Lafcadio, Jews and Black History Month

This came in the mail yesterday, in response to our convo on BHM:

I appreciated your article on Black History Month because it resembled my own response to the endless Holocaust/General-Oppression history I learned as a child in Jewish Sunday school.  Every year from the age of 6 until my Bar Mitzvah at 13 (when I was old enough to say I'm not going to this stupid shit any more), Sunday meant learning about Jewish History which meant learning about some other way or place Jews got the beat shit out of them.  Nearly three thousand years of beat-downs and ass-kickings.  Babylon, Spain, Egypt...lather rinse repeat.  Just look how many of the Jewish holidays revolve around being oppressed: Hanukkah, Purim, Passover.  Three might not sound like that much but this is out of like 10 major holidays...

It took me until my mid-20's to realize I had a serious inferiority complex about being Jewish because to me Jews were nothing but losers and chumps.  Then I found out Jews were some serious asshole ass-kickers back in the day and now I just resent modern American Jewish identity. It's nothing but victimhood writ large.  Pathetic.

Hmm. I'm put in the mind of my man Lafcadio--the Lion Who Shot Back, written, as luck would have it, by one Shel Silverstein. I haven't read the book in some time, but I'll try to get this right. Lafcadio, in Silverstein's telling, is this lion who lives in the jungle. When the hunters come all the lions run and Lafcadio doesn't quite understand why. He's lectured by older lions and told he should just run and not ask questions. Lafcadio, being an eccentric lion, decides to confront the hunter. When he discovers the hunter is, indeed, trying to kill him, he shoots (and eats?) the hunter.

Soon Lafcadio becomes a hero to the lions because he kills the hunters who come to kill the lions--hence, he is the lion who shoots back. In the end he becomes famous, travels the world, gets a suit made out of marshmallows, and, in fact, becomes a hunter of lions. But ultimately he decides that life is ultimately best--not amongst the civilized West--but among his own kind, back in the jungle.

Heh, I loved that story when I was kid. Like I later loved the stories of Menelik II at Adowa, or Nat Turner or Robert Charles. These were Negroes Who Shot Back, or in the words of Robert Williams, Negroes With Guns. Like, I later still loved--in very perverse fashion--the story of Joseph Trumpeldor and that great quote--"No matter, It is good to die for our country." Trumpeldor is the Jew Who Shot Back.

By the time I got to blaxploitaiton I was out of that phase, but the impulse toward those flicks came from the same place. Here was a counter-narrative to all the beat-downs, ass-kickings, and of course the unmentionable, interracial rape. How else to explain the roles white women in those flicks?

This is the "I Ain't No Punk" meme writ large and collective. But I think it's more to do with humanity, than with being black or Jewish. A while back, Ron Rosenbaum kind of touched on this in piece he did for Slate, about why United 11 is held in such esteem in the post-9/11 world:

Nothing can take away from that collective act of heroism, but something makes me wonder: Why is this the third film made about Flight 93? I've watched them all: There was last year's Discovery Channel docudrama The Flight That Fought Back. Then there was this year's A&E cable re-enactment, Flight 93, directed by one of George W. Bush's college classmates (coincidence?). And now the major new Hollywood feature United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass...

In three out of four cases savage mass murderers prevailed. A "war on terror" has ensued; a war in Iraq followed. In neither case is it clear that the outcome is going to be favorable. The story of 9/11 as a whole increasingly seems a portent that Flight 93 was an aberration, and that those intent on suicidal martyrdom may well prevail over those who value human life over holy books. This possibility is something no one likes to dwell on, and in that sense the "triumphant" fable of Flight 93, genuinely heroic as it is, represents a comforting diversion. There must be a pony.

Ron sees the need for a Hollywood ending, a triumph of the human spirit. I see a need for that hallowed ideal of self-defense, a kind of "they started it, but I damn sure finished it" meme to be on display. Of course, the corrollary of that is that people who were on the other planes were chumps. There's a lot going on here. I think it dangerous to promote suffering as nobility. But I'm not sure it's any better to denigrate people who were really out of options.

P.S. Nope. I haven't seen Defiance yet.