Cartoon: The Democratic Coalition

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This cartoon was originally published by The Nib.


When one of my cartoons is published by a site – in this case by the wonderful folks at The Nib – I don’t have any control over when the cartoon is published. This cartoon, for example, was drawn months ago. But since it’s not connected to anything in the news cycle, The Nib held on to it until they had a hole in their publication schedule (or so I assume). Which is fine with me – the cartoon is seen by many more people this way – but it’s odd to be waiting for my cartoons to show up, like a bus that doesn’t keep to any particular schedule.

Anyhow, they’ve published it now (yay!).

One thing that made this cartoon weird experience is that, a couple of months after selling it, I couldn’t find the email where I’d discussed it with The Nib folks, and I started worrying that I’d just imagined selling it. I finally gave up and emailed my editors at The Nib to ask them if I’d really sold it or if I’d just been having freelancer delusions. That was an odd email to write.

Anyway, about this cartoon: Everyone who I’ve shown this cartoon to has had the same reaction – a rueful nod or chuckle by the time they read the third panel, since by then it’s pretty obvious where this is going, and then they smile and say “yup, exactly” or something like that.

For literally my entire life, there’s been this push/pull between the Democratic party and its constituents from marginalized groups. It’s easy to see the electorial logic behind this – the Democrats want to win, and one way to do that is to go for the marginal voters, that tiny minority of voters who could go for either party. But that alienates the base – and rightly so – and the Democrats can’t win without their base, either. Part of the fight is always fighting to keep the Democratic party from triangulating its base right out of the party.

(Every time I read an interview with a group of could-go-either-way voters I get depressed, because they generally don’t follow politics closely and have virtually no idea of what either candidate’s positions are, and these ignorants are the people who decide who runs the country.)

As far as the art goes, I think it’s all right. At the time I finished this cartoon, I was exhausted from drawing all these tiny figures and decided that adding more detailed coloring (shading and highlights) would take forever and not actually add anything to the gag or the readers’ experience. But looking at it now, months later, I wish I had done the shading. Maybe I’ll go in and add it sometime.

I do like the way that some characters who are barely visible in panel one get gradually revealed as the strip goes on.

Transcript of Cartoon:

Panel 1
This panel shows a diverse group of people, all listening to a smiling white man in a suit and tie. In the background is a light blue curtain.

SUIT DUDE: If the Democrats ever want to win again, we need to focus on core issues, not secondary issues! Let’s start by putting reproductive rights behind that curtain.

Panel 2
The same scene, but now a woman who was in the front of the crowd in panel 1 is now gone.

SUIT: That’s better. Oh, and let’s put immigration issues behind the curtain. Black Lives Matter and all that race stuff better go too.

Panel 3
The same scene, but several more people – including a Latinx family and a Black man – are now out of sight. There’s now only eight people in the much-shrunk crowd (counting a baby held by a man in the crowd).

SUIT: Poverty issues and unions and lgb issues and single parents and definitely trans issues – get behind the curtain.

Panel 4
Now everyone is behind the curtain (which is bulging a bit due to how many people are crowded behind it), except the man in the suit. He turns to the viewer, and with a big grin and an expansive arm gesture, says:

SUIT: See? Now this is a winning coalition!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Elections and politics | 56 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, What Your Gender Studies Professor Told You Edition

