a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Imitation is The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

Posted on: February 14, 2012

I suppose so, but when done incorrectly I tend to think of it as plagiary. 

Yesterday afternoon I was browsing Facebook when I noticed a post from a friend with a strangely familiar title, “All Jews Don’t Look Like Barbara Streisand.”  The small snippet that Facebook  reveals always shows a few lines and as I read I couldn’t help but think, I could have sworn I wrote this.  I was confused though because I’d submitted the piece, “Not All Jews Look like Barbara Streisand”  to Kveller, not the Jewish Chronicle.  As I clicked on the link I was a little amused and then confused and then angered to see that the author, a rabbi no less, quoted my work without properly citing the original source or my name.  Instead, she identifies me only as “an African American Jewish Woman”.

A few things:

1-I have never referred to myself as African American.  I haven’t called myself African American in decades because I think that using the term African American as a blanket, PC term for black Americans is incredibly insulting and doesn’t even begin to cover the wide range of ethnicities and nationalities in the spectrum of blackness. 

{longest sentance ever}

Are there African Americans walking and talking in the U.S., obviously, but you can’t slap that label on every black person and expect it to stick.  I know Africans who would never identify as African or African American, but chose to self-identify with their country of origin.  I also know West Indian and Caribbean people who identify by their countries of origin and are too often misidentified as African American because it is… too uncomfortable to say black? 

My mother always reminded me that an assumption makes an ass out of…well in this case it doesn’t make an ass out of me, but it may make an ass out of you.  To put a the “PC” label of “African American Jewish woman” along with choosing not to cite my name or the website where the author found the original content makes me invisible and perpetuates the problem that I wrote about in my first piece, what I’ve filled my blog pages with, and what I write about in any Jewish publication that will allow me to shed light on the rampant and underlying racism and ignorance that exists in some Jewish communities.  Throughout the entire Kveller piece I only self-identify as black because that’s how I self-identify!  To not only take my words and blithely forget to quote me, but to use African American as a way to avoid uncomfortably writing “Black Jew” is at the crux of the issue.

2.  Perhaps it’s simply that the internet is a medium completely void of the proper use of the English language.  I have the English/Grammar handbook I purchased in 1998 when I took Comp 101 and I never read it.  Gd knows I tend to let my grammar, spelling and punctuation go when I submit posts to my blog.  Still, when taking someone’s quotes from a piece written from another popular Jewish publication linking the original piece is key.  Cutting and pasting my words and throwing quotation marks around it doesn’t equal proper citation. 

3.  I am really honored that this rabbi and The Jewish Chronicle found my experiences and words compelling enough to use them for their piece.  Opening the door to conversation about creating inclusive and truly diverse Jewish spaces is not only a passion but main personal mission behind the work that I do.  Building bridges and tearing down walls is important not only for Jews of Color in Jewish prayer spaces, but for non-Jews of Color to have a better understanding of the diversity of Judaism as well as understanding the heritage of our people.  Jews certainly do span the globe and you can find us on almost every continent.  The fact remains that Judaism was born in the middle east and just because Jews look like Babs now, doesn’t mean they always have.

Here’s my main problem.  I truly don’t care that The Jewish Chronicle hasn’t properly cited my work on Kveller.  I don’t even really care that they’ve not used my name and made me an invisible African American Black Jew.  I think it’s great that they’re trying to talk about diversity, but if this is the kind of diversity work mainstream Judaism is trying to do, we may as well stop trying.  You can’t talk about diversity and strive to create conversation without getting your hands a little dirty.  Creating change doesn’t come easy, it’s rarely something done over night and it cannot be done by picking and choosing information you do and do not want to share. 

I’ve written personal letters to the author (who’s currently in Haiti) and the editor of the Chronicle (who hasn’t gotten back to me yet).  I’ll keep you updated.



Within minutes of pressing “publish” I received a an e-mail from the Chronicle’s editor apologizing for misidentifying me and my work.

2 Responses to "Imitation is The Sincerest Form of Flattery?"

>Twenty-percent of American Jews are racially and ethnically >diverse.

You are saying that 20% of American Jews are Jewish by conversion? Is not it a bit of an exaggeration? 🙂

Erika, we are are semitic middle-eastern people, whether we are ashkenazi, sephardi or mizrahi… If you fail to see middle eastern features in Babbs, sorry… but she does look obviously middle eastern.

No, I’m stating that 20% of American Jews are ethnically and racially diverse-meaning that 20% of American Jews are not “white”. This information isn’t an exaggeration, but information gathered by The Insititute for Jewish and Community Research.

The post that the author quoted refers to the statistics I referenced in the piece I wrote for the Sisterhood:

I always use big-named Jews like Babs, Sarah Silverman and Woody Allen-but for the Kveller blog, my editor chose Barbara for the title. It’s not my title. Of all of the famous Jews I use as my mirror for “white Ashenazi” Jews I agree that Babs is pretty Middle Eastern-looking.

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