The Dark “Menace”

Some readers may find themselves confused by the frenetic efforts of conservatives to criminalize values and behaviors that deviate from what they consider normal and their underhanded and sometimes treasonous attempts to skew elections their way. There is no need for confusion.

The Republican base is predominantly White and Christian. This demographic has been dominant in America since Colonial times. The laws and norms the nation was built on, as well as the structure of our economic, health and educational systems, reflect the fact that the American character, its customs and values, are modeled on White European Christian heritage. These norms were established for the benefit of those who were in power at our founding and at the expense of those who were not. It’s no coincidence that non-whites, despite the howls of protest to the contrary from White conservatives, have been systematically placed at a disadvantage in all aspects of American life.

Western European nations colonized much of the world and repressed the indigenous populations. Today, even those nations themselves face internal cultural strife. White Christians, here and abroad, are frightened of and offended by the influx of people with different skin color, languages and customs. It’s telling that White Christians from Ukraine, another White European nation, were welcomed with open arms.

As US demographics shift us further toward “minority majority” rule the backlash among Republicans has reached a fever pitch.

In a recent poll, when asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “a majority non-White population would strengthen American customs and values,” 87% of Republicans disagreed. These people are freaked out at the fact that over the past decade or so America has seen both a Black president and Vice-President.

Meanwhile, popular culture, our music for example, is dominated by Black artists, their slang and dialect and the rhythms and dance movements carried over from their African roots. These are infused with an overt sexuality that appeals to most Americans, but has been offending those who make up the Republican base ever since Elvis first swung his hips for his gyrating teenage audiences. Relative to present day entertainers, Elvis was mild. For them, the writing is on the wall. Their dominance is fast waning. While they fixate on what they see as a degradation of our social character imposed by minorities above all they are terrified of losing the favored economic position which they have long enjoyed.

Growing up, I was taught in school that America is a “melting pot” of cultures. In my predominantly Jewish neighborhood the TV age infused bland Ozzie and Harriet WASP culture. The culture brought over by our immigrant grandparents was in turn diluted by the dominant culture of the land. Still, from the Americanization of Yiddish words to the mainstreaming of bagels, to the blend of Klezmer and Black music that spawned the Jazz Age and produced the great American songbook and subsequent generations of uniquely American music, there can be no doubt the infusion of Jewish culture into our national culture has enriched it.

I spent the first five years of my life in my grandparents’ home immersed in their mannerisms, language and cuisine. The interactive “flavor” of interpersonal relationships in this extended family home can be easily imagined by anyone who has seen the motion picture, “Annie Hall.” At one point it juxtaposes two scenes. In one Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, playing a mixed Jewish-WASP couple, are dining with her family. The meal is marked by stoney silence. In the other they dine at Woody’s family home. The meal is pandemonium, a carnival of constant chatter, traded insults and accusations. There are histrionic emotional displays over simmering longstanding disputes and highly personal revelations. While this is a bit over the top, it paints a picture evocative of the milieux in which I was reared.

I myself was never completely comfortable with it. To the up-tight, button down WASP descendants of Puritans, such emotionality that was a normal part of my upbringing, to say nothing of the recent portrayal of bi-racial relationships and LGTBQ characters in mainstream media, must certainly evoke a visceral disgust.

Although I do appreciate the warmth and genuine connection such behavior was based on and love to regale friends with Jewish humor and to imitate “Yinglish” accents and inflections, as I grew up and observed the wider world, I came to view this cultural aspect of my upbringing as embarrassing and annoying. Upon going off to college I taught myself to act and speak like my preppy WASP classmates. I dated only non-Jewish women. Not surprisingly, I married a girl who grew up in a family much like that of Annie Hall’s. Her lack of dramatics and emotional eruptions were a welcome departure from the interactive style of the women I grew up with. In return, I gave her an appreciation of Jewish humor, of the Jews’ philosophically ironic view of the world, of their flavorful cuisine and an infusion of elements of Yiddish into her vocabulary that she finds delightful. Openly expressed warmth and sincerity that characterized my own family and the socio-cultural, political and philosophical principles in which I had been steeped enriched her appreciation of many aspects of life. We, in fact, created our own little melting pot.

Throughout my life, for personal as well as professional reasons, I have felt it desirable to fit in with mainstream American culture. I made it my business to learn as much as I could about the basis of that culture, having made extensive study of Western European history, philosophy and literature and of the history of Christianity including its doctrine that a full appreciation of these subjects requires.

It chagrins me to say that few of the many Christian friends I have known in my life have had the slightest inkling about Jewish history and the Jewish religion. Not even the most intelligent and well educated among them. They are good people and open minded, but this connotes a subtle form of prejudice inherent in even the best people who come out of White Christian American culture.

Living in a community that is highly multicultural, where daily harmonious interactions between all kinds of people is the norm, I find myself not only chagrined by, but feeling pity for the great mass of White Christians who comprise so much of the national population and skew its politics always toward their priorities and biases. They have no idea how their lives could be enriched were they only to take the time to get to know people who are different from themselves and to accept the reality that, regardless of how strongly they cling to the past, they cannot hold back the tides of change.

If they were to embrace that change, they would learn that to include people from different cultural and racial backgrounds in their personal lives and into the body politic would not only take nothing away from them, but would imbue life with a richness that they, sadly, are unable to imagine.

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