  1. Trump’s Awful Afghanistan Speech | The American Conservative
    It’s important to remember that many of Trump’s reality-denying beliefs – such as his conviction there was any legal or pragmatic way to remain in Iraq in 2011 – are completely mainstream, ordinary views among Republicans at every level.
  2. Texas’ congressional delegation famously voted against aiding the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy – and those same folks are now asking for help. And they’ll get it (as they should). But it’s hard not to feel like this is representative of a larger problem – conservative states demand aid when they’re in trouble, but don’t lift a finger to help the rest of us. (And by the way, Cruz’s “the Sandy bill was two-thirds pork” claim is total bullshit.)
  3. Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world | World news | The Guardian
  4. A (Cis) Man Spied on Women in Target; A Christian Group is Blaming Trans People – Friendly Atheist
  5. The truth about “political correctness” is that it doesn’t actually exist – Vox
    This article is a couple of years old, but I was reminded of it on Twitter, and I think it holds up well.
  6. Really fascinating article, by an college professor who emigrated from Iran, about the friendship she struck up with an Iranian hacker who stole her Instagram account.
  7. Arizona Unconstitutionally Banned Mexican-American Studies Classes, Judge Rules | HuffPost
    But only the left is attacking free speech on campus.
  8. Psychedelic drugs ‘as safe as riding a bike or playing soccer’ and could help solve addiction | The Independent
  9. Forbidden love: The WW2 letters between two men – BBC News
    This line is so on the nose that if it were in fiction editors would object: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we are.”
  10. Federal Judge Clears the Way For Uber and Lyft Drivers to Unionize – Slog – The Stranger
  11. Interesting twitter thread on who is considered “fat” withing the fat-positive community.
  12. Scott Adams’s Nihilistic Defense of Donald Trump
    Highlights of a conversation between Sam Harris and Scott Adams.
  13. Lessons from camels
    A ten-day camel trek through the South Australian outback. With your parents.
  14. Trump Supporters Think White Christians Are The Primary Victims Of Discrimination In America – Public Policy Polling
    Also, “Trump voters say they would rather have Jefferson Davis as President than Barack Obama 45/20.”
  15. Charlottesville Was a Preview of the Future of the Republican Party
    “This is the state of the GOP leadership pipeline. In a decade, state legislatures will start filling up with Gamergaters, MRAs, /pol/ posters, Anime Nazis, and Proud Boys.”
  16. UK Government’s attempt to deport Afghan asylum seeker fails after pilot refuses to take off | The Independent
    Activists spoke to other passengers on the plane, who spoke to the crew, who passed their concerns on to the pilot.
  17. These Women Entrepreneurs Created A Fake Male Cofounder To Dodge Startup Sexism
  18. “Being transgender is a mental illness”: What does the DSM really say? | Gender Analysis
  19. If you’re looking for a smart light comedy to watch, I recommend Submissions Only, a made-for-the-web sitcom about auditioning for Broadway shows, starring, written and co-directed by Kate Wetherhead, an actress I’d previously only known from the Legally Blonde musical. I think that even people who aren’t nerds for musicals could enjoy this show (although if you are such a nerd, you’ll have fun spotting all the well-known Broadway faces doing cameos).
  20. Democrats’ 2018 gerrymandering problem is really bad – Vox
    “A leading forecast says they’ll get 54% of the votes — and only 47% of the seats.”
  21. Houston isn’t flooded because of its land use planning.
  22. Hitting Harmony
    “I am now twenty-three and all I can think about is how that’s the same age Harmony Korine was when I wrote E-N-V-Y on my fist and socked him in the head.” What a bizarre person. Thanks to Ben L. for the link.
  23. “If you reflexively oppose antifa today, you probably would have opposed the lunch counter sit-ins in 1960.”
    I was skeptical when I read this tweet – but persuaded by the time I had read the entire thread. The thread is by Angus Johnson, who I think is a CUNY professor.
  24. 72 Women. 1250 Miles. No GPS.
    “I competed in America’s first all-female endurance road rally. I’d never even changed a tire.”
  25. Climate change did not “cause” Harvey, but it’s a huge part of the story – Vox
    “‘Adaptation’ will mean figuring out who has to leave, who has to pay for resettlement, and who bears the cost of the abandoned city’s infrastructure as it rots, crumbles, and pollutes.”
  26. Federal Judge Blocks Alabama Law That Put Minors Seeking Abortion on Trial – Ms. Magazine Blog
  27. Profile of Danny Rubin, the writer of “Groundhog Day” (both the movie and the musical).
    Very frustrating that he wrote a bunch of screenplays which were turned down for playing with formal elements rather than using standard structure. That’s exactly what makes Groundhog Day great!
  28. North Carolina Passes An Entirely Misguided Restore Campus Free Speech Act | Techdirt
    “The proponents of this law will want to say that this refers to students rioting, or accosting would-be invited speakers, but there are already laws on the books to prosecute those crimes. Instead, this law seeks to punish students that attempt to shut down speaking engagements via peaceful protest, which is a form of speech.”
  29. STUDY: How ‘Status Offenses’ Push Students of Color, Queer Kids Into Criminal Justice System | Colorlines
  30. The First Amendment (Literally) Banned in DC | American Civil Liberties Union
  31. Sentencing Law and Policy: Should and will SCOTUS take up constitutional challenge to Minnesota’s sex offender confinement program?
    Yes, they definitely should. “The core of the case is that the state set up what it said was going to be a civil commitment program. And the core definition of that is people get out, and that’s exactly what is missing in the Minnesota program. It’s not just missing here or there, it’s systemically missing.”
  32. Titleist Tees Up Lawsuit Against Parody Clothier Because Golf Doesn’t Have A Sense Of Humor | Techdirt
    We should see cases like this as free speech issues.
  33. The Disabled Life is a comic strip by and about “two Canadian sisters documenting the jerks and perks of living #TheDisabledLife.” I’ve been enjoying their archives today.
  34. Noah Scalin’s Portraits Made from Piles of Clothes | Hi-Fructose Magazine
  35. Violent no-platforming of Milo and Charles Murray raised both their profiles.
    I feel like I did a cartoon about this.

Posted in Link farms | 63 Comments  

Cartoon: If It Quacks Like A Trump

If you enjoy these cartoons, please support them on Patreon! Even a $1 pledge means a lot to me.

Transcript of Cartoon

The image shows a bunch of ducklings swimming down a small river, following the mother duck. The ducklings are yellow; the mother duck is orange and has big swooping hair and basically is drawn to look a bit like Donald Trump.

