James Baldwin's Black Critique of Jewish Whiteness - 10.1628/jsq-2020-0017 - Mohr Siebeck
Jewish Studies

Ben Ratskoff

James Baldwin's Black Critique of Jewish Whiteness

Section: Articles
Jewish Studies Quarterly (JSQ)

Volume 27 () / Issue 3, pp. 240-260 (21)
Published 14.09.2020

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This article argues that (re-)considering the Jew as a figure representative of, rather than antithetical to, Western hegemony requires addressing Jewish relationships to racial whiteness. Given bell hooks' assertion that Black people have historically gleaned 'special' knowledge of whiteness from close scrutiny of the white 'other,' this article turns to a 1967 essay by James Baldwin to test how racial whiteness reconfigures the Jew in proximity to Western hegemony. Baldwin's essay does not, however, conjure a figural Jew at all, instead foregrounding the material relations between Black residents and white-Jewish landlords/shopkeepers in mid-century Harlem. In doing so, Baldwin suggests how the inclusion of American Jews into racial whiteness signals a certain expiration of the West's notorious figure of the Jew while, at the same time, Jewish performances of whiteness reconstitute the very social functions that figural Jews had historically represented.
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