have English, French, Spanish and other European mannerisms that make them less than American. Modernity is constantly killing off the old signified and refilling with new to give new meaning, or to argue a perspective. So is the case of black/blackness.

To my reasoning Dolezal is black even if she is not African-American. But then again, someone like me is deemed unquestionably black even though I am not African-American. African-American is a totally different social construction from black and perhaps that is the problem here: that too many people are conflating the two terms and thereby mishearing Dolezal when she says she is black.

Cecil Foster, PhD

Professor and Interim Chair

Department of Transnational Studies

732 Clemens Hall

SUNY at Buffalo

Buffalo

New York 14260

United States

Tel: (716) 645-2082 & 716-645-0786

Fax: (716) 645-5976

Website: www.cecilfoster.ca

Recent books:

http://www.mqup.ca/genuine-multiculturalism-products-9780773542563.php

http://www.harpercollins.ca/books/Independence-Cecil-Foster/?isbn=9781443415057

Rachel Dolezal and Racism

Rachel Dolezal and Racism

by

Howard Adelman

One note of guidance. I capitalize Black and Blackness, White and Whiteness, when I am making a conceptual reference. When I refer to the term itself, or when I am quoting, I do not capitalize.

Categories carry moral, social and political weight. Black is one of them. When Cecil Foster was my PhD student, he wrote his thesis on Blackness. In 2004, he published, Where Race Does Not Matter: The New Spirit of Modernity (Penguin). In 2007, another instalment of the thesis was published, Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom (McGill-Queens University Press). Though I was his faculty supervisor, I learned far more from him about being Black and about racism than I ever knew.

Cecil’s thesis is straightforward. Black is and has been a construction to define Whiteness. While the term white has been associated with goodness and purity, the word black was not. Cases in point: the black arts or giving someone a black (angry) look, or being in a black mood or in someone’s black book (ostracized by that person), or saying that a person is the black sheep (a renegade) in the family, or referring to the black market, that is, the irregular and illegal trade in goods and services, or a black list as was used against artists and writers and film makers in the McCarthy era, or in the term “blackmail,” the effort to extract money through the use of threats. The word black is associated with the intemperate, the outsider, the renegade, illegal or irregular behaviour. In short, if Whiteness is associated with goodness and purity, Blackness is associated with the black witch and evil. Black is not beautiful in the English lexicon. Black i

The latter half of the twentieth century witnessed a widespread challenge to these associations. Last week, the slaughter of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a Black congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, is but one indication that, for too many, the word black continues to be associated with all that is bad. The Confederate flag still flies from the flagpole in front of the legislature in Columbia, South Carolina. Unlike American and state flags, the Confederate flag was not lowered to half mast in recognition of the slaughter of a popular Black pastor and eight of his parishioners by a white supremacist, Dylann Root.

This, and the terrible incident that provoked it, may be connected with the absence of gun legislation in the U.S. But at a deeper level, I believe that the fact that South Carolina is one of five states that lacks any hate crime legislation is more to the point. South Carolina hosts nineteen different white supremacist organizations, including the Klu Klux Klan. This was not just a mass shooting that occurs so frequently in the U.S. It was a mass shooting that deliberately targeted a pastor of a Black church and his congregants.

Modernity, for Cecil Foster, has been a quest for Whiteness, for purity and perfection. However, our evil, deep, dark and black passions hold us back. This framework for morality has deep philosophical, anthropological, sociological, and mythological roots. In Foster’s analysis, however, Canada stands out as the first country to define itself in terms of multiculturalism, as opposed to ethnic homogeneity, and, therefore, to reject a Black-and-White frame for looking at the world.

There are four primary forms of understanding Blackness. The first is somatic – the genes you inherit that give one’s body a certain shade. This isn’t an absolute category. It is relative. Somalis and Ethiopians in Africa do not consider themselves Black. But they are perceived as Black, neutralized and blackwashed as a visible minority in North America. In 1924, Virginia passed The White Integrity Act, one of many anti-miscegenation laws, that defined a white person as someone with blood that was “entirely white, having no known, demonstrable or ascertainable admixture of the blood of another race.” That law was overturned in the landmark legal case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967. A state law in Louisiana defined anyone as Black who had 1/32nd Negro blood, a law that was overturned in 1983.