DUCKLING 1: I will always say #nevertrump.
DUCKLING 2: As principled conservatives, we can’t follow a man with no principles!
DUCKLING 3: I myself issued a mild rebuke of Trump before I voted for his latest bill.
DUCKLING 4: We will resist!
DUCKLING 5: We are resisting!
TRUMP DUCK (cheerfully): Come along, kids.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Conservative zaniness, right-wingers, etc. | 13 Comments  

Trying to Write After Charlottesville

(The beginning of this post has been edited, twice, because I accidentally posted, and then sloppily edited the first time, the wrong draft.)

I’ve been trying to write something in response to Charlottesville for the past two weeks, but I’ve had a hard time finding the words. It’s not that I’ve been unclear about what happened there or who was to blame for the violence of that day or for Heather Heyer’s death, or about not-only-Trump’s moral cowardice in equating those who committed violence against the white supremacists and neo-Nazis—whether that violence was in self-defense or not—of equating those people with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists themselves. It’s that so many people with platforms much, much larger than mine have already said most of what I would have said, and it has been difficult to keep up. Better to amplify those voices in the small ways that I can, it has seemed to me, than to engage in the clamoring for attention that putting my own voice out there would have been. So that’s mostly what I’ve been doing, sharing/forwarding/talking about/planning to teach what have seemed to me the necessary and worthwhile things that other people have said.

I was able to pour some of my outrage into the statement about Charlottesville that I wrote for my faculty union, but that statement is by definition not a personal one, and so, while writing it helped me feel I’d done something worthwhile, it didn’t actually do much to help me figure out what I wanted to say. I’d thought a lot about the intersection of racism and antisemitism in my own life as a white Jew during the summer of 2016, when I wrote a series of letters that Jonathan Penton published as “The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw1 in December of that year in his online journal, Unlikely Stories. (I posted one of those letters to my blog earlier this month.) Again, however—here, here, here and here, for example—others were already writing about being white and Jewish movingly and persuasively, and they were doing so in more or less precisely the terms I would have chosen. What they weren’t writing about, however, was where I ended up in the letters that I wrote last year, and that is perhaps something I can add to the conversation.

“The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw” constitutes my response to a Facebook message Jonathan sent me while he was reading through submissions to a special issue of Unlikely Stories called #BlackArtMatters. Conceived in harmony with the Black Lives Matter movement, #BlackArtMatters was to be, “a celebration of the incredible continuing contributions of Black artists to the global dialogue.” Black artists were welcome to submit their own work. People who were not Black were invited to submit critical articles about or appreciations of Black artists. I had hoped to write an appreciation of June Jordan, my first poetry teacher, but my schedule did not permit it, and so I told Jonathan I would have to pass. Then, in early August of last year, as I was sitting in the airport waiting with my family for our flight to Scotland, where we’d be spending the first of three weeks in Europe, I received a message from Jonathan that said, in part, this:

So [Rosalyn Spencer, the woman who edited #BlackArtMatters, is] going through the [pool of] submissions[.] Lots of fine stuff from black folk, lots of fine stuff from non-black folk. There is, however, only one submission from a Jewish academic, who [in a critical article about James Baldwin] starts talking about how, since he’s Jewish, he knows how black people really feel, except only partially, but totally blackly.

Jonathan’s irony notwithstanding, I trusted his description of that academic’s racist paternalism because it is very familiar to me from when I was younger and finding my way more and more deeply into both the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish youth movements. However, when Jonathan asked me, “one Jewish writer to another,” to submit something, anything, so that academic’s work would not be the only piece in the submissions pool to represent us—Jonathan did not publish it—I had to say no. Still, I couldn’t get what that academic said out of my head, and so, early in the morning of our first day in Edinburgh, while my wife and son were still sleeping, I started what became a series of six letters that I wrote from three different countries—four, if you include the last one, which I wrote after we returned to the US. It’s this last one that I want to share with you now. Not because I think it says anything definitive about racism and antisemitism, but because where it ends, when I wrote it, surprised and even frightened me a little, feelings I have learned to trust as a sign I’ve hit on an idea that needs to be explored further. And because I think the desire for that exploration is something that what happened in Charlottesville, and that everything packed into what happened in Charlottesville—past, present, and future—should compel in us. The letter, slightly edited, is below the fold.

Continue reading

  1. If the white-on-black text of Unlikely Stories is hard on your eyes, I have posted the letters as a single document on Academia.edu. []
Posted in anti-racism, Anti-Semitism, Bigotry & Prejudice, Race, racism and related issues | 54 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Small Angry Dog Edition

