The Lazy Storytelling of ‘Black or White': Love and Justice Are Not Colorblind

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-02-12 03:23Z by Steven

The Lazy Storytelling of ‘Black or White': Love and Justice Are Not Colorblind

Christ and Pop Culture (CAPC)
2015-02-11

D. L. Mayfield

I was at a writing retreat once where a bunch of us gathered together to talk about how to write well about social justice issues in our world. A young singer-songwriter with a folksy vibe came and played a set for us. He introduced a song as inspired by how sad he was at the racial divide of the city, and how it seemed that white folks and blacks folks didn’t get along. He launched into a song, the chorus going something like this: we used to sing so beautifully together/perhaps one day we’ll sing together again.

After he was done singing, one of my fellow writers—the only black man in our cohort, who also happened to live in North Carolina—asked the singer-songwriter to elaborate on the interactions that inspired the song. The singer stumbled over his words and told a few stories of interacting with African-American folks who to his perception seemed less-than-friendly to white folks. We all sat quietly as he shared his perspective, and later debriefed about that particular song. Why did it make us all feel so uncomfortable? Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the leader of our group (a man who has been involved in racial reconciliation work for decades now) leaned forward and in his southern drawl poignantly identified the trouble. What I want to know is this: and just when, exactly, did we ever all sing together?

…The recent release starring Kevin Costner, Black or White, is uncomfortable in the exact same way. Ostensibly this is a movie which dares to look at race issues: Costner is a white grandfather parenting his bi-racial granddaughter who becomes entangled in a custody battle by the black father and his extended family. By turns a tragedy, a comedy, a courtroom drama, with a dash of heart-warming family film. Costner plays Elliot Anderson, a wealthy alcoholic lawyer reeling from the sudden death of his wife. Octavia Spencer plays Rowena, the paternal grandmother of Eloise, the girl in Elliot’s sole care. Rowena (Grandma “Wee Wee”) and the extended family she takes care of live in Compton; Elliot lives somewhere else—a better part of LA, we shall say. Rowena and the family want to see more of Eloise but Elliot resists. In exasperation, they retain Rowena’s younger brother, a lawyer, to sue Elliot for full custody of the child. Reggie, the birth dad, shows up halfway through the movie, adding emotional intrigue. The audience is left wondering at the motivations of Reggie, who is introduced as a crack-addict and absentee father (“you’re a stereotype, Reggie—you ruin it for all of us”—his uncle tells him).

The themes explored are certainly worthy of a full-length movie. Eloise and her biracial identity, the way economics affects both parenting and legal procedures, the stereotypes we put onto one another, how certain addictions are more culturally acceptable—these are all fascinating and could prove to be invaluable insights into the pulse of a nation that is currently struggling with racial injustice and unrest. But Black or White addresses all of these issues in both a superficial and strangely maudlin way—so much emotion, but so little truth behind it…

Read the entire article here.

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Part Asian-American, All Jewish?

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-02-11 23:34Z by Steven

Part Asian-American, All Jewish?

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio
2015-02-10

Rachel Gross, Editor
Moment Magazine

I was five years old when my mother threatened to give me away to journalist Connie Chung.

Chung and her husband, Maury Povich, had just announced their intention to adopt a half-Chinese, half-Jewish child. At this, my mother, watching on TV in our living room, did a double take. She looked at the screen. Then she looked at me, her half-Chinese, half-Jewish, fully-misbehaving daughter. “How would you like to go live with that woman?” she said.

It was then that I had a startling realization: I was special. Not special in the way that everyone’s kids are special — I mean really special. I, with my chubby Chinese cheeks and frizzy Jewish hair, was a unique snowflake, shaped like the Star of David, dusted with matcha green tea powder.

“I’m special!” I announced. “Famous people want to adopt me!”

Mom rolled her eyes as if to say, oy vey.

Only later would I learn the truth: Not everyone was as thrilled about my heritage as I was. The problem was mainly on the Jewish side. As I grew up, announcing I was Jewish often felt “like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials,” in Joan Didion’s words. “But you don’t look Jewish!” came the incredulous reply. Some even implied that the union that produced me was nothing less than a threat to the Jewish people — that I was what was wrong with Judaism today…

Read the entire article here.

