Tag Archives: Israel

Multicultural as the New Multiracial

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Being multiracial is about answering the question “Who are you?”, as Marcia Dawkins asked me when we met at a café in Israel.  It was the first time I had ever been asked this question. I answered: 

My instinct is to tell you what I am not, because I have always been fighting being defined. I’m not American. I’m not Israeli. I’m not Russian. I’m not black. I’m not a woman—as in I’m not defined by my status or sex. I’m not a mother, as in I’m not defined by this role. I am nothing; but not in the way of being unimportant. I just want to be. I’m just me. I’m Shoshana.

What I forgot to tell Marcia is that I don’t have the luxury of knowing who I am. When I mentioned these thoughts to my mother she said, “There’s something about U.S. society that makes you choose,” which are the remnants of the “one-drop rule” that refuses to die— a rule of Jim Crow segregation defining an individual with any known African ancestry as black, a form of hypodescent. Mom also told me I do not get to choose not to be black, exclaimed that I am American, and called this paragraph “poppycock!” when I read her my first draft. She has never been asked “What is your eda” (loosely translated as “ethnicity” in Hebrew) and not known the answer. I recently rediscovered a journal entry from 2007 where I wrote, “I have been told and told and told…who to be until I literally, actually don’t know who I am anymore.” Now, I know that because of who I am I don’t know who I am.

Perhaps Mom’s response is one reason why neither she nor I consider ourselves multiracial. My mother has curly hair, but I assume this is the result of history. All I know is that my great-great-grandmother was half Cherokee and half black and my great-great-grandfather was white. In America this ancestry does not allow me to define myself as multiracial. Why?  Because my mixture is not immediate, and allegedly all black people in America have some Native American ancestry. My daughters are another story.  One is multiracial and two are not.  What is interesting is that one of my monoracial daughters is lighter than the mixed one.  We bring these differences, these “what we are nots” to our blended family, though this is not where I take my credibility to discuss the subject. The fact that I even believe I need credibility is perhaps more of the issue.  Though I have never considered myself multiracial, I have always felt as though I am.  I have been taken for multiracial. I find myself drawn to multiracial people in the U.S. and in Israel, where I have lived for nearly half of my life. I even used to wish I were multiracial (at the time my preference was half-French) so that I would have another native tongue and an additional culture to enjoy. Perhaps this is because I share their way of being/ belonging nowhere and everywhere at the same time, of not being wholly of one culture.

In Israel, mixed race is more complex than in America mainly because religion is, simultaneously, more important than race and is race, in the context of Judaism. The Ashkenazi (European Jews)/Mizrachi (Eastern Jews) discourse parallels the American black/white discourse culturally, but due to the shared religion/race of Judaism, multiracial identity in this context is much less poignant. Alternatively, the interaction between Jews of Ethiopian decent and those of European decent is slightly more riddled with discontent. This is due to the influence of American media, and the borrowing of language from the Civil Rights movement and race issues which leave stronger sentiments and scars of racism. Nevertheless, sharing Jewishness is a neutralizing factor. The real disquieting issue in multiracialism in Israel is mixing which crosses religious/racial boundaries—for instance, a Jew marrying a Muslim/Christian Arab or a Druze marrying a Jew.

The mere existence of an American living outside of the American context creates a multicultural experience. When there is an attempt to define an expatriate individual based on local identity categories, an even stronger parallel to the multiracial experience is created. This is the case when Israelis try to define me within a local context. Almost no American would mistake me for multiracial because I do not pass “the comb test” (a test of blackness based on hair texture; my hair would not easily concede to a comb). Because Israelis are not aware of the comb test, I am often assumed to be multiracial. In the Israeli context, there are the assumptions that (a) anyone not a tourist or a student who would come to live in Israel must be Jewish, (b) Ethiopian Jews are the only black Jews, and, therefore, (c) based on my complexion, I must be either a convert or half-Jewish. Aside from the assumption of my half-Jewishness, I am mistaken for various other mixed race combinations and nationalities—anything from Jamaican or Brazilian to Indian or French—which would not happen in America.

Just as in America as a child I was told I “acted white,” I am told in Israel that I fit into the Ashkenazi category because I am American. This is paramount to being told I “pass” into the “white” category, in terms of having an elevated social status. In other words, in Israel, I am culturally white!

Being an extensively acculturated resident of Israel for half of my life has blurred my identity. Sometimes I think in Hebrew, and despite not being Jewish, or even an Israeli citizen, I find myself and am found by Americans and Israelis alike to be culturally more Israeli than American, or experienced as just not American period. (My Egyptian American friend who works at the US Consulate threatens to revoke my US passport for lack of up-to-date American cultural innuendos.) When I was observant of a religious Jewish lifestyle, I was found by some secular Israelis to be “more Jewish” than they considered themselves.