  1. Woman Gives Up Teaching To Create Optical Illusions With Makeup, And It’s Messing With Our Minds | Bored Panda
  2. Here’s What Really Happened In Charlottesville
  3. Mama Cass didn’t die of choking on a ham sandwich; she died as a result of dieting.
  4. Trump’s Sensitivity to Being Laughed at Should Alarm Everyone – Rewire
    Grace sent this link to me, saying that it reminded her of our conversation about toxic masculinity.
  5. Medicare-for-All Isn’t the Solution for Universal Health Care | The Nation
    Progressives have to start sweating the details of universal health coverage.
  6. Everything About Disney and ABC’s ‘Pink Slime’ Settlement Should Scare the Hell Out of You
    “veggie libel” laws aren’t as sexy as discussing protesters on campus, but they’re much more dangerous to free speech.
  7. Maryland City May Let Noncitizens Vote, a Proposal With Precedent – The New York Times
  8. Voter Suppression in the Mirror and Looking Forward
    A review of some of the voter suppression measures conservatives are pushing.
  9. What Trump gets wrong about Confederate statues, in one chart – Vox
    “Washington was a slave owner, yes, but the meaning of a Washington statue is not necessarily pro-slavery or pro-white supremacy — whereas that’s exactly the point of the vast majority of Confederate memorials in the United States.”
  10. Debate over civil rights center at UNC focuses on advocacy and academic freedom
    Republicans in North Carolina’s congress are shutting down a civil rights center at a law school. Academic freedom, everybody!
  11. Officials say immigration agents showed up at labor dispute proceedings. California wants them out – LA Times
  12. Students say Christian college turned a blind eye to serial rapists – ThinkProgress
  13. The Lost Cause Rides Again
    Ta-Nahisi Coates on HBO’s announced “Confederate” TV series. I’m withholding judgement to small degree – maybe the show itself will be so brilliant as to answer all of Coates’ concerns and change everyone’s minds – but I’m extremely skeptical that it will be that good.
  14. An anti-immigrant group mistook empty bus seats for women wearing burqas – The Washington Post
  15. Doxing isn’t about privacy—it’s about abuse | The Daily Dot
    An interesting and, I think, useful way of redefining how we thing about doxing. “Doxing isn’t about exposure. Instead, it’s a form of weaponized attention. “
  16. Why Trump Invokes ‘Common Sense’ – The Atlantic
    “…for centuries, populist movements in particular have invoked common sense as a justification for policy goals and as an antidote to expert opinion.”
  17. What Jeff Sessions Will Never Understand About Affirmative Action
  18. Affirmative Action and the Myth of Reverse Racism – The Atlantic
  19. “I lied to my wife about liking john mayer; my life now revolves around his music and I’m looking for clarity.”
  20. In ‘Death Wish,’ Jews Gain From White Fascist Fantasies – The Forward
    I don’t agree with everything Noah writes here, but I did find it interesting.
  21. Octopus and squid evolution is officially weirder than we could have ever imagined – ScienceAlert
    “… scientists have discovered that octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish species, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment.”
  22. South Carolina town bans saggy pants: Can they do that? – CSMonitor.com
    I hope they get sued and lose badly. And really, are we supposed to think it’s just a big coincidence that it’s a Black fashion they go after?
  23. Could A Bus With Sleep Pods Replace Airplanes? | WBEZ
    Well, maybe for short flights.
  24. Is Jesse Singal a Bigot? | www.splicetoday.com
    An older controversy, about an academic who wrote an article that was widely criticized, and then widely defended.
  25. Sizeism Is Harming Too Many of Us: Fat Shaming Must Stop | Psychology Today
    Focuses on how anti-fat prejudice harms fat patients in the medical system.
  26. Dear Men of The Breakfast Club: Trans Women Aren’t a Joke, Ploy, or Sexual Predators | Allure
    Article by Janet Mock responding to a morning radio show.
  27. In the key 2018 battlegrounds, Trump’s support is as high as ever – Vox
    If this holds up, Trump could win re-election in 2020 while losing the popular vote by an even larger margin.
  28. …Or he could postpone the election, and if he does a lot of Republicans say they’d support him. Poll: Half of GOPers Open to Postponing of 2020 Elections
  29. “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” Is Bad Science | Thing of Things
    I found the end point especially interesting, because I hadn’t considered that before, but the whole thing is good.
  30. Psychologists surveyed hundreds of alt-right supporters. The results are unsettling. – Vox
  31. Cartoon below is by Irma Kniivila.

Posted in Link farms | Comments Off  

Cartoon: Run Them Down

This cartoon appears today at The Nib.

If you like these cartoons, please support them at Patreon. Even a $1 pledge means a lot to me.

Transcript of Cartoon

Panel 1 shows a white man wearing a collared shirt and a necktie pouring gasoline out of a can.
MAN: Wow, this popular conservative columnist and law professor says protestors should be run down! Retweet!

Panel 2 shows the same man striking a match. He has a disturbingly large grin.
MAN: GOP legislators in North Carolina, Florida and Tennesee want to protect drivers who “accidentally” run down protestors? About time!

Panel 3 shows the same man, lit by a huge fire behind him, shrugging.
MAN: Someone plowed their car into left-wing protestors? How awful! How does someone even come up with a sick idea like that?

Posted in Cartooning & comics, In the news | Comments Off  

Cartoon: Time Travel

(This cartoon was first published on The Nib.)

