Black and Jewish, Interfaith and Interracial, Hilarious and Offensive

I have two teenagers, and rapper Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow,” a tribute to his hometown of Pittsburgh, got plenty of play in our house this year. So when I watched the new parody video hit “Black and Jewish,” I got the joke on several levels. I also knew it was going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. After mulling it over, I wanted to weigh in with my perspective as an adult interfaith child.

First off, I realize that not all black and Jewish people are interfaith children. Some are Jews by choice, i.e. converts (most famously, Sammy Davis Jr.). And some African-American families have been Jewish for generations, including the family of brilliant blogger MaNishtana. The point is, being black and Jewish is not necessarily an interfaith issue: black is a race, Jewish is a religion, no necessary conflict or mixing involved.

Nevertheless, most “black and Jewish” people are a subset of interfaith children, including stars referenced in the video such as Lenny Kravitz (who identifies himself as Christian), Drake, and Rashida Jones. The lead actors in the video, Kali Hawk (“Bridesmaids”) and Kat Graham (“Vampire Diaries), each have one black and one (white) Jewish parent. In the video, they depict themselves as both 100% black, and 100% Jewish. I believe that all interfaith children have a right to choose their own identities. And there are historical and political and sociological reasons for biracial children to choose to be black, just as there are parallel reasons for interfaith children to choose to be Jewish.

The problem is that “Black and Jewish” trades on the broadest and basest stereotypes about both blacks and Ashkenazi Jews (“my nose and ass, they’re both big”). It’s a little bit Lenny Bruce, a little bit Dave Chappelle. The video is hilarious to insiders, but it also might be a bad idea for people in China who don’t actually know any blacks or Jews to view it (or people in Nebraska, for that matter).

Nevertheless, as an interfaith child, I cannot help responding to the optimism inherent in this video: all ages, colors, and religions dance joyously together at the climax. The fictional black father and Jewish mother appear to be a warm and loving couple, and the progeny appear to be anything but confused. These young women project defiance and confidence, claiming and celebrating both sides of their heritage. Unlike the cautionary tales of black and Jewish relationships from a generation ago (see James McBride’s The Color of Water, or Rebecca Walker’s Black, White and Jewish), this video hints at some of the benefits of interfaith and interracial marriage embraced by a new generation of interfaith children, and could help to offset some of the antiquated fear-mongering and tribalism of religious institutions and the press when writing about interfaith and interracial families.

 

Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

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5 Comments on “Black and Jewish, Interfaith and Interracial, Hilarious and Offensive”

  1. Alan Levenson Says:

    Dear Sue, I think you may be too quick on the draw — “Jewish” is a religion? Judaism is a religion, but Jewish can be a lot of things — culture, ethnicity, and yes, even a religion. But there are plenty of people who consider themselves Jewish (and I have no problem this) and don’t practice any religion. But your post is great!


  2. I think that your point about letting kids choose their own identity mix is well taken. It is very doubtful that kids will end up all one way or the other; they know too much, understand too much. In the long run this will make for greater diversity, as Interfaith kids grow up, intermarry, and produce children with even more possibilities of choice, and a wider range of knowledge and understanding. There will always be some who are attracted to one part of their heritage, but, without external pressures, they will treasure their other sources as well.

  3. Yael Says:

    I’m showing this video to my kids when they return from camp next week. We’re not an interfaith family, I’m divorced and their dad isn’t any religion, but we are interracial. My oldest son got a t-shirt in high school from the Asian Cultural Club in which he was active, on the back was his nickname “Hybrid”. Asian/Jewish and identifying equally with both.


    • Alan–My rabbi refers to Judaism as a civilization (encompassing religion, culture, ethnicity and more…) and I understand all the facets. But to me, Judaism is the noun and Jewish is the adjective: either and both can refer to either the religion or the civilization.

      Michael–Whether parents choose for them (which is fine, as long as they understand that kids can grow up and make a different choice), or the kids choose, I agree that given adequate knowledge of and exposure to all of the family religions, cultures, and races, kids will take pride in all of them.

      Yael–I love your story, and it illustrates how our children are far more comfortable with their flexible identities in the 21st century than we ever will be as parents who came of age in the 20th century. Maybe your kids can make their own video…

  4. Kizzy Says:

    I am all three and find this video to be what it is an amusing video that pokes fun whilst claiming identity, without malice.


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