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jewish identity

I Hate Identity Politics. Here’s Why

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When my husband first showed it to me, I thought it was an Onion-type parody, or one of those inflammatory rumors Snopes.com is always debunking.

But no, there it was: The New York Times’ handy-dandy Jew-tracker—a list of which Democratic Senators who voted against the president’s Iran deal were Jewish and/or which ones represented districts that had a higher than average percentage of Jewish voters. They have since removed the “Jewish?” column, but without note or explanation. You can track the process, along with a screen-grab of the original article and follow-up comments from readers, here.

While some defended the taxonomy, insisting, “it was relevant to note how Jewish lawmakers voted, just as articles on U.S.–Cuba policy mention that Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Bob Menendez are Cuban-American,” others argued that it played into the stereotype of Jews using their money to influence politics (yes, they are the only group in history to ever do that) as well as the belief that Jews will always be more loyal to each other than to their country.

READ: The Risks of Being an Interracial Family

Quite frankly, I am not surprised by anything The New York Times writes, especially when it comes to Israel or Jews. In all of my personal dealings with the “Paper of Record,” I have always found misquotes and erroneous facts. What interested me more was the identity politics running rampant through both the piece and the subsequent feedback.

I hate identity politics. For a variety of reasons, but mainly because it constantly shows up in my and my family’s lives.

Because my husband and I are an interracial, interfaith, intercultural, Jewish/African American couple living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, people assume they know where we stand on every political issue. And they are first shocked, then confused, then offended, when they find out otherwise.

So they attempt to enlighten us. They speak slowly and deliberately, assuming the reason we don’t adhere to stereotypes must be because we simply don’t understand which side of the aisle we belong on, and as soon as they explain it to us, using simple words, the universe will once again be set aright.

For instance, did you know that, as an African American, my husband cannot support Israel? Not that he shouldn’t for reasons A, B & C, but he simply cannot. Because that’s not what African Americans believe. (I got the same treatment while a student at San Francisco State University in the 1990s. In America’s most liberal, open-minded, and progressive city, all diverse opinions are tolerated and welcomed as long as they’re the same as everyone else’s.)

In addition, my husband, a teacher (and, yes, still African American) has been helpfully informed that the sole reason for his opposition to the president’s educational policy is racism. It couldn’t be anything else. For those willing to admit that might not be exactly it, they concede it’s not his fault, he’s simply been brainwashed by the opposition. The idea that he might have formed his own opinions based on life and classroom experience is utterly unfathomable.

READ: Lena Dunham Equated Jews to Dogs & That’s Not OK

I, on the other hand, am gifted with lectures on the history of American Jews and the glory of the socialist movement. The fact that I was born in the former USSR and might hold a different view on socialism is considered irrelevant.

We are a political family. I’ve taken my kids into the voting booth with me since they were babies (and they’ve got a collection of “I Voted!” stickers to prove it)! The main thing I’ve stressed to them, though, is that when it’s their turn to pull the lever (or, more likely, fill in a bubble), they should vote for what they think and feel—not what somebody else tells them to think and feel.

To that end, we talk politics constantly. And analyze everything (to the point where my kids roll their eyes the minute a news broadcast ends and I open my mouth).

If any one them, the 16-year-old, the 12-year-old, or even the 8-year-old, mindlessly parrots a specious meme they’ve heard or read on the internet (I hate specious memes; I don’t believe the complexity of any issue can be boiled down to a one-liner and emoticon), I make them defend it using facts.

If they dismiss someone who disagrees with them as stupid or evil, I ask if they have video-taped evidence of said person kicking puppies while twirling their mustache and publicly proclaiming their evil intentions, or whether it might be possible that the person in question also has good intentions, but simply chooses to go about fulfilling them in a different way?

If they pull out a particularly egregious example of one group and then decide to apply it to all members of that group, I ask them if everyone in their school thinks the same thing just because they all go there? I ask them if everyone in our family thinks the same way, just because we all happen to be related? (Spoiler: We do not.)

READ: It’s Time to Begin Explaining Anti-Semitism to My Children

And if they make a general statement like, “All [insert gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or profession here] are [insert trait, opinion, voting record, or behavior here],” I really go to town.

When it comes time for my kids to hit the voting booth themselves, I don’t want them to vote along party/racial/ethnic/religious/gender/geographic/professional party lines (quite frankly, considering their hodge-podge of ancestry, I don’t think that would be mathematically possible). I want them to vote as themselves. Yes, even if that sometimes means voting against their own best interests. (As I wrote here just because something would be in my best interests still doesn’t make it right.)

Most of all, I don’t want them to be cowered either by helpful fellow citizens or historical guardians like The New York Times into voting—or thinking—the way they “should.” (Or feeling worried about the pushback that will come if they vote how they “shouldn’t.” Though I do want them to be prepared. It’s definitely coming. And it won’t be pretty.)

I want them to draw their own conclusions and to act accordingly.

As Robin Williams basically summarizes in “Dead Poet’s Society”: “Obey me when I tell you to think for yourselves.”

Yeah. I see the irony.

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