Mandolin has been after me for ages to do a cartoon where the year 2000, pro-Nader Barry would be confronted by a Barry from the future. So this one’s for Mandolin. :-)

This is one of my few cartoons that comes from a place of “this is funny,” rather than a place of “I’m angry about this issue!” But there is a real underlying issue here, which is how Republicans have gotten so much worse in my lifetime. Reagan seemed so awful, and the first Bush seemed similarly awful. But then Bush Jr seemed unimaginably bad – until Trump came along and showed us how much worse Republicans can get. The kicker panel is my attempt to think of where this trend might be heading.

The art for this was interesting to draw – first of all, because it felt so odd to be drawing myself over and over and over again. And also, as a character design challenge – I had to do three (four, counting the kicker panel) designs, all of which are easily distinguishable from each other for readers, but all of whom nonetheless could be the same person.

My appearance isn’t 100% accurate, because I prioritized character design over accuracy. In particular, I don’t think I really looked like that in 2000; that’s more what I looked like in 1990. But from a character design standpoint, using that look was irresistible to me.

Transcript of Cartoon:

Panel 1
CAPTION: The Year 2000

The scene shows a park or college campus scene. A woman stands in front of a table, listening with an expression of skepticism; the table has a big sign that says “NADER” hanging off the front. Behind the table, talking to the woman, is BARRY2000, who is clean-shaven and has big messy hair. Behind Barry2000, BARRY2008 appears, transported to the scene by a glowing purple ring in the air. Barry2008 is yelling in a panic at Barry2000. Barry2008 is wearing a vest over a t-shirt, has his hair tied in a ponytail, and has a van dyke beard and mustache.

BARRY2000: Nader is our only choice that isn’t a vote for evil!
BARRY2008: Barry, stop!

Panel 2
A close shot shows Barry2000 and Barry2008. Barry2000 is puzzled, Barry2008 is still intense and panicked.

BARRY2000: Who are you?
BARRY2008: I’m you! I’m Barry from 2008. I’m using a time machine to stop you from making an awful mistake!

Panel 3
Close shot of Barry2008, who is waving his arms and still looks panicked.

BARRY2008: George W. Bush is much worse than you think he’ll be! There was a terrorist attack, and we invaded Iraq, and it’s all awful!

Panel 4
Barry 2008 continues to talk at Barry2000. Behind Barry2008 BARRY2016 appears in a glowing ring of time travel, tapping Barry2008 on the shoulder. Barry2016 is wearing a striped polo shirt, has his hair in a ponytail, and his beard is trimmed short.

BARRY2008: I literally can’t imagine a worse Pres-
BARRY2016: Excuse me, I’m Barry from 2016.

Tiny “kicker” panel at the bottom.
BARRY2024, an older, balding Barry in a v-neck shirt, has appeared and is talking to Barry2016, who looks very happy.

BARRY2024: Hi, I’m Barry from 2024. We’re ruled by giant alien roaches.
BARRY2016: So it gets better!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | Comments Off  

“Unlocking the Garret” – a new essay by Mandolin, for the “Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter

Check out this essay by Mandolin!

“Unlocking the Garret” by Rachel Swirsky

Excerpt:

It’s in the stereotype. The artist of tempestuous temperament who drinks to excess as he stumbles, lean and tuberculotic, up the winding steps to his garret. Van Gogh cut off his ear. Plath put her head in the oven. The artist is passionate; the artist is mercurial; the artist is mad.

Sometimes stereotypes do hold a shard of truth.

I don’t know why there’s a connection between creativity and madness. One could provoke the other; both could be caused by another factor. It could be inherent. It could be cultural. Whatever the why, there’s a high frequency of mental illness among artists.

Despite this, we rarely talk about how mental illness affects the work. Taboos about discussing personal experiences with mental illness remain, promoted by shame and ignorance. In this toxic fog, the stereotype of the mad artist looms large, discouraging some from even seeking treatment because they believe creativity can only persist in the garret.

I have bipolar disorder—the second type, the one that lacks extremely high mood. I’ve been in treatment for ten years or so, and I’m lucky in that medications work for me. They don’t work for everybody, and for some people, they come with unbearable side effects. Still, disability remains something I have to navigate daily, and it probably always will be.

Read the rest here.

Posted in Disability Issues, Disabled Rights & Issues | Comments Off  

from “The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw”

Today is Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Consolation. Last year at this time, I was on a family vacation in Europe, sitting in our host’s dining room in Sweden, early in the morning while everyone else was still asleep, and writing the fourth in a series of letters to Jonathan Penton about racism and antisemitism. That letter took Shabbat Nachamu as its starting point. The letters as a whole, as a single meditation I called “The Lines That Antisemitism and Racism Draw,” were inspired by the racism and antisemitism of Donald Tump’s campaign, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Jonathan’s request that I write something that would balance out an egregiously privileged and racist statement made by a Jewish academic who’d submitted a piece to Jonathan’s publication, Unlikely Stories, which was doing a special issue called Black Art Matters. Even though I wrote the letter a year ago—by the Jewish calendar, exactly a year ago today—the issues it raises are still relevant, so I am republishing it below. I hope, after reading it, you will consider reading the rest of the letters as well, which you can find in their original format on Unlikely Stories. Or, if that journal’s white text on black background is hard for you to read, you can find the letters here, in a more traditional format.


