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Convergences: jewblack is blackjew

Tue, December 19, 8:30 to 10:00am, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Georgetown University Room

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel brings together three speakers who address convergences, divergences and/or tensions between blackness and Jewishness from different disciplinary and artistic perspectives. The subtitle riffs on Joyce’s playful claim in Ulysses that Jewgreek is greekjew which Derrida then explores in Writing and Difference. Collapsing the words “jew” and “black” puts pressure on both and opens a space for productive inquiry.
Katya Gibel Mevorach takes an historical and anthropological approach to the racialization of Jews and explores the unfortunate assumption that Jews are (always) white. By examining how public language reinforces this idea, Mevorach argues for being “just Jewish” without the assumption of white racialization.
David Wright plans to discuss and contextualize his novel, What Is Hidden Cannot Be Loved. Set in Paris during the immediate aftermath of World War II, the novel explores the blurring, deliberate as well as unexpected, of cultural, racial and religious lines. Focusing on an unlikely love triangle — between a Holocaust survivor, a colonial subject of France, and a black GI — the text moves from the seventeenth-century Slave Coast to occupied Paris to Civil Rights-era Kansas. This novel stems from research into Wright’s family archives and he will discuss the archival nature of the text along with the larger implications of racial mixing and its inherent tensions during the post war world.
My paper, which is the beginning of a book about convergences, tensions, and divergences in Jewish and black arts in the U.S. and France that I am just beginning, examines the work of the Yiddish singer Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell in terms of the history of Yiddish and theories at the intersections of black and Jewish studies. Russell was trained as a classical opera singer but found Yiddish music, converted to Judaism, married a Rabbi, and is now working on projects that combine African-American with Yiddish music.

By questioning the convergences and divergences between Jewishness and blackness this panel explores rather than answers long-standing issues around Jewishness and race, identity, blackness and Jewishness, and a host of other issues made more urgent by a political moment that seeks to erase difference.

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