2017-01-09 – Over the holidays we were having a political discussion with some dear friends of ours. We were talking about the waning presidency of the first African-American president and one of them said, “He wasn’t the first African-American president. His mother was white.” That launched us off into a discussion of the ways Americans perceive race in our supposedly “post-racial” world.
The topic came up again a week later at a racially-mixed dinner. One young man, who appears to be black, agreed with the statement. According to him, Barack Obama is mulatto, not black. The young man who ventured this opinion is himself mulatto.
We have always taught our sons to steer away from racially charged terms like “mulatto,” but their friends of color (including this young man) seem to think it’s hilarious to talk this way. I get it, of course. I’m not offended when my Jewish friends talk about kikes in the same way as I am offended when I hear this talk coming from the alt-right (though I’d rather not hear it at all).
Tonight at dinner the talk came around to my sons being “white and free.” Apparently this is a thing in the political universe of Donald Trump. But I had to push back. Lately, there’s been talk about Jews as “not quite white.” And I agree with that, whether you are coming from a right-wing viewpoint or a left-wing viewpoint.
But what does that make my sons? I am Jewish (not quite white) and my wife is white (Danish and Irish). My sons are half and half.
My son, the former chef, replied, “Isn’t that a kind of ice cream?” (Made with schmaltz, so it can be served at a fleishig meal.)
When I was a little kid, there were three kinds of ice cream: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Once in a while you would see them put together and called “Neapolitan”—vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry packaged together. By the time I was in high school, the number of flavors had proliferated. My first job was at a Baskin-Robbins 31-Flavors ice cream store. B-R advertised 31 flavors, but in reality there were hundreds of flavors. The freezer cases wouldn’t hold them all, so they rotated, and they advertised “31 flavors PLUS vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.”
One of the knocks antisemites have, for years, had against Jews is that we are cosmopolitan. I think they have this wrong. And this is the part that scares them. We are Neapolitan.