A second category for understanding and conceptualizing Blackness is cultural. Blacks have a different culture than whites – speak with a different accent, eat specific “black” foods – gumbo, fried chicken and grits, corn bread, collard greens and watermelon, catfish and black-eyed peas. On a much deeper level, to be Black culturally is to identify with the history of Blacks. The fact that many or even most Blacks may no longer eat these foods does not mean that their association with Black slaves in the American south did not leave an indelible mark to characterize even when contemporary Blacks cannot trace their ancestry back to slaves. The one area where this resonates most strongly is music. Jazz and rock-and-roll both have Black roots. Their universal and global adoption into modern culture is an indication that popular culture has become Black far more than it has become White. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” the theme song of assimilation by a Tin Pan Alley Jew, Irving Berlin, took the dream in the opposite direction of a melting pot.

The third meaning of Black is best epitomized, not by Black Americans from the American south, but by Blacks from the Caribbean who immigrated to Canada and for whom Black stands for status and a way to differentiate Blacks who return home to the Caribbean with money and microwave ovens, fine linens and fluffy towels. They do not opt for integration into their adopted country to become living examples of the highest ideal, as did Harry Belafonte in the U.S. For those who hold Black to be primarily a status consciousness, return with this status is more important than even attaining success in Canada. Cecil Foster himself may have achieved notice as a novelist, essayist and academic scholar in Canada, but this would not compare to the recognition and status he would have enjoyed if he had returned to his birthplace in Barbados.  In the story of Rachel Dolezal, the most inappropriate accusations levelled against her were that she identified as Black for the purpose of status and financial gain.

Finally, there is the category of Black as an ideal rather than White, Black as the essential core of multiculturalism which finally wipes out somatic Blackness and the ethical superiority of Whiteness for a totally opposite ideal vision of a society that not only tolerates but celebrates difference rather than whitewashing the colour out of everyone. In such a perspective, Blackness becomes a dialectical method, not of separating out and dividing in terms of the pure categories of Black and White, but of blending, of conceiving of Black, not in total opposition to White, but as a method that combines what we see and experience with a rational categorical frame for exposing an underlying structure, while always insisting that the categories of Blackness and Whiteness be understood in terms of their historical context and within a specific society, that is. located in time and place. That is how the tale of Rachel Dolezal must be understood, as rooted in time and place and the particular history of another victim of mob hysteria, misrepresentation and metaphorical lynching.

Let me represent it by a table:

Modes of Representation                    Materialist                   Idealist

Social Status Blackness     Black is Beautiful

Somatic Blackness        Cultural Blackness

That is how the case of Rachel Dolezal must be understood if one is not to distort. When the press largely portrays the issue as a white woman posing as a Black, the word black is being used to suggest a quest for privileges, status and financial rewards. Usually Whiteness is privileged for such purposes, but virtually all commentators failed to recognize that there is a trajectory that privileges Black status. This trajectory only became part of the debate as an accusation. However, privileging Whiteness is far more prevalent, hence raising the puzzle of why anyone who was “naturally” and genetically White would want to identify herself as somatically Black. But when you read the details of Rachel’s story, a frame that is restricted to being somatically Black as a method for achieving social status simply distorts and pre-defines her as a fraud, a deceiver, and a peculiar one at that, for it is rare for a somatic White to want to become a somatic Black.The two top categories represent very opposite types of aspiration. The two bottom categories represent very different starting points. In the lower left, society constructs your racial identity. In the lower right category, self-identification becomes supreme. What seems clear is that most people in the media seemed to want to represent Rachel Dolezal as operating on the left hand side of the chart and, unusually, she represented herself and deceived others into thinking she was somatically Black, so these critics of Rachel claim. Further, she did it to achieve social status in the Black community and the benefits of position. In her own story, as opposed to this real misrepresentation, her trajectory rose from identifying as culturally Black at an early age and aspiring to become ideally Black.

However, when Rachel is perceived as someone educated at Howard University, as someone who even took the university to court in 2002 for denying her a position in the university because she was white, a case which she lost, it becomes clear that she has spent her life crusading against somatic Blackness. If she had to engage in that fight by posing as an African-American to gain admission, she might have. But she actually never did. She clearly knew she was somatically White. She was then regarded by her peers and the faculty as White. She wrote her essay for Howard University, not to deceive the university that she was somatically Black – why would she sue them later for denying her a position because she was somatically White – but because she “plunged into black history and novels, feeling the relieving release of understanding and common ground.” She was transitioning into a culturally Black woman even as she remained somatically White.