Amongst Israelis, most of my friends in the country are from the former Soviet Union, including my Ukrainian Jewish husband. I have learned intermediate Russian (now Russian words pop into my head when I try to speak French), our kitchen is a mosaic of dishes from the Crimean Peninsula region, I wear a tryzub (the Ukrainian seal) necklace, and identify more with this segment of Israeli society than other groups, including Americans living in Israel, and especially African Americans living in Israel. My next largest category of friends in Israel is either mixed or “black sheep” (no pun intended) defined as not “fitting” into the cultural-racial group they were born into. These include friends who are Ukrainian Togolese (he calls himself a “Black Russian”), African American Israeli, Ukrainian American, Jewish Russian, Egyptian American, Ethiopian Israeli, and Palestinian American who “act white” as defined by their peers, and Russian Israelis who “pass” for native Israeli because they are “dark.”

I am reminded via social networking sites that I am disconnected from issues that concern many of my African American peers in the United States. This is clear in old debates such as the “Why is it hard to find a good black man?”; I tend to be the only voice saying, “Why not look for a good man, period?” Or during discussions of the Trayvon Martin tragedy where I was the only one of my black Facebook friends who did not dedicate a status update to the case. “Honestly,” I responded to another friend’s status, “because I believe it’s a human issue and I don’t normally toot my horn about most of what I find appalling news in this world I hadn’t planned on addressing it at all.” I have felt estranged from blackness, yet simultaneously suffered from it since childhood, mainly from my strongest black feature, my hair.

My identification with the multiracial experience began in childhood as a multicultural individual within the American black/white context. In the United States, the story is so old it feels redundant to even give a small review. There was slavery, there was Jim Crow, there were “Our Kind of People,” there was the Civil Rights Movement, there was desegregation, and there was “re-segregation” (the repolarization of black and white communities and schools), and this is where I come in. My earliest school memories, in an elementary school in Brewton, Alabama, in a relatively racially mixed school, were of the boy who made fun of my “BB buckshots” and the “pots and pans in my kitchen.” These were references to the texture of my hair. This boy was black. I also remember being told that I “spoke white.” Speaking white is a term referred to one speaking grammatically correct English as opposed to African American vernacular English. I ended up having mostly white friends because my black classmates told me that I was not black. To this day, I am still not 100% sure what that means. I just did not fit in culturally. I suffered no such self-consciousness with my white classmates, and this was Alabama. To be fair, during my summers in Buffalo, NY, my cousins told me I “sounded country” so maybe I had accent issues.

Fast forward to high school in Baltimore, MD, in the 1990s. This was a predominately black school and I still “wasn’t black” enough. I was told I didn’t have rhythm and teased for the unfashionable hairstyles with the nappy hair clearly not straightened properly in the back. Though I’d started off closed-minded mainly due to the ignorance of my inexperience, I began listening more to alternative music, defined by my classmates as “white music,” and less to “black music” like the R&B and rap popular amongst my peers.  I was called out for that as well. It was once said of me: “Shoshana doesn’t drink Kool-Aid, she drinks Perrier. She doesn’t eat Oodles of Noodles, she eats Fettuccine Alfredo.” Guilty as charged. So, I was very empathetic when a foreign-educated mixed friend, said “They say I’m not black until they see that I’m smart and then they say, ‘She’s a smart black person.’ Why don’t they make up their minds?” On one hand, she was rejected as “not black” culturally; on the other, blacks wanted to claim her achievements in the name of black prestige. It is but one example of the limbo suffered by the multiracial and multicultural alike.

I am not multiracial, but I was never allowed to feel black enough either. Strangely, when I went natural with my hair and started my locks in 11th grade, I became “too black” or at least too nappy for some. I was called a wannabe Erykah Badu, as Afrocentricism was becoming the new style on the fringes of high school society. But I did not change my hair because I was becoming Afrocentric. I did it because one day while returning from a band trip (I’d found the courage to dance as a flag girl with the marching band— turns out I had rhythm after all), I suddenly remembered that boy from elementary school who made fun of my “buckshots” and realized that I hadn’t permed my hair because I thought it was more beautiful; I did it because I had been teased. I decided to break free, and I have loved my hair ever since despite the loaded message it sometimes sends to others. I have locks simply because they are beautiful and easy—no, I don’t like reggae music. Really.

