Jewishism

March 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm 2 comments

After the uproar surrounding Sheen’s rant on Lorre, where he referred to Lorre as Chaim Levine, Sheen goes on a talk show to let us know that he’s not an anti-Semite. In fact, Sheen says he himself is Jewish, and he’s proud of that fact. His current wife and two of his children are Jewish as well. Sheen’s mother’s maiden name was Janet Templeton. I don’t know if that’s a common Jewish name or not since it doesn’t end in either “stein” or “berg.” Should I have just “known” this?

My Grandmother’s maiden name was Rider; does that mean I’m Jewish? Wynonna Ryder is Jewish. It wouldn’t bother me if I were Jewish, but the point is that I don’t know. Sheen did. Sheen’s a celebrity. Sheen’s said nothing all this time.

What I do know is that I’m not buying this “Jewish and proud of it” stance of his. I have to wonder, how come it is that someone who’s been famous for the last 30 years can have kept the American public in the dark as to his Jewish heritage if he is indeed, as he asserts, proud of it? Emilio is no different.

Scour the internet for hours. Look. You can find tons and tons of interviews with Martin and Emilio and Charlie, and no mention until this recent scandal, of the fact that the Sheen children are, in fact, by Rabbinic law, considered Jewish. You can even go on a website called Guess Who’s the Jew, and be told that Emilio Estevez is definitely not Jewish. So, how “proud” are they really? Just because Charlie Sheen is Jewish, does that mean that he isn’t or can’t be guilty of anti-Semitism?

In related news, Rush Limbaugh was recently called out for basically asserting that most of the American public don’t actually consider Barack Obama to be a black man. Normally, this is something I’d get all bent out of shape over, but I get what he means. He’s talking about the fact that Obama has a white mother and seems, more often than not, to fit our cultural stereotypes of behaviors consistent with that of a white man, not a black man.

Even some of the black people I know who have been most proud to see the United States elect its first black President have secretly told me that a “real” black man would never have been accepted as President by the American people. The implication here is an old one. Obama, like O.J. Simpson, and Oprah Winfrey before him, is being accused of being an “oreo.” Black on the outside, white on the inside.

It’s a funny observation, and it’s the opposite of the old 50s melodramas I watched on TV as a kid that used to reduce me to tears. I remember being enchanted and enthralled with two movies made about race relations during that time period. The first was the remake of, “Imitation of Life,” made with Lana Turner and Sandra Dee. In the movie, Lana Turner’s character, Lora, a single mother, crawls her way up off the streets to become a wealthy and successful Broadway actress.

Lora throws her lot in with a black housekeeper named Annie, who is herself a single mother, and the housekeeper agrees to keep both their children and provide a good home for them while Lora pursues her dream and eventually brings home the bacon. Annie and her daughter Sarah Jane are, to the outside world, hired help, but to Lora and Suzie, within the confines of their home, they are treated as family.

The widowed black housekeeper’s daughter is so light skinned that she can “pass” for white. As she grows up, aware of the prejudice around her, the housekeeper’s daughter becomes increasingly frustrated with the options available to her as a colored woman and decides to present herself to the world as a white woman.

As a teenager, she gets her first boyfriend (played by a young Troy Donahue in one of his first on-screen roles) and deceives him about her heritage until he finds out the truth and brutally confronts her on the street. Thereafter, Sarah Jane runs far away so that she can construct a new past for herself and so that any future bosses or boyfriends won’t be confronted with the reality that her mother is a black housekeeper.

It is only after it’s too late that she decides to return to her family, crying and screaming alongside her mother’s coffin. Annie dies young, and Lora throws her a grand funeral complete with horse drawn carriage, but by the time Sarah Jane finds out her mother was ill, it’s too late for her to reconcile with Annie. Juanita Moore, the woman who played the black housekeeper, Annie, was Oscar nominated for her performance of a mother who was most cruelly rejected but eternally loving and understanding.

The second movie that really made an impression on me was, “Band of Angels.” This movie starred Clark Gable, Yvonne de Carlo, Sydney Poitier, and Ephrem Zimbalist, Jr. In the movie, de Carlo portrays Amantha Starr, the spoiled daughter of a white plantation owner. Amantha’s mother died in childbirth, and it is always assumed that her mother was the mistress of the manor, but when her father dies while Amantha is attending a posh finishing school back East, Amantha finds out, instead, that her mother was a house slave, and that this makes her legally a slave. She is sold as just one more of her father’s possessions, in order to cover the debts of his estate.

Amantha is placed on an auction block in New Orleans, Louisiana and sold to the highest bidder. The highest bidder is a man named Hamish Bond, played by Gable. Gable buys Amantha and brings her to live in his plantation. Over time, it becomes clear that she’s there to become his mistress. He doesn’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, and he feeds and clothes and cares for her well.

When Amantha discovers that Hamish used to be a slave trader, she is disgusted, and she runs away. However, what she doesn’t understand is that the majority of slaves Hamish Bond keeps on his plantation stay of their own free will, and he provides an exceedingly comfortable life for them in order to atone for his former sins. He purchased Amantha on the auction block in order to ensure that she wouldn’t be mistreated by a white man with less scruples than himself.

The movie is a pretty hokey romance, with Amantha running back to Hamish in the end after she discovers that her white pastor boyfriend (Zimbalist) doesn’t intend to marry her any longer now that he knows that her mother was a slave. Poitier’s character is a rebelling slave from Hamish’s plantation.

The thing that made the movie memorable for me was the dramatization that anyone could be a slave. Seeing Yvonne de Carlo get sold on an auction block had to have brought home the humanity of African Americans at a time when race relations were about to undergo radical changes. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954. “Band of Angels” was released in 1957, and the “Imitation of Life” remake was released in 1959.

Prejudice is a funny thing. For instance, in America, anyway, there’s a perception of animosity between the Hispanic and African American communities, as well as between the African American and Jewish communities. One would think that this wouldn’t be the case. Who could understand better than the Hebrew people and African Americans the yoke of slavery? Wouldn’t this provide a common bond for them?

We white people tend to shake our heads in confusion and despair when we hear of this, but even we white people liberally sprinkle the term “poor white trash” on Caucasian people who display cultural traits generally attributed to other races. That’s when we don’t call them wiggers.

Minorities tend to sit in judgement of even their own kind with distinctions such as skin tone, with the lighter skin almost always being the universal “preference.” In the African American community this phenomenon is referred to as colorism. I just wonder when, if ever, we’re going to get to a time when none of this nonsense matters.

Entry filed under: Ethics, Human Rights, Media, Prejudice, Racism, Relationships, Social Commentary. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Laurel  |  March 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    I wouldn’t worry about anything Charlie Sheen says. He is obviously descending into serious mental illness. I feel bad for him, as he doesn’t realize it, and you can see this will end badly. He isn’t Jewish, he’s crazy.
    As far as prejudice goes, there is always that sense of “the other”. I would be embarrassed to type some of the rude comments I have gotten over my red hair. If you have traits that are different than the larger group, you will be singled out for either praise, condemnation or both. I don’t know if we will ever eliminate that, but I do think it is far better than it has ever been, and I think if we focus on the positive, we can encourage it.

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