“My struggles paled as I read of the atrocities many ancestors faced in America.”

But her quest was not simply to remain culturally Black. She clearly wanted to become idealistically Black, to get the world to understand that Black is beautiful and not the denigrated category the term possesses in the English language and especially in the heritage of American society. “At the early age of three I showed an awareness of the richness and beauty of dark skin when I said, ‘Mama, all people are beautiful, but black people are so beautiful.’”

Somatic Blackness was one route to cultural Blackness and ideal Blackness. But it need not be the only route. And it could not be her route. Her path, though she never directly experienced discrimination as a Black, was more challenging, especially since many, and perhaps most, Blacks deny the possibility of such a path. Rachel was also not pursuing Blackness as a status category, as a rich cool cat returning home with all the symbols of a consumer culture, but with special attention to glitz and gold. This stereotype is portrayed as a particular version of a gangster in American movies, such as the excellent one I saw last night, Life of a King, about Blacks who chose to reject the social status conception of Black. Rachel pursued a trajectory by denying her identity in terms of a somatic White person, traveling via a cultural Black person identity to arrive at the ideal of Blackness.

Nor was she doing this through stealth and misrepresentation. Michele Garcia might have concluded that, “It’s pretty clear: Dolezal has lied.” In fact, it is pretty clear that she had not, though she did permit people, and, in some cases, abetted individuals to draw false conclusions about her. When asked specifically about her race, she replied, “If I have to choose to describe yourself and you’re able to give terms like a fraction of whatever but an overall picture, I consider myself to be Caucasian biologically.” As she said in a different way, taking up the challenge of the question about somatic Whiteness, on the NBC Today show (http://www.today.com/news/rachel-dolezal-speaks-today-show-matt-lauer-after-naacp-resignation-t26371), she answered the demand to admit that she was White by saying, “I do take exception to that because it’s a little more complex than me identifying as black or answering a question, are you black or white?”

This is not a case of dodging the issue, but of refusing to get trapped by the categorization built into the question. She insisted on the moral right to identify herself in a way that felt most authentic to her in accordance with that self-determined identity. She definitely did not fabricate her racial identity and engage in blackface as a performance, but, rather, rejected the prison of existing somatic categories in favour of understanding her identity within a more composite, more complicated, and more fluid frame. And she certainly did not do so for financial gain as some have charged. “Dolezal benefited materially from her self-representation as black.”

How does one escape the tyranny of the ideal of the homogeneous Whiteness and purity if you have to answer questions about your race in terms imposed by that racist conception and admit that if you carried even the one drop of ancestral Black blood, and that would make you racially Black, then you are endorsing the ideal of the racially pure White? Laws may be repealed or overturned in judicial decisions, but it is much more difficult to overturn categories embedded deeply in our linguistic and cultural practices. Working within these somatic categories of Black unless pure White is but to accept the racist language, a racist language for which many if not most Blacks have not even freed themselves. To achieve the new ideal of Blackness as the inversion of the old ideal of homogeneity and purity as the highest category symbolized by the colour white, to do so by traveling through the terrain of cultural blackness, has been Rachel Dolezal’s trajectory.

But that is not how it has been perceived by most North Americans caught up in the old categories of somatic Black and White as dictated by the utopian opposite ideal of purity and homogeneity of race versus miscegenation. Rachel became the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP in January of this year. By all accounts, she infused that organization with energy and vitality in the pursuit of the equal rights of African-Americans. She secured new offices in downtown Spokane, solidified the financial base of the NAACP Spokane chapter, brought in many new members, launched a number of new strategic initiatives while, at the same time, she helped individuals fight race-based discrimination.

Why was she induced to resign? (For her resignation letter in full, see the Facebook page of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP or http://www.kxly.com/news/spokane-news/rachel-dolezal-to-resign-as-president-of-spokane-naacp/33586732.) She resigned, not because she was racially White, but because she came to believe that the complex publicity over the issue of her identity would harm the agenda of the NAACP.  The firestorm over her identity had become a distraction from its mission, some understandably believe. I, in contrast, believe the firestorm has offered an excellent opportunity for the NAACP to advance its position and mission.