Monday, August 15

Dear Jonathan,

We arrived in Stockholm four days ago. This is the first chance I’ve had to write. We’re here to celebrate my wife’s cousin’s 40th birthday, and, in addition to us and the other relatives who’ve come from New York, family and friends have gathered from Tehran, Toronto, and Milan. Our days, as I’m sure you can imagine, have been busy, filled with reunions and first meetings, the reliving of old memories, the making of new ones, obligatory sightseeing, and lots and lots of eating and drinking. The birthday party itself was the night before last, a Madonna-themed affair that kept us dancing—sometimes to music I hadn’t danced to since the 1980s—until the very, very early hours of the morning.

I’m sitting now in the empty dining room of the house where we’re staying. Our hosts—the birthday girl and her husband—and their three young children are still sleeping, as are the more than two basketball team’s worth of siblings, cousins, and in-laws who’ve also been staying here. I wish I were still sleeping as well, but, as I told you in an earlier letter, once I’m up, I’m up, and so part of me is actually glad to have this time alone. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote to you before we left Scotland, and there is more I’d like to say.

A quick glance at my calendar while my laptop was booting up reminded me that this weekend was Shabbat Nachamu, the Sabbath of Consolation. Shabbat Nachamu always falls on the sabbath immediately following Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av, the fast day on which Jews mourn the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, by the Babylonians and Romans respectively. Each of those conquering nations sent the Jews into exile, and so Tisha B’Av also memorializes the dissolution of the Jewish nation, which makes it easy to understand why the rabbis scheduled Shabbat Nachamu when they did. The day takes its name from the first words of the week’s haftorah, Nachamu, nachamu, ami:

Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and declare to her that her term of service is over, that her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40: 1–2)

Jerusalem, God seems to be saying here, the Jewish nation, has suffered enough, the implication being that God is finally ready to bring the pain and loss of exile to an end. As the facts of Jewish history demonstrate, however, God did not keep this promise. Indeed, over the centuries, Tisha B’av’s significance has been expanded to include disasters that befell the Jewish people exile long after the Roman conquest in 70 CE. None of these occurred precisely on the ninth of Av, but they all occurred during that month:

  • The beginning of the First Crusade, which resulted in the deaths of 10,000 Jews and the destruction of Jewish communities in France and the Rhineland.
  • The expulsion of the Jews from England
  • The expulsion of the Jews from France
  • The expulsion of the Jews from Spain
  • The Nazi Party’s formal approval of “The Final Solution”
  • The beginning of the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp

The full list contains about a dozen such calamities, but I have focused on these six since they are all unambiguously rooted in the idea that Jewish existence is somehow existentially threatening to the non-Jewish communities in which we live. For the medieval church, this threat was religious in nature. The Jews refused to accept Jesus as the messiah and son of God, putting us in league with Satan by definition. For the Nazis, the threat was racial, embedded in their belief that the different “races” of human beings were pitted against each other in a Darwinian struggle for survival and ultimate domination.

The “racial” characteristics that made the Jews so dangerous to the Nazis, however, were essentially the same as the spiritual and other deficiencies that, according to the Church, marked us as perhaps the most loyal of Satan’s followers. Indeed, while the specifics of antisemitic expression have been different in different times and places, Jew-hatred retains a remarkably consistent internal logic wherever you find it. Whether you’re in Poland or Venezuela, Singapore or Egypt, Indonesia or the United States, antisemites will tell you that to be Jewish is to be some combination of greedy, conniving, sexually rapacious, financially corrupt, congenitally dishonest and/or biologically deficient. What’s more, they will say, we are always, always, hell-bent on destroying everything that’s pure and good in the world, whether pure and good is defined as the Church, the ideal of the Aryan nation, or the prosperity everyone would be enjoying if only the Jews did not control the world’s financial networks.

I have written elsewhere [the links to which are now dead] about the all-too-often violent antisemitism that has been a regular feature of my life since I was in third grade. In recent years, this antisemitism has most often been expressed in the context of Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Palestinians. I’m not talking about criticisms of Israel or of Zionism that cross the line into antisemitism, which I think happens both more and less frequently than the people on each side of that issue are willing to admit. Rather, I am talking about people who have used the suffering of the Palestinians to dismiss concerns about antisemitism in general, or who have insisted that, because I am Jewish, my primary, unquestioning, unconditional loyalty must be to the State of Israel—that, to use the framing I talked about in my last letter, I see myself as a “Jewish American,” not an “American Jew.”

Like the person who said to me, when I criticized Israel’s use of torture in interrogating Palestinian prisoners, “I know you don’t really mean that. You might say it in public because it’s the right thing to say, but you Jews always stick together, right? Especially when it comes to your ‘homeland,’” and he raised his fingers to put scare quotes around the word. When I pointed out that I was American, not Israeli, he looked at me incredulously. “But you are Jewish, aren’t you? I don’t understand.”

