House Jews And Field Jews

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I never liked Malcolm's "House Slave/Field Slave" dichotomy, or the attendant notion that the underclass would be the most revolutionary. Sometimes the underclass is the most conservative. It follows from the whole nobility of oppression bit. It also ignores the fact that the privileged class, having seen what's possible and having been availed some education, are often the most troublesome. There's a diary entry, which Bruce Levine quotes from in Confederate Emancipation, where a white mistress notes that seemingly the first slaves to run for Union lines, are the ones they hold in the most esteem.

That's beside the point of this post. Adam sees parallels between the House Slave/Field Slave analogy and the criticism of lefty Jews:

What makes this kind of argument particularly interesting however, is how much it resembles intraracial arguments between black folks about loyalty and authenticity. In the eyes of those who support all of Israel's actions uncritically, the "Juicebox Mafia" are "House Jews": Jews whose positions on Israel are motivated by their internalizing longstanding anti-Semitic myths and identifying with those who seek to oppress the Jewish people. These Jewish conservatives are, ironically enough, embracing the same kind of bare-knuckle identity politics as the blacks they love to hate...

As Randall Kennedy writes in his 2008 book "Sellout," there should be a high threshold for accusations of racial betrayal. Accusations of selling out should be reserved for those who actively work against the interests of the community--not those who simply disagree about what is in the group's best interest. Those who accuse Jewish liberals of "self-hatred" aren't offering insight. They most resemble what Glenn Loury calls those "self-appointed guardians of racial virtue" in the black community who enforce a dangerous and enervating form of "black political correctness." Like black partisans who accuse any conservative black intellectual of being a "sellout," the Juicebox Mafia's detractors are simply trying to shut down debate over Israel's actions, which is hardly in the long-term interest of Israel or the Jewish community in the Diaspora.

I think this is about how nationalism always works--there's a line from House Slave to Juicebox Mafia to Swiftboating. Nationalism relies on essentialism. Thus there always is great temptation among nationalist (of all stripes) to dismiss their adversaries as, not simply people they disagree with, but people who endanger their very existence.

But that's not the real problem. The real issue is a shocking lack of imagination among the Jewish people. Seriously, how could those who gave us Phillip Roth and Michael Chabon also give us a phrase as unliterary, and unevocative as "Juicebox Mafia?"

We blacks have our problems. But we have long set the bar for how to demonize other black people who you don't agree with--"Oreo," "Uncle Tom." "House Slave," "Michael Steele." These are phrases that sting, visceral and poetic. In light of our sacred alliance, you guys can't do better than Juicebox Mafia? Weaksauce. It sounds like the name of a gaggle of overweight first-graders in a Pixar movie.

Whatever happened to "Self-Loathing Jew?" That one was so great I started calling black people I didn't like "Self-Loathing Jews."

Wait.

Was that anti-Semitic? Can I not say that? Was I not supposed to say that??

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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