But that is not how most media outlets interpreted the story. Rachel had engaged in deception. Rachel’s empathy for Blacks had evolved into subterfuge and impersonation. just as in the 1949 movie Pinky directed by Elia Kazan, Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned African American woman had done so in reverse when she passed herself off as white when she fell in love with a white doctor. (See the op-ed by Tamara Winfrey Harris, a Black American woman, in last Thursday’s New York Times, 16 June 2015 headlined, “Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade.”) Rachel had misled, claimed Tamara, while people like herself had no choice but to be Black. In fact, as I argue, Tamara did have a choice, to reject somatic Blackness as an imposition by racists and identify oneself as culturally and idealistically Black.

From this perspective of deception and misrepresentation, many demanded Rachel’s resignation from Spokane’s volunteer police oversight board as well. Spokane, a city of 210,000, is 90% White, and about 2% somatic Black, but Rachel actually lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the heartland of the Aryan Nation. The charge has also been made that she violated Spokane’s anti-harassment policy by engaging in conduct that humiliated, insulted or degraded members of the police force. What an outrageous claim in the light of the behaviour of some police officers across North America, even in Toronto where a new Black police chief defended carding when the evidence clearly showed that Blacks were totally and disproportionately targeted by the practice. Further, such a charge seems ludicrous except for how serious it is in revealing how entrenched we are in the old racist categories of Black and White as dictated by the utopian ideal of the purity of Whiteness. It should be no surprise that a law-and-order Republican, who especially favours the police and fire department, Mayor David Condon, is leading the charge to remove Rachel from her voluntary position.

The disgrace of the whole event is not simply that Rachel has resigned from her position with the NAACP, or that she has also been fired from her jobs as a part-time college instructor and freelance journalist. The real disgrace is that some prominent members of the Black community, who are clearly somatic Blacks, have either bought into the portrait of deception or resent a somatic White for achieving such prominence in the Black community, even though the national NAACP initially stood by her and insisted that somatic Blackness was not a qualification for her position. However, some local NAACP members could only understand the issue through somatic black lenses.

By now it should be clear that I am critical of the predominant way this issue has been portrayed, understood and mishandled. The public humiliation and metaphorical lynching of Rachel Dolezal has been a disgrace. The firestorm reveals how deeply the ideology of racial white purity and its complement, the Black/White somatic divide, is embedded in North American history. For when Rachel wrote that her ethnic origins were white, black and American Indian, she was not saying that she was somatically Black, or that she had genetic Black roots – except insofar as all of us can trace our genetic history back 70,000 years to Africa, but that Rachel was ethnically Black and that she identified culturally with Black America.

The matter was not helped when her parents evidently “outed” her when they told a reporter that she did not have a drop of Black blood and said that their daughter had begun to “disguise” herself as Black when the parents adopted four Black children. It seems clear that Ruthanne Dolezal, with all her outreach towards Blacks, was deeply somatically White and could not envision having a biological daughter who identified herself as culturally Black and even adopted some of the hair and dress styles to signal that transition.

What about when Rachel referred to Albert Wilkinson as her dad? Her answer: only her biological dad could be her father, but many older men, for her, were dads. One was Albert Wilkinson. Many who hear this insist that this was a clear deception because others would assume that, if Rachel referred to him as her dad, then she meant that he was her biological father. Even if that wasn’t what was meant, she had to be aware that this would be how others interpreted her relationship to Albert Wilkinson.

What about when she was asked in another TV interview about whether she denied that her real parents were her genetic forbears? Surely one was forced to raise one’s eyebrows when she said there was no proof that they were her biological parents and that her birth certificate was only registered after 6 weeks. Here, she was not asserting that she was not biologically White, but she did suggest she carried some scepticism about her paternity and maternity. Was she just being a nut case, or was she hinting at something else? I do not know, for the interviewer was obsessed with insisting that she had a duty to engage with others if they used the somatic White and Black categories to define her identity. Unfortunately, instead of following this line down wherever it went, the journalist hammered away at the theme of deception rather than asking why there was even an iota of doubt. Rachel’s questionable replies threw more suspicion on her willingness to be transparent even though it was clear that she was not in a position nor had the time nor wanted to take the time to constantly tackle the somatic illusions that some Whites want to impose on others.

