n. pl. par·o·dies
a. A literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule. See Synonyms at caricature.
b. The genre of literature comprising such works.
2. Something so bad as to be equivalent to intentional mockery; a travesty: The trial was a parody of justice.
3. Music The practice of reworking an already established composition, especially the incorporation into the Mass of material borrowed from other works, such as motets or madrigals.
tr.v. par·o·died, par·o·dy·ing, par·o·dies
Last week Funny or Die posted a parody of “Black and Yellow” called “Black and Jewish”. If you haven’t already watched it, please do so now. I will admit to watching this video at least a half dozen times. It gets more amusing (to me) each time. It doesn’t offend me, personally, but I can see how some Jews of Color would be offended by it.
A little background rant. I don’t listen to rap music. I stopped probably around a decade ago. I don’t listen to any music of today except for the occasional Lady Gaga song. My first rap CD was Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Doggy Style.” I actually stole it from my father who was way cooler than me. I listened to the songs and danced around my 7th grade bedroom like I knew what gin and juice was. It was probably in high school that I realized that what I was listening to, the Puff Daddy, the Eminiem, the Dr. Dre, etc. etc. was bullshit. These men were talking about gang violence and glorifying it. They were talking about drinking and doing drugs. And worse of all, they were referring to their women as hoes or bitches useful only for dick sucking. What? You listened to it, too.
I’d be lying to say that I don’t get a little excited when an old school rap song comes on, because I do. It can’t be denied that most of those borrowed bass beats from the 70s and 80s sound great. They’re great to dance to and sometimes I just forget that the lyrics are homophobic and misogynistic. Never mind the fact that they could be responsible for deluding an entire generation of black youth into thinking that it’s okay to drop out of high school, not to pursue higher education, go on the streets to sell crack because if you get the right producer you can be livin’ large!
Thankfully, I don’t listen to rap music as the oral tradition of black people. Imagine if I did! Perhaps there are really stupid, really segregated white folks or foreigners who think that rap videos and MTV Cribs are how black folks act and live. That is a problem. I remember an Oprah show where she talked about a trip to Africa and an African youth called Oprah “my nigga”. Can you imagine? No black person in the US would dream of calling Madame Oprah Winfrey “Nigga” yet, folks call President Barack Obama “nigga” all the time? Is rap music and the glorification of that lifestyle responsible for the problems of respect, proper education, or the foul-mouthed and oppressive way in which blacks greet one another? I am very rigidly opposed to the word “nigga” being used in my presence or directed towards me. People argue that we’ve taken back the word and made it our owns. I don’t buy it. When an African youth thinks it’s okay to greet someone with “my nigga” we have a problem.
Oprah notoriously shook her finger at rap stars like Ludacris, on her own stage for the way that they portrayed the “lives” of blacks. Thing is, those rappers, in many cases were just talking about their lives, their experiences, their youth. Is it every life of a black person, every black youth’s experience, every black person’s experience. No. Is the video of big booty black women with weaves down to the tops of their barely covered asses strewn across big cars with big rims and champagne and hundred dollar bills being thrown on them as if they are enjoying themselves parody. Yes. Is it being marketed as such. No.
The Black and Jewish video is a parody. The majority of Jews would be lying if they didn’t acknowledge the fact that their identity; whether it is Ashkenazi, Israeli, Sephardic, etc. is the model by which they Jewishly think. Who’s to say that these two women (who are Jewish by Ashkenazi mothers and black fathers) aren’t Jewish just because of they way that they were born Jewish? This is, of course, not the only way that one is Black and Jewish. Before everyone gives me Ethiopian Jews as an example of how one can be Black and Jewish, I ask you to be more creative, think a little harder. There are generations of Black Jews born black and Jewish, right here in the USA-whose parents and grandparents and great grandparents are Jewish-which, of course, makes them black and Jewish. Like the Sammy Davis Jr. reference one can convert, like me. Look at me! I’m black and Jewish!
The montage of Black and Jewish folks at the end is a bit problematic. Most of them are bi-racial Jews, but who is to say that those bi-racial Jews aren’t any more Jewish than other Jews? What most find mose problematic about this video is the assertion that it makes that Jewish equals Ashkenazi which equals white. “Black dad, Jewish mom” she raps as she throws her arm over the shoulders of a white woman with a scarf over her head. The Jewish mom is a white woman which some argue perpetuates the assumption that Jewish equals white. There are, of course, Sephardic Jews, Mexican Jews, Indian Jews, Chinese Jews. What I see is these two women representing their Jewish make up. Not thee Jewish standard. To further argue the point that the video equates whiteness to Jewish ness are the references to gefilte fish. Gefilte fish isn’t, in essence Jewish, it’s Ashkenazi Jewish. It also makes reference to KFC and hot sauce two things I don’t personal think equate to blackness.
On the other hand, they rap about a lot of universally Jewish things; Shabbos, Menorahs, and Bat Mizvah. No Jew of any racial make up could argue that those things aren’t Jewish. No, all Jews don’t have big noses, we don’t all eat gefilte fish, we don’t all have diamond businesses or lawyers for parents. All blacks don’t have big asses, we don’t all put hot sauce on everything, we don’t all drink 40oz beers or stay on the corner shooting dice, and we don’t all go to KFC.
The video, in my opinion, is a parody of many things and an exaggeration of both cultures. Does it exclude Jews of Color who are products of two black parents, yes. It excludes me, a Jew by Choice, it excludes a lot of things, but it’s not meant to be a documentary on how one is a Jewish. It’s a parody. Historically caricatures of both Blacks and Jews have been negative. If you do a simple Google search of both groups history shows that we were characterized as monkeys or apes. Jews were portrayed to be money-hungry, sneaky, stingy. Blacks were portrayed to be barbarians, Black men as rapists. Throughout history both Blacks and Jews were considered to be subhuman with civil rights to land, property, participation in government denied to us because of who we were. It goes without saying that hatred, racism are alive in both cultures, often against the other. Parodies, caricatures and stereotypes can be harmful. I don’t think this is particularly harmful as opposed to a vehicle with the potential to open up really great dialogue. There is amazing dialogue happening on various websites by Jews of Color. The dialogue is double sided with people on both ends engaging in conversation.
I love reading opinions and thoughts of the folks who really find problem with this video. It actually helps me to see the video from many different sides. But just as the first three bars from “Snoop Doggy Dogg” will make me shake my not big booty with the rhythm I’m supposed to posses but do not. When I see this video I cannot stop singing along and shaking my not big booty with the rhythm I’m supposed to have but do not.
What are your thoughts?