These experiences with my family, peers, and hair, combined with my indefinite relocation to Israel, contributed to the weakening of my black/African American identity and the strengthening of my “refusing definition/multicultural/citizen of the world” identity. In the United States, historically, multiracial identity—usually biracial identity—has meant having to choose sides: Either pass for white according to the paper bag and comb test or be black according to the one-drop rule. Currently, multiracial identity in America seems to mean simultaneously belonging to two or more groups and yet really belonging to none. It is a debate of being defined and about rejecting definition. Yet, just as race in itself is a social/cultural construct, so are these definitions and the sense of belonging that accompanies them. It’s less about belonging to a color than belonging to a culture.  Paradoxically, as much as I oppose this discourse insisting on defining me, I am caught in it. I have been defining myself as not multiracial when I, very literally, am. We African Americans are multiracial, but we weren’t allowed to be multiracial. Why are we still following the one-drop rule? And why are blacks victimizing other blacks concerning their blackness, knowing we are all mixed anyway? Why?  Because someone in history said that I don’t get to choose. Well, I say that I do. I can choose not to choose.  According to Cassar (2008), “the identity is not several but one, made up of all the elements (which we could call tesserae) that have shaped and continue to shape it” (p. 19). Perhaps this is why I love making collages—I am one.

The core of multiracial identity is blurring identities: simultaneously belonging to multiple categories and yet belonging exclusively to none. Multicultural people share a blurring of identities in a way very similar to those born multiracial, which is why in today’s global village, multicultural may be considered as the new multiracial. Multicultural individuals are loosely defined including, but not restricted to, those who are extensively acculturated expatriates and immigrants; partners in interracial relationships or parents of multiracial children; converts, particularly to Judaism where the lines between religion and race are blurred; individuals whose physical appearance causes them to be mistaken for multiracial or of the “wrong race”; individuals who define themselves as citizens of the world or even individuals who, for whatever reason, do not fit comfortably into the social/cultural/racial category they were born into but mesh well across other social/cultural/racial categories and carry an elusive sense of belonging nowhere and everywhere simultaneously.

This is not an essay about how I am not black or not American. It is about insisting upon the self-determination of my identity and hopefully giving others permission to do the same. In fact, perhaps in all that I have said, I make a stronger claim on my Americanness, for Harper and Walton (2000) have found that “to be ‘American’ is to be in constant search of one’s identity” (p. xxiv). Yet this still makes me cringe, and I get angry when people tell me to “come home.” I am still figuring this out. I embrace my American blackness in dance, jazz, and especially poetry, since I am a poet—these are a few of the many tesserae that I am composed of. Hughes (1995) once declared, “A poet is a human being. Each human being must live within his time, with and for his people, and within the boundaries of his country” (p. 5). But what is my country? Who are my people? Am I of my times? Perhaps telling me to come home is upsetting because I am not American, but I am; I am not Israeli, but I am; I am not black, but I am. It’s not about coordinates. It’s that everywhere I find mosaic people like me, I am home, in my country, with my people…and I defend my nomadic homeland of the heart fiercely.

References

Cassar, A. (2008). Muzajk: An Exploration in Multilingual Verse. Valletta, Malta: Edizzjoni

Skarta.

Harper, M. S., and Walton, A. (Eds.). (2000). The Vintage Book of African-American

 Poetry. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Hughes, L. (1994). Introduction. In A. Rampersad and D. Roessel (Eds.), The Collected Poems

of Langston Hughes (pp. 3-7). New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Originally published: “Multicultural as the New Multiracial,” Mixed Race 3.0: Risk and Reward in the Digital Age, 2015    

Check out the entire Kindle book on Amazon! 

Link

In addition to my beloved Poets of Babel, I’ve started a new page called “We are a threat to the national identity.” It was an impromptu reaction to this article about the ban of a book (Borderlife by Dorit Rabinyan) in which there is a Jewish-Palestinian love affair. But honestly, this is really the result of years of being asked if I’m Jewish while living in Israel, being called a goy, or a shiksa, being asked if I’ll convert, or even being told I have a Jewish soul (which is supposed to be a compliment but only serves to represent the cognitive dissonance of my existence in this country). The byline goes like this:

“Goy,” “shiksa,” “danger of assimilation,” “a threat to the identity of the nation”–this is what they call us: those who would ban a book because it encourages intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. That was just the impetus for this group, but what it brings up has been on my mind for a long time. *This is a group for people who love people and not nationalities, or are a product of such love. Post your inter-whatever love here.

