March for Racial Justice (Yom Kippur Statement)

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On the taking steps to fix the scheduling of the March for Racial Justice this year on Yom Kippur, the organizers have released this statement, remarkable in many respects relating to the spirit of Yom Kippur and to alliance building at this particular moment.

STATEMENT REGARDING YOM KIPPUR

The March for Racial Justice is committed to standing for racial justice with allies from across all races, ethnicities, and communities. We believe that none of us are free until all of us are free.

The March came into being as a reaction to the June 16 verdict rendered in the case against the policeman who shot and killed Philando Castile.  The unbearable murders of innocent Americans continue unabated and the time is now upon all Americans who seek equality and racial justice to stand up and say NOT ONE MORE. The moment calls for urgent action, as so many of us carry fear with us every single day, as we see black and brown people being shot down with impunity by police and white supremacists inciting terror in our cities.

To that end, it was and is important to us that the march be held on a day that has symbolic and historic significance to the black community. The first date proposed was September 9th which is the date of the Stono Rebellion, the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the US. The National Park Service informed us that the National Mall in DC was not available for 9/9 but was for 9/30. This day has resonance because it is the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre of 1919 in Elaine, Arkansas, during which more than 200 Black men and women were killed in cold blood by a mob of white citizens and law enforcement. Many of the Black victims had recently returned from World War I where they fought for our country. They died standing up for their rights and the rights of their communities. They were murdered in what was the largest state-sanctioned massacre of black people in US history.  

The organizers of the March for Racial Justice did not realize that September 30 was Yom Kippur when we were factoring in these and other considerations and applying for permits.

Choosing this date, we now know, was a grave and hurtful oversight on our part. It was unintentional and we are sorry for this pain as well as for the time it has taken for us to respond. Our mistake highlights the need for our communities to form stronger relationships.

After the horrifying events of the past weekend in Charlottesville, and the remarks by the President suggesting that “both sides” are to blame, we understand more than ever the need for unity against those who hate us in our many identities.  We have learned from our Jewish friends that Yom Kippur is a day of making amends and of asking and receiving forgiveness. We hope that our sincere apology will be received with compassion, and that we will build a stronger relationship among all our communities as a result.

While we continue to move forward with plans for the main march in Washington, DC on the anniversary of the Elaine massacre, we are working on ways to include the Jewish community on Saturday 9/30 after sundown and/or on Sunday 10/1.

We will be seeking a permit for the sister march in New York City for the afternoon of Sunday, October 1 and will share that information as quickly as we can. Many other sister marches are now being planned for Sunday, October 1 as well and we will keep everyone informed as those additional marches and rallies as they develop.

Our goal is and has always been to bring those committed to racial justice together and we are doing all we can to honor that important goal. We will continue to seek the thoughts and advice of religious and community leaders as this movement grows, and we will face those moments where fellow citizens register their concerns honestly and realistically.  As we share a big world with many people, all with their own rights to their freedoms of speech, expression and religion, we will always do our utmost to consider all points of view.

We are marching in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters who are observing the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar. Holding fast to Jewish tradition is also an act of resistance, in the face of growing anti-Semitism. We recognize and lift up the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism perpetrated by white supremacists, whether they wave Confederate flags, don swastikas, beat and kill people on the streets in Charlottesville, deface Holocaust memorials, or threaten and harass members of our communities and our religious and community spaces. And we recognize the need for all of us to work together in the face of an administration that condones widespread oppression of all those most vulnerable among us.

This is a long-term struggle and our relationship to each other transcends one day and one march. As we learn from this planning mis-step, we are working with Jewish leaders to make racial justice resources and prayers available for Yom Kippur observances in Jewish communities as well. We hope that on that holy day, Jews in synagogues across our country will pray for racial justice – lifting up black and brown people, Jewish and non-Jewish – in hope for safety and wholeness. Spiritual sustenance is an essential part of this work for justice. We’re committed to working together with the Jewish community throughout the year and every year until true justice for all of us is won.

The March for Racial Justice
August 15, 2017

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(Charlottesville) Radical White Terror (Vice)

His base, President Trump calls them “good people,” the neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate white supremacist race terrorists who put Trump and the GOP in control of the government. With a special animus for Jews, their platform is now the White House. Here’s the Vice documentary in its entirety from Charlottesville if you haven’t seen it yet. Violent surging hate, almost intimate, the shots and interviews are shot from up close and on the ground.  Time to call it in for what it is: Radical White Terror.

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Ashkenazi Jew Off-White Christian Gentile White

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Speaking personally, as a performative speech act, I will never self-identify in public “as a white Jew.” While I am white, or some kind of white, and while I certainly enjoy white privilege, I do not identify myself as such. The term “white Jew” eludes so many scales of historical and social-cultural difference and creates so many disassociations for it to do anything but jar. First, it is not an indigenous Jewish category. Second, it flies against the principle of self-determination. Ashkenazi Jews become white people in America, but are Jews, even Ashkenazi Jews, white “like” non-Jews? Do they carry the same easy privilege as “other” white people? Or are they defined by a set historical circumstances and social constellations that are unique to their own situation and that have gone undertheorized of late?

