Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Belonging to both Jewish and Quaker Communities and what happens if Obama wins

"I was raised Jewish," she said. "I have never stopped being a Jew. That is my community. That is my culture. But my religion is Quakerism." ……The New York Times, May 2, 2008

I am a Quaker of a religious background in the United Church of Christ. I have no qualms with people of a Jewish background who have also become Quakers, and who choose to retain aspects of their Jewish culture to mix with their newfound Quaker culture. Who would argue with a Quaker for having Seder on Passover?

Although, since I changed my Faith, I haven’t found it necessary to stand up and confess my sins in public in unison, as was done when I was in the UCC Faith. But, I like to sing hymns and hear a well done sermon now and again. So, I guess I still have part of my UCC culture with me. I wouldn't deign to serve on the Trustees or Lay Ministry Committee of a UCC Church just to convince myself I haven't betrayed my Communion, and the folks I went to church with at age 12.

There is however, a delineation when the quoted one at the top of this page, so clearly has trouble truly ‘belonging’ to one community or another. By her quote, she is either straddling both, or denying the Quaker community, which must be easier than betraying the Jewish community from whence she came. The New York Times quote above is duplicitous. The statement about her singular Jewish community when she is unmistakably a member of the Quaker community is either self-deception or a sad, politically-driven pretense. It makes her at best, unwittingly untrue to herself - or maybe still someone who might be yet working toward full convincement as a Quaker and full integration in the Quaker community. At worst it makes her an inauthentic, insecure, self-betraying gamer who wants to have her cake and eat it too. She is a widely recognized Friends minister. Period. Friends don’t push anyone to become a member. Many times new attenders take as much time, usually years, before they become ‘convinced’ and take up full roles in Quaker Society, as has this quoted Jewish person.

She is also, co-incidentally a member of what have been called the ‘Aquarian’ generation, similar to the ‘Boomers’. Aquarians were described as being economically entitled (to use other people’s money) and politically righteous after the shape-shift in moral authority which occurred in the late 1960s.

See: Some words of Advice to Friends under 50

A clarification for my previous essay – “The Quaker Culture, the Quaker Community and the Quaker Faith” is needed based on some valuable reader feedback. We might also see a very interesting parallel as a valuable lesson in the racial ‘belonging’ in the person of Barack Obama. Instead of the scientifically false concept of ‘race’, let’s substitute ‘community’ with ‘race’ - related to the above mentioned delineation.

Shelby Steele, in his latest book A Bound Man - Why we are excited about Obama and why he can’t win describes the black political pressure Obama endured and once capitulated to, in his own self-betrayal, as a person of mixed community. Like Obama, Steele’s mother was white-skinned, and father was black-skinned.

An interesting concept is that Steele, also an Aquarian, came of age in the late 1960’s and describes his own experience, on page 30:

“Clearly I did not believe in ‘blackness’. I thought it was little more than a style of clenched fists, Afros, and right-on phrases. It sought redemption in what had been a mark of shame, but it had no relationship to accomplishment [of Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights of the early 1960s]. Yet to reject it, implied collaboration with white supremacy [the moral authority before civil rights], the most disgraceful sort of Uncle Tomism. To avoid this horror, the second option was simply to pretend, to go along with blackness despite my true feelings.”

Could this paragraph, if some of the words transposed, describe what our Jewish Friend was trying to say in “That is my community”?

Steele goes on:

“In East St. Louis (where he grew up), I was still too much in need of authenticity to risk the first option. So I became immersed in an irony: I would pursue authenticity through pretense. I would go along with a ‘blackness’ I did not really believe in so as to gain the acceptance I could claim as authenticity. I did not consciously do this, but this is what I did.

And in fact, my mixed-race background was only an additional pressure toward this kind of duplicity. All blacks of my generation came under pressure to join the new militant identity. And many became immersed in the same irony – going along with an unexamined ‘blackness’ simply to belong. Whenever collective identities become self-conscious, sharply defined, and highly politicized, people begin to survive them through duplicity. Still, for the mixed-race black, both the need to belong and the inability to believe are likely to be more pronounced. Racial ‘authenticity’ will require even more duplicity and pretense.”

The illusion is that such people are less encumbered by the black identity than others. And this may be true for those mixed-race blacks who choose to distance themselves from the black identity. But for those who don’t, this identity is more encumbering than for other blacks because it forces the personality to accommodate more blatant contradictions – acceptance of the racial categories in identity politics, for example, when one is in fact of two races. For the mixed-race black, today’s highly politicized black identity is reachable only through a degree of self-betrayal.”

Read the above book excerpt again. If we wonder about our Jewish Quaker Friend, quoted in the New York Times, replace the word ‘black’ with ‘Jewish’, and replace 'race' with 'community'. Will this exercise help us discern if all the tribes of this world have a chance at unity if Obama wins the presidential election?

In Friendship,