Beyond black & white


Writing in Jewcy, April N. Baskin and Corinne Lightweaver use the media frenzy over Alysa Stanton’s becoming the first African American female rabbi to argue that the black-white paradigm ignores many Jews of color:

… So, why aren’t the people of color who preceded her in the rabbinate getting equal press coverage? Over the course of American history, a social construct of race developed and the racial binary of white vs. black arose as those in power separated themselves from African Americans, who were-and still are-systematically oppressed. As immigrants came to the United States, they were either classified as black or assigned a non-white status. To this day, that non-white status is often applied to certain ethnic communities including Asian Americans, Latinos, and even Jews at times. Neither black nor white, depending on the situation, all of these groups are classified as the middle ground of America’s social construct of race. And while certainly all of these populations receive media attention, African Americans receive more attention, while Anglo-whiteness remains the norm and groups in the middle ground are often rendered invisible.

Even though the Jewish community is negatively affected by this power dynamic, it is not immune to this systemic habit of ignoring people who are not black, but also not white. We should be beyond the black/white binary in the United States. It seems that in the case of Stanton’s ordination, the U.S. press is gloriously pursuing shock value over critical journalism, marketing sensationalism, and emphasizing the supposed improbability of a black person, let alone a black female, becoming Jewish and a rabbi.

To move beyond this systemic polarization, it helps to know that the number of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis of color is already significant. Three prominent rabbis-among many-come to mind. Last month was the ten-year anniversary of Korean American Angela Buchdahl’s graduation from cantorial school, followed by her ordination as a rabbi in 2001. Cuban-born Rabbi Rigoberto Emanuel Viñas is ordained as a rabbi and master Torah scribe. Colombian-born Rabbi Juan Mejía, who intends to work with crypto-Jews in the American Southwest, graduated this year from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. …

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