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Little White Lie

Posted in Autobiography, Forthcoming Media, Identity Development/Psychology, Passing, Religion, United States, Videos on 2015-02-11 03:00Z by Steven

Little White Lie

Independent Lens
Public Broadcasting Service
Monday, 2015-03-23, 22:00 EST (21:00 CST) (check schedule here)

Little White Lie tells Lacey Schwartz’s story of growing up in a typical upper-middle-class Jewish household in Woodstock, NY, with loving parents and a strong sense of her Jewish identity — despite the open questions from those around her about how a white girl could have such dark skin. She believes her family’s explanation that her looks were inherited from her dark-skinned Sicilian grandfather. But when her parents abruptly split, her gut starts to tell her something different.

At age 18, she finally confronts her mother and learns the truth: her biological father was not the man who raised her, but an African American man named Rodney with whom her mother had had an affair. Afraid of losing her relationship with her parents, Lacey doesn’t openly acknowledge her newly discovered black identity with her white family. When her biological father dies shortly before Lacey’s 30th birthday, the family secret can stay hidden no longer. Following the funeral, Lacey begins a quest to reconcile the hidden pieces of her life and heal her relationship with the only father she ever knew.

Schwartz pieces together her family history and the story of her dual identity using home videos, archival footage, interviews, and episodes from her own life. Little White Lie is a personal documentary about the legacy of family secrets, denial, and redemption.

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Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Religion on 2015-01-25 02:11Z by Steven

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
January 2015
336 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-393-06301-1
6.6 × 9.6 in

Marie Mutsuki Mockett

How does one cope with overwhelming grief?

Marie Mutsuki Mockett’s family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather’s bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly.

Seeking consolation, Mockett is guided by a colorful cast of Zen priests and ordinary Japanese who perform rituals that disturb, haunt, and finally uplift her. Her journey leads her into the radiation zone in an intricate white hazmat suit; to Eiheiji, a school for Zen Buddhist monks; on a visit to a Crab Lady and Fuzzy-Headed Priest’s temple on Mount Doom; and into the “thick dark” of the subterranean labyrinth under Kiyomizu temple, among other twists and turns. From the ecstasy of a cherry blossom festival in the radiation zone to the ghosts inhabiting chopsticks, Mockett writes of both the earthly and the sublime with extraordinary sensitivity. Her unpretentious and engaging voice makes her the kind of companion a reader wants to stay with wherever she goes, even into the heart of grief itself.

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Grappling With Today’s Realities From a Black-Jewish Perspective

Posted in Articles, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2015-01-21 02:23Z by Steven

Grappling With Today’s Realities From a Black-Jewish Perspective

Jewish Exponent: What it Means to be Jewish in Philadelphia
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
2015-01-15

David A. Love


The author with his wife, Sarah Katz, and son, Micah.

As an African-American who is a member of the Jewish community by choice — and is also raising a Jewish child of color — I have a unique experience. And yet, I view my experience as part of the future direction of the diaspora. My link to Judaism involves multiple identities, a passion for social justice and a commitment to nonviolence.

I had my first experiences with the Jewish community while growing up in the Laurelton section of Queens, N.Y., in the 1970s and ’80s. The community had several synagogues, which I occasionally visited with my friends. In addition, the house in which I was raised had a mezuzah in the front door, left from the previous family who had lived there — a foretelling of what was to come, perhaps?

At Harvard College, I studied the Holocaust and genocide with Erich Goldhagen, a Holocaust survivor. Later at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, under the late Harry Reicher, I researched the Nuremberg Laws and their connection to the Jim Crow segregation laws in the American South.

When I married my wife, Sarah Katz, we became members of Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough, marking the beginning of my introduction into the Jewish community. Mishkan is home because of its progressive social values. It has provided an open and welcoming environment for us — particularly an “outsider” such as me — and interracial and interfaith families. When we sat shiva for our first son, Ezra Malik, who was stillborn six years ago, the congregation wrapped themselves around us…

Read the entire article here.