Ashkenazi Jews are not POC, about that one can clearly agree. But are Jews white? I cannot speak “as a Mizrachi Jew,” and Jews of Color will dissent that, no, not all Jews are white. But can we at least say that Ashkenazi Jews and Ashkenazi Judaism are white? Is European Jewish memory white? Or, in America, are Ashkenazi Jews but a special shade of white, perhaps off-white, and always differentiated as such. Neither POC nor exactly white, Ashkenazi Jews are Jews, and off-white as such. As such, the whiteness of Ashkenazi Jews is a negative identity, ascribed to Jews by others, by POC. Ashkenazi Jews are not POC, and with that comes definite privilege and opportunity based primarily on skin color. That Ashkenazi and perhaps most Mizrachi Jews do not suffer with what POC have to suffer is an ongoing and systematic difference, specifically in relation to the experience of systemic disenfranchisement and state violence. For many on the social justice and intersectional left that is and should be the end of the story, but in ways that then work to obviate the question of Jewish difference in a gentile majority society. Are there then no other intersectional factors left to complicate whiteness as a distinct social category, factors that real and imagined Jewish difference might actually serve to highlight? In short, if whiteness is itself an intersection, there are major parts of it that exclude Jews, even Ashkenazi Jews.

To begin with, whiteness is a majority status, a “comfort” or fit into the general order of things as norm. Alongside places and things like mainline churches, fin de siècle Boston Brahmin culture, golf pants and penny loafers, martinis, the country club and restricted residential covenants, other emblems of white Americanness are the overstuffed lounge chair, the gas guzzling SUV, all you can eat buffets in Las Vegas, super-sized drinks. Comfort is a psycho-physical, political disposition. You count among the majority. There is no larger and more powerful thing out there to perturb one’s sense of self or place in the world. Whiteness in America entails that one moves safely and unrestricted about in a large world that extends beyond one’s immediate circle. Perfectly free and genuinely loose, without an iota of surface anxiety, one does what one wants, confident that everything reflects one’s image –clear skin, straight hair, clean hands, and strong legs. Are “American Jews” white like that? Do they stand out like that? Does that picture of white comfort comport with the standard experience or picture of American Jewishness? In America, this may in fact be so for the last sixty years or so, largely on the coasts and in other big cities like Chicago, mostly in those regions, neighborhoods, institutions, and industries that Jews tend to populate in disproportionate numbers. I am not so sure about the fit of Jews and Judaism into the rest of the country.

Next: unnamed in discussions today in leftist intellectual and activist circles are two essential categories that complicate stabilized questions about Ashkenazi Jews and race. Those are Christian-ness (not Christian belief per se) and gentile-ness. Amongst themselves, Jews of my parents’ generation were still quite fluent about the real and imagined kinds of difference represented by “goyim.” The children of immigrants, they would not have considered themselves to be white precisely because they perceived themselves in relation to gentiles. Specialists in American Jewish folklore can correct me, but it’s my understanding that by “goy” was generally meant white people, most typically the sub-set of WASPS. Were African Americans ever goyim? The s-word, a derogatory term derived from Yiddish was the special term used for them. Happily, there is a lot of discomfort today with both types of Jewish racism among liberal and more-assimilated Jews. But omitting the category of “gentile” from the discussion of Jews and whiteness obscures the fact that, at the intersection of whiteness, Christian-ness and gentile-ness are the two other dominant hegemonic social structures in this country. On one hand, this is complicated by the fact that the vast majority African Americans are either Christian or post-Chrisitian. Conversely, and it is an odd thing to have to say, if all Ashkenazi Jews were Christian, then they would not, for the most part, be Jewish; almost but not certainly, they would then be “perfectly white.”

It is commonplace to note that for most white people there is no need to name whiteness, to name themselves as white. Whites don’t identify as white except for the extreme racists, whereas garden variety racism simply presumes dominant, majority status. That Jews have to self-identify, to assert their difference by way of  naming it makes them more like POC than your standard white people. While this may or may not remain true for Irish, Italian, or Scandinavian Americans, the question of identity is especially fraught for American Jews as a community that is part of a people with a historically pronounced minoritarian experience and self-awareness.

The complementary fact that Jews are named as such by others, even gratuitously called out alike by white racists and by POC, usually at the activist fringe, makes the same point about the non-standard character of Ashkenazi Jewish whiteness. While Jews and even Judaism fit here and there more or less comfortably into specific sections of white America, one still wants to ask if that fit can ever be perfect in a gentile culture dominated by Christians, Christianity, and post-Christian gentile culture. The genuine “comfort” that is the sense that one take for granted the order of things that Ashkenazi Jews can and do enjoy as white people in America is subject to all kinds of disruptive shocks, when all of a sudden Jews get singled out on either the fascist alt-right or on the anti-Zionist left in social justice movements.