Or the acquaintance who agreed that “of course antisemitism is a problem” when I expressed concern about an antisemitic incident in upstate New York, but who went on to say, “But Jews aren’t really in danger here, are they? What’s really a shame is how the Jewish people, who have suffered so much, are causing the Palestinians that same kind of suffering.”

Or the impeccably progressive relative who, one year at Thanksgiving dinner, was incredulous that I would ask her to condemn former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. “You do know,” she said, “that there are Palestinians dying right now at the hands of the Israelis.” Then she went on, “The Holocaust happened more than fifty years ago. Shouldn’t we be worrying about things that are happening right now?”

Then there are the people who say outright that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the root cause of contemporary antisemitism, like the friend who insisted that you really couldn’t blame the European protesters who chanted Jews to the gas chambers! during a march against the most recent Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014. “The Palestinians,” she said, “are suffering more than you can imagine.”

As if all Jews everywhere, by definition, endorse and/or materially support, and are therefore morally and materially accountable for, Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, and as if, even if that were true, the Final Solution is the appropriate form for that accountability to take.

Or as if antisemitism did not have the history I alluded to above, long predating not just the Israeli occupation, but also the Zionist movement of the 19th century.

Or as if, were the miraculous to happen, were there to be tomorrow a real and true and mutually fulfilling peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, all the people in the world who hate Jews would suddenly wake up and say, “Well, that’s a relief! Hating them was such a burden. I’m glad we can finally stop.”

I don’t want to pretend that writing about antisemitism like this is less complex than it actually is. It feels inhumanly callous to set aside in what I wrote above the moral imperative to at least bear witness to what the Palestinians are suffering; and even as I finish the sentence I’ve just written, it seems an unforgivable omission not to remind people that the very beginning of Hamas’ charter frames its resistance, its call for Israel’s destruction, not as a struggle against Israel and Israelis, or even Zionists, but against the Jews, and to ask how Israel is, how Jews in general are, supposed to respond to that. I’m not trying to create a false equivalence here, as if Israel is not an occupier and the Palestinians are not the ones being occupied, or as if the support with which many Jews around the world respond to Israel’s occupation is not deeply problematic. I just want to acknowledge what focusing on my own experience of antisemitism in the United States inevitably leaves out of the conversation.

Thirty years ago, just after I started a new job as the Hillel director at a private college on Long Island, I took part in a racial awareness workshop, the purpose of which was to bring all campus constituencies together to confront racism on campus. As participants, our goal was to identify areas of campus life where issues of race needed to be addressed, and, in committees we would form when the workshop was over, to devise a plan of action to address with them.

On the third day of the workshop, in response to something someone said that I don’t remember, in an exercise where white people were just supposed to listen to what the people of color in the room had to say, one of the African American men in the group raised his voice in anger. “We need to organize just like Minister Farrakhan says, and don’t talk to me about his antisemitism! Not when he is working so damned hard to improve the lives of Black people.” I looked around the room in the few seconds of silence that followed, waiting—especially since we’d spent so much time talking about white people’s responsibility for speaking out against other white people’s racism—waiting for someone who wasn’t Jewish to call out that more than obvious swipe at the Jews in the room. Not one person spoke up, not even from among the workshop facilitators, whom I would have expected to know better. The moment passed and we moved on, and not only was it as if nothing problematic had been said, but also as if the Jews who were present had not actually been there at all.

Sadly, this experience of watching the non-Jews around me back away, or prevaricate, or stand in silence when antisemitism rears its head is an all too familiar one. Here are a few from much earlier in my life: the teachers who stood by while my elementary school classmates threw pennies at me for being “a cheap Jew;” the neighborhood adults who could have intervened but didn’t with the kids who almost daily threw rocks at me while calling me “heeb” and “kike;” and the leadership of the town where I grew up, which failed for more than a decade to sufficiently erase from the wall of the public library antisemitic graffiti written about me when I was fifteen. The words—Newman is a penny Jew—were still legible when I was in my early thirties and I brought my wife, then my fiancée, to meet my mother, who was still living in the neighborhood at the time.

To say I felt at best unwelcome in the place where I lived would be an understatement, as it would be hard to understate just how thoroughly that feeling dovetailed with what I’d been learning about Jewish history and how unwelcome the Jews have been in almost every place we have lived, except for the Land of Israel. Notice that I wrote the Land of Israel, not the State. I want in what I say next to distinguish between the idea of a Jewish homeland and the political reality that Israel currently is. The distinction is important, because while it’s been a long time since I thought of the State of Israel as a homeland I would want to claim, I’d be lying if I said the idea of such a place, where I would be unconditionally welcomed, valued, and safe as a Jew, does not still resonate with me. Not to feel this way, it seems to me, even just a little bit, is to deny a reality of Jewish history, which is that wherever antisemitism has been allowed to run its intellectual, cultural, socioeconomic, and political course, the end result has been an attempt to eliminate—either by killing them or kicking them out—the Jews who call that place home.