I hope you all can show support. Let’s get the message out. I want to break the internet in 2016 with our extra-Jewish affairs and our inter-whatever love. There is no box dammit.

Happy New Year!

 

Because the Poets are Healers

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Murdered BoysNigerian girls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is just a piece of what’s going on in the world. 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped, three Israeli boys kidnapped and murdered, a Palestinian boy kidnapped and murdered, burned alive. I live in Jerusalem, so the latter is more poignant; there has been rioting, violence, racist cries for death, ignorance, calls for revenge, and suspicions all over Facebook feeds and in the news. I am also a mother of daughters; I can’t forget–as it seems to be already forgotten– about daughters taken, god knows what is being done to them away from home and in the hands of violent men. And this is just a piece, there is more, always more–

At times like these, I think of the quote by the late great Maya Angelou,

“We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us.”

I think it means that we fail to recognize how easy it can be to go so low. We love to hail the beauty of the world, but there is ugliness, and a lot of it and it is all human. It is jarring, disturbing, heart-wrenching, when I allow myself to think about it. I normally don’t, I must admit. Sometimes, I am afraid that if I let in all the woes of the world it would break me in despair. But when I do, I want to fight the horrors; I still don’t know how. I find solace in poetry; others have as well. I don’t mean be naive. There is a level where poetry clearly won’t do a damn thing to change politics and the minds of murderers. And yet, there is great power in words– poetry is the epitome of that force. Poetry has a long history of documenting the times, telling legends, inciting, enticing, eulogizing; the danger of poetry, the sanctuary of poetry is well known; it crosses all boundaries and rises above–and the poets are healers. When we say ‘there are no words for this,’ it is poetry that finds the words. There is a way to know through the eye/I of the poet.

I want to share with you three poems–written out of that spirit in the midst of hate– that I believe have found the words. Two were written by friends of mine who live in Israel, one by me.

 

Revisions

People

children die every day

 

Revision of life

means revision

of meaning

 

Revenge or honor

killings   No

matter

We live to die

 

The homosexual boy:

Boy bled

in the crook of his father’s arms black sedan’s

back seat–a suspected execution

block–a coffin with seat belts and airbags

Burnt and bound–found

in a forest

 

[ put your heads down!

gunshots and Arabs singing ]

Three extreme zionist religious Jewish boys

deserved what they got

 

Murder takes back seat

to rhetoric

as do point blank

bullet wounds

 

Instead of words

a rocket will be sent from a schoolyard

and a missile returned to sender

They’ll get what’s coming to them

 

Two hundred and seventy six

Nigerian schoolgirls

will not be returned

without a war skirmish

Though their children will

with machetes and machine rifles

nestled in their dark slender arms

 

Hashtags won’t save our generations

A mortar

round in the hand

is a mortar round

in the air

 

People

as we digress

our children suffer

 

We live by the sword

we die by the sword

No meaning changed

by our revisions

-m z friedline

 

[Untitled]

Days, blurred into each other
Like there was no sleep.
The fuzz
of a hundred TV sets
and radios…
remnants
of another forest fire.
Newspaper print
on the fingers
of early-morning travelers,
the serious concentration
of the bus driver…
Another headline
and children, searching for truth
in the faces
of surrounding adults.
Waves of pain
drifting through neighbourhoods…
Sparks of strength
and unison
running through city streets
and a soft, gentle stroking of each other…
a blinding light
calling us all
away from the darkness…

~Louise Harris- Zvieli

 

Stop the Game

I know it’s hard. You are sitting there thinking, those could have been my boys, my brothers, me. You are thinking, summer has barely started; schools just got out today and some are now on eternal break, broken eternally. No one has won the game anymore–if you’re going to stop the game, then *stop* the game, dammit–no one has won, just lost. But what they don’t tell you in the games, is that nations are made from suffering together–more than shared joys. Is this a good thing, or very, very sad? Perhaps it is a part of the human support mechanism–come closer when it hurts. All I know is, the news will be on forever, especially here–there are hundreds of girls missing too–and the news is forever on, forever on, there will never not be news, only, what is news is old, very old, ancient, never-ending and we have to fall asleep sometimes, but the news will outlive us all.

~Shoshana Sarah K.