Despite everything that we know about real and imagined Ashkenazi Jewish privilege, what all Jews, regardless of color or personal life history, will always lack is the comfort of numbers. Jewish identity of whatever racial stripe is a small social formation. It is small vis-à-vis the big white world, and also small in relation to large so-called minority communities in this country (African Americans, Latino American, or Asian Americans) who together, very soon, will constitute a majority in the United States, communities whose members number in the many millions. With constitutional protections and promise of equal citizenship, America is a unique phenomenon in the history of the Jews. As a small social formation, Jews have historically been reliant on the larger configuration of a hegemonic “host,” whether or not they contribute to that social body, participate in that social body, and identify with that social body, enjoying or not enjoying privileges conferred by that participation. This participation is punctured by multiple points of disconnect between Jewish and gentile society (itself white, black, and brown). The Jewish community is too small to be white. There are simply not enough Ashkenazi Jews in this country to be able to count in complete comfort as anything but off-white, always at least a little different and sometimes very different than the gentile majority, depending always on social milieu. Sooner or later if not now and forever, there will always be something that calls a Jew out, undercutting the gentile comfort that lies as an essential mark at the intersection of whiteness.

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(Racists) Armed Speech is Not Free Speech (Charlottesville)

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Free Speech & Open Carry

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Thanks to my friends at FB, especially lawyers and all of you with lawyerly minds, for clarifying points of constitutional law. But as a recent post by Jarrod Tanny suggests, is it still free speech when the speakers bring assault rifles to a demonstration in the public square? To the best of my knowledge, the original free speech arguments by the late Anthony Lewis and others at the ACLU did not even think to imagine this explosive element that is unique to today’s discussion. Once a gun is brought into the “conversation,” is it really a conversation? Or does the very introduction of a transform the very act of speech itself into something that should get far less protection? One can always say that speech is implicitly violent, even when it is not explicit, and that may be true, and even beside the point. You can also say that guns are the problem, not free speech. But in this country, a loose interpretation of the second amendment juts up right next to a strict interpretation of the first amendment. On the radical right, the belong now together in a tight circuit that was not the case in previous decades. It’s the loaded gun that has crossed the line of speech into something else. Here’s a case where two rights make a wrong. Free speech is a right and good that does not necessarily stand in isolation. When some 80% of demonstrators are armed with automatic weapons and they outgun local police, as Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe claimed happened at Charlottesville (here), then something has gone seriously awry with the equations that constitute the larger democratic fabric in which that right to free speech is embedded in this country at this new moment in time. Put more simply, is armed speech free speech?

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Red Rose Pink Laminated Glass (Pacific Red II) (Larry Bell)

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These cubes are made of laminated glass. I didn’t get much of a chance to look at Pacific Red II (2017)at eye level, but viewed from above up from the balconies at the Whitney allows one to look inside the structure of the complex geometry out of which these blood red, red, rose, pink boxes are comprised. Larry Bell is associated with Light and Space, a group out of Los Angeles in the 1960s that included artists like James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and Doug Wheeler.

Michael Compton, in a catalog essay from Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler exhibition at Tate Gallery, had this interpretation which I found at the Larry Bell wiki page:

At various times and particularly in the 1960s some artists have worked near what could be called the upper limits of perceptions, that is, where the eye is on the point of being overwhelmed by a superabundance of stimulation and is in danger of losing its power to control it… These artists sometimes produce the effect that the threat to our power to resolve what is seen heightens our awareness of the process of seeing…However, the three artists in this show… operate in various ways near the lowest thresholds of visual discrimination. The effect of this is again to cause one to make a considerable effort to discern and so to become conscious of the process of seeing.”

As a matter of reception history, this might have reflected the first impressions of these kinds of work and the ideas and ideology behind their creation. I am not sure if this is true anymore. We are nowhere near an upper limit of perception. By now the effects have cooled down. No longer radical, they tickle the eye.

About the construction of these kinds of objects, I also grabbed this from Bell’s wiki page:

“The glass is typically covered with a film that has been treated using a technique called thin film deposition of metallic particles. This process takes place in a vacuum chamber, and involves vaporizing metal alloys that then settle on the glass surface. The concentration of the coating on the glass determines the variation in its reflective properties, and Bell uses this gradation to enhance the transparent and reflective properties of the glass.”

From this description, it might help to think about artifice and about the “thinness” of these cubes in relation to the passage of light through space made open by transparent coats of color.

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(Waxy) Three American Flags (Jasper Johns)

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Perhaps because the image is by now so familiar, iconic in its own right, that I never quite got Jasper Johns’ famous Three Flags (1958). I do not believe, as per the wall text, that the painting/construction shifts emphasis from “the flag’s symbolic meaning to the patterns, textures, and structure of the composition.” If anything, the repetitive structure only intensifies the symbolic portent of the flag. What sharpened my attention the other day, doing the paces through the Whitney,  was this little bit of information, also culled from the wall text. The three flags were painted with encaustic, described as a “mixture of pigment suspended in warm wax that congeals as each stroke is applied.” Hidden from the eye, that might be part of the work’s symbolic power: an image of power at mid-century created out of and encrusted by a warm, congealing, waxy fluid.

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