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“Funny—You Don’t Look Jewish!”: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Identities of Children of Asian American and Jewish American Spouses

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2015-01-19 02:09Z by Steven

“Funny—You Don’t Look Jewish!”: Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Identities of Children of Asian American and Jewish American Spouses

Journal of Jewish Identities
Issue 8, Number 1, January 2015
pages 129-148

Helen Kim, Associate Professor of Sociology
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

Noah Leavitt, Research Associate
Department of Sociology
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

Rachel Williams
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

Who is a Jew? What does it mean to be Jewish? Often connected to these questions is the subject of intermarriage among Jewish Americans, a demographic reality that has long been understood as problematic and threatening to the Jewish people because of the supposed dilution, and possible extinction, of Jewish identity and community that will necessarily follow when a Jew marries a non-Jew. Often, the most pressing concern regarding intermarriage is its impact on the Jewish identity of the children and grandchildren of these relationships. Will the offspring of intermarriage identify as Jewish? If so, what does Jewish identity mean for these individuals? Furthermore, what impact does Jewish identification or non-identification mean for the continuity of the Jewish people?

Currently, the debate regarding the continuity of Jewish identity and peoplehood as it pertains to intermarried couples and their children is unresolved, especially within the realm of academic scholarship pertaining to this subject. Most notably, the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Portrait of Jewish Americans acknowledges that, according to its findings, support exists for both sides of the debate. In their discussion of the Pew survey, Gregory A. Smith and Alan Cooperman note that adult children of intermarriage are more likely to identify as religiously agnostic, atheist, or nothing in particular than those born to two Jewish parents. This difference may suggest the eventual erosion of Jewish religious identification as a result of intermarriage. Smith and Cooperman also note, however, an increase in Jewish identification in adulthood among offspring of intermarriage. Thus while intermarriage may be leading to a significant decrease in religious identification, it may be contributing to an increase in a different type of Jewish identification that is no less important.

Some scholars have argued that the debate and scholarship regarding intermarriage as assimilation and an erosion of Jewish authenticity stifles innovative ways to think about and encourage more nuanced conceptions of Jewish identity and, subsequently, Jewish belonging and community. These critiques often point to the importance of broadening our understanding of Jewish identity through frameworks and methods that complicate common notions of Jewish authenticity based in religiosity and descent.

Our exploratory qualitative study of adult children born to Asian American and Jewish American spouses adds to the debate regarding intermarriage and Jewish authenticity by investigating how Jewish identity is negotiated through the lenses of religion and race. We argue that multiraciality and Jewish identity are intrinsically connected for respondents in our sample. Our work derives from a larger project on intermarriage between Jewish Americans of any racial or ethnic background and Asian Americans of any ethnic or religious background.

More specifically, we seek to understand how children of mixed backgrounds experience and think about their Jewish identity in light of their position as children of intermarried spouses who are ethnically, religiously, and racially different. While our findings are not generalizable to a larger population, they do call into serious question the conceptualization and, for some, the strongly held belief that intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews necessarily results in an erosion of Jewish identity and community through children and subsequent generations. Rather, our interviews with children of multiracial intermarriages point to the maintenance of many traditional markers of Judaism and Jewish identity commonly associated with certain institutional affiliations at the same time that they challenge and offer newer understandings of Jewish authenticity through the lens of external and internal racial identification. Thus, our findings emphasize the importance of understanding these kinds of identity negotiations within a larger national landscape that is increasingly multiracial and multicultural. Put differently, the U.S. population, including its Jewish and Asian American populations, is becoming increasingly multiracial and multiethnic and is doing so, in large part, through intermarriage broadly construed. In this sense, our work highlights the importance of understanding how our respondents think about their identity, whether racial, ethnic, or religious, within a demographic landscape that is changing at a pace much faster than the debate regarding intermarriage fully acknowledges.

The data for this paper comes from qualitative in-depth interviews conducted in 2011 with twenty-two adult children, ages eighteen to twenty-five, of Jewish and Asian intermarriages, residing in the San Francisco Bay Area and in parts…

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A Jewish-Asian Couple’s Union Leads to a Scholarly Interest in Intermarriage

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2015-01-19 01:41Z by Steven

A Jewish-Asian Couple’s Union Leads to a Scholarly Interest in Intermarriage

The New York Times
2012-06-15

Samuel G. Freedman, Professor of Journalism
Columbia University, New York, New York

One weekend night 15 years ago, a group of graduate students at the University of Chicago decided to interrupt their research long enough for a dinner party. Helen K. Kim made a chocolate tart with ginger cream filling. Her classmate Noah S. Leavitt regarded it and scoffed, “Nice use of your time, making a fancy dessert with all the homework we have.”

Ms. Kim did not exactly swoon at that snarky version of a pickup line.