This isn’t simply an American problem. In Thursday’s Toronto Star (16 June 2015), Neil Price, who teaches at George Brown College, denounced Toronto’s new police chief for endorsing carding and thereby engaging in “a deliberate denial of race-consciousness typical of blacks who gain important positions and find it necessary to publicly signal a disavowal of any allegiance to black people and their grievances.” Although I disagree with Police Chief Saunder’s stand on carding, there is no evidence that he disavowed his own Black consciousness or his sensitivity to the historical suffering of Blacks. Rather, I saw him as acting as Police Chief for all the people and saw himself as a person who believed that a form of carding that did not target or single out Blacks was an advantage in undertaking police work. I myself am sceptical about the technique in general and doubly sceptical that it can be practiced in isolation from its historical pattern of usage. However, the pursuit of a high professional position does not entail an immediate suspicion that the person is abandoning his identity as Black, but that he may be pursuing a higher ideal of Blackness as a universal marker in a society with a history that gave the highest value to purity and Whiteness.

Anna Leventhal, a writer of fiction like Cecil Foster, in her column on Rachel that was published side-by-side Neil Price’s, asked, “Why can’t Dolezal be African-American? She identifies with the culture, she grew up in a mixed-race family (her biological parents adopted four Black boys), and she has clearly demonstrated a commitment to the struggles of African-American people. Who are we to say she is not who she claims to be? It seems we have reached a high water mark for cultural understanding and acceptance of gender’s socially constructed nature. The next step would be to apply it to race.”

However, it is clear than Anna Levanthal’s understanding has its limits. “While the idea of being ‘transracial’ has some history in describing the identities of adopted children who are of a different race than their parents, it doesn’t mean it can be used casually to describe the feeling that you are not of the race you were born into.” But what if your agenda is NOT to deny the supposed race that you were born into, but the utility and misuse of somatic categories of race, particularly Black and White, altogether? There is little evidence that Rachel denied the race that she was born into, in spite of the efforts of the press to portray her as engaged in deceptive practices, but much evidence to support the position that she denied the alleged race into which she was born was relevant to her identity. As her two sons told her when the whole issue exploded in the media; “Mom, you are culturally Black and racially human.”

Rachel explicitly refused to accept the idea of somatic Whiteness and Blackness that most Americans seemed to want to impose upon her. In recent years, she had not been claiming to be transracial, as such a claim played into the tyranny of somatic Blackness. Rachel claimed to be Black, culturally Black and idealistically Black. Rachel was not taking “on a new race,” but a new culture and a new ideal in the face of a society that refused to budge from its polar oppositional categorization of Black and White. She did not just want to be an ally of Black Americans, for she perceived that as surrendering to the somatic and idealist categorization of Black and White as oppositional categories with the purity of Whiteness being reinforced by the very categorization itself.

Anna Leventhal’s analogy with Grey Owl who presented himself as racially of mixed white and Ojibway stock, is, therefore, not a parallel. For in addition to his identification with the culture of our aboriginal peoples, he actually was a racial poseur. Rachel was not. Anna’s inability or refusal in the end to understand Rachel’s agenda, her insistence that Rachel could and should have remained White and simply openly supported Blacks, indicates that, as tolerant as she tries to be and undoubtedly is, she has missed the point.

For a very interesting parallel, read Avraham Osipov-Gipsh’s account, “Am I Like Rachel Dolezal?” published in Tablet this past week. As he asserted on the same principle of self-sovereignty, “I performed Jewish. I lived Jewish. And nobody owns the right to tell me if I am Jewish or not.” Except, he was not dealing with a somatic category, but with a melange that apply to being a Jew, some of which have implications for religious membership and others implications for membership in a state that are not satisfied by self-sovereignty. What about the commandment of honouring your parents, whether biological or adoptive or foster in the Shulchan Aruch? Was Avraham like Rachel in failing to honour his parents, a failure that cast so much suspicion on Rachel’s self-identity? That, for religious Jews, is a far greater desecration than dissembling; lacking respect in that area is a desecration of G-d’s name.