Arts & Culture

What It Means When Black Folks Say “We Should Be More Like the Jews”

Ta-Nehisi Coates on blacks and Jews: There is this constant meme among black folks that we can never come together to do anything right. As Ice Cube once said, "Broke up the family foreverAnd to this day black folk can't … Read More

By / May 13, 2008

Ta-Nehisi Coates on blacks and Jews:

There is this constant meme among black folks that we can never come together to do anything right. As Ice Cube once said, "Broke up the family foreverAnd to this day black folk can't stick together." The other part of that logic holds that other ethnic groups–Jews are usually cited–are somehow better at supporting their own. I remember, a few years back, me and my good friend Eyal Press were coming home from a party and Brooklyn. During the train ride, I explained to him that while black antisemitism gets all the headlines, there is a certain sector of black folks that worship Jews for their vaunted sense of unity. Eyal got a good laugh out of that, mostly because in his picture of Jewish life, debating and fighting were central.

Actually, I think it's often the same sector. Jews see that kind of admiration as threatening because to them it sounds a lot like traditional antisemitism, especially when you get into stuff like "Jews only spend money in their community.” But even when the most antisemitic Black Nationalist starts talking about the Jews, there's this grudging respect, like "You're ruthless, but we wanna be like you and run shit."

But even the idea that Jews "run shit" is based off antisemitic conspiracy theories. Yeah, there are a lot of Jews in high places, but the vast majority of people in positions of power are white gentile men. Stating that white men run things is simply stating the obvious—although don't mention it on TV, because Fox News will run a clip of you saying that one phrase for the next three months.

The reason people notice Jews in high places is that they're still kind of "not white." (Off-white?) You rarely hear about the Catholic conspiracy to control America anymore (except maybe from McCain supporter John Hagee) even though there are five Catholics on the Supreme Court.

It's not the same thing coming from black folks as it is coming from white folks. You don't have the same history of persecution, blood libel, and genocide. But most Jews won't make the distinction between admiration informed by stereotypes and plain antisemitism. Talking about Jewish "unity" and economic savvy sounds to them like it sounds when white people talk about how good at sports black folks are.

But really, you get the sense that the media focus on "black antisemitism" is not only to let more mainstream white antisemites off the hook, but also so that white people get really angry about black antisemitism—not because they care about the Jews, but because they identify with Jews as white people under such circumstances. It gives them an excuse to accuse black folks of racism while still insisting they possess no prejudice of their own.

In any case, back to unity:

Barack Obama won over 90 percent of the black vote in Indiana and North Carolina. I don't know what that is, if it isn't sticking together. Unity, in and of itself, isn't a virtue–black folks "unified" behind OJ. But I really believe, given the people left in the running, black folks really got behind the best man for the job. Last year pundits delighted themselves by pointing out that Barack Obama wasn't black enough. I don't know how you get any blacker than having 9 out of 10 of us behind you. I mean really. Malcolm couldn't even have gotten 9 out 10. To paraphrase Chris Rock, Obama is entering into Pat Riley territory.

Yeah but to be fair, Malcolm probably couldn't have won Iowa. I would have liked to see that shit.