The first person in my life who wasn’t Jewish to acknowledge this feeling as an irreducible part of what it means to be Jewish in an antisemitic world was June Jordan, the African American writer I told you about in my first letter. She did this in an essay she wrote some time in the 1980s. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of her books with me here in Sweden—and a quick internet search hasn’t helped—so I can’t provide you with a direct quote or accurate citation. Still, I believe that this is an accurate paraphrase of what she wrote: I accept that, on an emotional level, the safety Israel represents for Jews is a non-negotiable necessity.

No one who wasn’t Jewish had ever said that to me before.

I need to write those words again: No one who wasn’t Jewish had ever said that to me before.

And again, No one who wasn’t Jewish had ever said that to me before.

Perhaps more to the point, though, all too few people who aren’t Jewish have said that to me, or anything even resembling that, since.

Well, my hosts’ youngest child has made his way here into the dining room, and he wants to play. The other kids won’t be far behind. There’s more to say. I will write again.

Till then,

Richard


As I said, I hope you will consider reading the rest of the letters as well, which you can find in their original format on Unlikely Stories. Or, if that journal’s white text on black background is hard for you to read, you can find the letters here, in a more traditional format.

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Open Thread and Link Farm, I Too Would Like Some Eggs Edition

  1. Balkinization: Is the Republican Effort to Destroy the ACA Dead?
    Answer: No.
  2. Related: Centrist lawmakers plot bipartisan health care stabilization bill – POLITICO
    Seems like a good idea (well, except for ending the tax on medical devices, which I suspect just shows that a lobby’s influence can be bipartisan). But would GOP leaders in Congress even allow this to get a vote?
  3. Why Republicans Want the 2020 Census to Fail – Rolling Stone
    Because a Census that undercounts Black and Latinx voters helps Republicans win elections, and they think that’s all that matters. Supporting the GOP means supporting anti-democracy; the GOP fights harder and harder against democracy, and I have yet to see a single Republican object to it.
  4. With New Hampshire, all of New England has decriminalized or legalized marijuana – Vox
  5. Jeff Sessions Treads on the Property Rights of Americans – The Atlantic
    Some Republicans have opposed civil forfeiture, to their credit. But will opposition continue now that Jeff Sessions is calling for civil forfeitures to be increased? I hope so, but I won’t be surprised if not.
  6. Medicine’s Women Problem  – by Aubrey Hirsch
    Good autobio cartoon on The Nib, about misogyny and medicine.
  7. Maybe Taking the Arguments of Nazis At Face Value Is Bad | Noah Berlatsky on Patreon
  8. People Are Really Mad at the DCCC for Saying It Will Continue to Fund Pro-Life Candidates – Mother Jones
    I have no idea what to think of this. If this really helps the Democrats regain a majority in Congress, then it protects abortion – having a Dem majority in Congress does more to protect abortion rights than having a minority that is 100% pro-choice. (To use an obvious example, pro-life Democrats will almost certainly still vote to confirm a pro-choice judicial nominee). But would this actually help the Democrats win a majority? Because if not, it’s an awful betrayal. Many smart people I respect are furious with the Dems over this.
  9. Trump administration argues federal law doesn’t protect gay employees.
  10. KING: Black victims should get the same justice as Justine Damond – NY Daily News
  11. Why Are Dogs So Friendly? The Answer May Be in 2 Genes – The New York Times
    “…the friendliness of dogs may share a genetic basis with a human disease called Williams-Beuren syndrome.”
  12. WATCH: NRA TV hosts warn ‘white families’ will be ‘tortured and killed’ if Black Lives Matter succeeds
  13. Charlie Gard: facts, medicine, and right-wing fictions
  14. Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 117 – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money
    Thomas Nast, the first great American political cartoonist.
  15. White Economic Privilege Is Alive and Well – The New York Times
    “Fifty years ago, black upper-class Americans had incomes about two-thirds those of white upper-class Americans, while the black middle class — those in the 60th percentile — earned about two-thirds as much as its white counterpart. Those ratios remain the same today.”
  16. This long, long twitter exchange between two novelists, Chuck Wendig and Sam Skyes, is hilarious.
  17. The Trial of the Century That Wasn’t | History | Smithsonian
    “The case against Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, would have been a legal showdown of the ages.”
  18. Protesters Demand Emmett Till Artist Dana Schutz Be Banned in Boston
    A grand total of eight (five?) people signed the letter (who I suspect the right will paint as representing all liberals everywhere). The letter in effect says that because Schutz made one racist painting, none of her paintings should ever be displayed again. Regardless of if the painting is racist, that response is disproportionate and merciless, neither of which are good things to be. (The painting in question isn’t even in the exhibition they want shut down.)
  19. Speaking of Dana Schutz, this article by Coco Fusco is excellent: Censorship, Not the Painting, Must Go: On Dana Schutz’s Image of Emmett Till
  20. And also this very different take by Lisa Whittington: #MuseumsSoWhite: Black Pain and Why Painting Emmett Till Matters – NBC News.


(Above very clever cosplay by Brett.)

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