Over the next three weeks, though, Mr. Leavitt kept pursuing her in more polite fashion and they eventually went out for dinner and drinks. Very quickly, the two aspiring academics found themselves talking in candid detail about the recent and untimely deaths of their fathers.

From that encounter grew not only their own subsequent marriage but a joint scholarly interest in the very trend they embodied: intermarriage between Asian-Americans and American Jews. Their major research paper on the subject appeared in February, just three months before arguably the highest-profile example of the phenomenon, the wedding of Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, to his longtime girlfriend, Dr. Priscilla Chan…

Read the entire article here.

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The Newest Jews? Understanding Jewish American and Asian American Marriages

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2015-01-18 18:12Z by Steven

The Newest Jews? Understanding Jewish American and Asian American Marriages

Contemporary Jewry
July 2012, Volume 32, Issue 2
pages 135-166
DOI: 10.1007/s12397-012-9078-y

Helen K. Kim, Associate Professor of Sociology
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

Noah Leavitt, Research Associate
Department of Sociology
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

This paper investigates how racial, ethnic and religious identities intersect among couples where one spouse is Jewish American of any racial or ethnic descent and one spouse is Asian American of any religion or ethnic descent. While intermarriage is certainly not limited to these kinds of partnerships, there is reason to believe that these partnerships may become increasingly common when investigated along racial, ethnic, and religious dimensions. This study incorporates interviews with 31 intermarried couples residing in the Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, Oakland, New York, and Philadelphia metropolitan areas. In particular, we highlight participants’ discussions of two main subjects: shared values within their partnerships and racial, ethnic, and religious identities of children, if present. Our paper expands the broader sociological literature on intermarriage as well as the specific literatures on intermarriage for Jewish Americans and intermarriage for Asian Americans.

Read or purchase the article here.

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No Man’s Nightingale: An Inspector Wexford Novel

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, Religion, United Kingdom on 2015-01-15 02:22Z by Steven

No Man’s Nightingale: An Inspector Wexford Novel

Scribner (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
November 2013
288 pages
Hardback ISBN: 9781476744483
Paperback ISBN: 9781476747132

Ruth Rendell

A female vicar named Sarah Hussein is discovered strangled in her Kingsmarkham vicarage. A single mother to a teenage girl, Hussein was working in a male-dominated profession. Moreover, she was of mixed race and wanted to modernize the church. Could racism or sexism have played a factor in her murder?

Maxine, the gossipy cleaning woman who discovered the body, happens to also be in the employ of retired Chief Inspector Wexford and his wife. Wexford is intrigued by the unusual circumstances of the murder, and when he is invited by his old deputy to tag along with the investigators, he leaps at the chance.

As Wexford searches the Vicar’s house, he sees a book on her bedside table. Inside the book is a letter serving as a bookmark. Without thinking much, Wexford puts it into his pocket. Wexford soon realizes he has made a grave error in removing a piece of valuable evidence from the scene without telling anybody. Yet what he finds inside begins to illuminate the murky past of Sarah Hussein. Is there more to her than meets the eye?

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Christmas without Ramadan

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Media Archive, Religion on 2015-01-14 17:31Z by Steven

Christmas without Ramadan

Mixed Roots Stories
2015-01-09

Zena F. Itani

I’ve never really liked Christmas. It was the most forced family event of the year, defined by spectacular displays of anxiety from my mother and bad temper served up by my father, always in time for guests. While that doesn’t sound much different from others’ fun family holidays, there was another layer of dysfunction in it for me. My Dad is Muslim, a fact that we ignored for the entire year, not just on big Christian holidays. December 25th highlighted particularly well the lack of Muslim traditions in my immediate family, despite the fact that Lebanese Muslims outnumbered my English mother’s kin and me and my American siblings.

Let me walk you through a typical Itani Christmas (you Arabic speakers know how ridiculous the pairing of a large Lebanese Muslim family name and the word “Christmas” is). In the morning, my siblings and I woke up way too early and tore into our presents like obnoxious kids the world over. The gifts broke along gender and culture lines. As the one with the Arabic name and the insatiable curiosity for all things Middle Eastern, I would get the “cultural” gift (a subscription to Foreign Affairs was popular). “You’re so…Oriental,” my mother would often say, perplexed, in her British accent. Um, yeah Mom, did you see the Lebanese guy you married? Just saying…

Read the entire article here.

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