 

~~~

Moshe Ze’ev Friedline was born in Boulder Creek, California. He is currently studying English literature at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He is married and has a young daughter and younger son. He realized two years ago that he really enjoys writing poetry. He once found himself in an awkward conversation with a bull in a steakhouse.

Louise Harris- Zvieli says she’s just herself.

 

 *Poetry shared with the permission of the authors. All rights remain to the respective poets.

 

Aside

spaceSpace or מרחב/Merhav in Hebrew, is a multilingual poetry journal based in Tel Aviv that I felt I had to get in touch with the moment I discovered them. I wrote one of the editors, “I’m a multilingual poetry club. You’re a multilingual poetry journal. Let’s get married!” While we haven’t ‘gotten married’ yet, I had the pleasure of getting 3 pieces published in their August issue, two poems (“Tom” and “Dareen,” in English) and an article (“The Babel in Us” translated into Hebrew, if you’re interested, I’ll post an English version).

Last week, Yekum Tarbut/ יקום תרבות (rough translation: “Culture will rise”), a website for culture in Israel, wrote about Space’s Launch of the August Issue Event that took place at the Cheetah Gallery in Tel Aviv called “Going Out Into Space.”  Here’s the article (in Hebrew) where they mentioned me, Poets of Babel and sport a photo they asked for when I told them that I recited poetry at Cafe Tav (just in case you were wondering why I’m in costume and no one else is). So here’s what I really looked like at the Space poetry reading/launch event:

 

me at merhav reading

For more cool photos from the event, see Space’s album from the event.  The 3rd issue of Space is available for purchase at Indibook. Enjoy!

Going Out into “Space”

Pico Iyer Asks: “Where is Home?” I Say: “Home is Babel”

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poetsofbabelAug28

Pico Iyer asks: “Where is home?” I say: “Home is Babel.”

In this amazing TED talk (I know, I know, ALL TED Talks are amazing, but this one is special!) Pico Iyer just articulated everything I already knew but am just beginning to coherently express about myself. I am debating whether or not to tell you to watch the video Pico Iyer Where is Home first or later. You decide. But if you are a citizen of the world or a citizen of Babel like me then you will feel finally and completely understood, it will feel scientific even.

It’s all the more powerful that I saw this after writing and performing my latest poem “Babili/Home” , my first macaronic language poem, mainly in English with touches of Hebrew, French, Russian and one phrase in Ukrainian. It’s about home. It’s about who I am. It’s an idea I’ve been trying to iron out since I wrote “Multicultural is the New Multiracial” for the Mixed Race 2.0 project (forthcoming) on ‘blackness’ (the African-American brand) coupled with the elusive feeling of detachment from it after (and honestly even before) living within another culture and disdane with having to be defined all of the time. Or  what I wrote in “The Babel in Us” (Hebrew) in the multilingual, Tel Aviv based poetry journal “Space”. about how everyone is a little macaronic these days, multilingualism is everywhere and needs places to be expressed which is why I created Poets of Babel.

Speaking of multilingual or macaronic poetry, there are a couple of poets who I know would dig this talk. You should check them out too. One, I’ve mentioned often, Antoine Cassar, the author of the first macaronic poem I read and loved, “Merħba,” as well as the lingual adventures of the book Mużajk (Mosaic), or the powerfully open-hearted poem “Passaport” , which brought tears to my eyes with the line:

“no one to brand you stranger, alien, criminal, illegal immigrant, or extra-communautaire, nobody is extra, …”

Another poet I just met over the summer at a ‘Mini International Poetry Festival’ in Tel Aviv,  is Johannes CS Frank, the author of  Remembrances of Copper Cream, a trilingual poetry book, in English, German and Hebrew, which is  simultaneously as cosmopolitan as it is a visceral authentically Jerusalem experience, right down to the copper highlighted sketches,

“a full scale model of the universe”

“Merħba” and Remembrances of Copper Cream both appear in the photo above.

You know what, just watch Pico Iyer’s video, & my poem “Babili/Home” and then reach out to me. If you’re a citizen of Babel, not just multicultural or multilingual but have been haunted by the feeling that you basically belong nowhere specifically but to so many places at the same time, collage people, mosaic people, Embrace.

 

Young Writers’ Evening at Tmol Shilshom

Video

Since my first poetry slam, I’ve been getting busy with poetry, doing more readings this year than ever before, EVER.

This event is from June 3, 2013 at Tmol Shilshom, a bookstore cafe restaurant in Jerusalem, made famous for being a place where “Israel’s best known writers read from their works.” These days, it is a common location for literary events such as the Young Writers’ Evening organized by Jerusalem Village.

I actually joined the event quite last-minute, but I was glad I did as I met a new poet and friend there (you’ll see her in later Poets of Babel videos) as well as learned what else is going on in the English speaking Israeli poetry scene.

Here are my videos of the reading:

“There”

“Rhyme & Reason”

“Talitha kumi”