Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blacks and Jews

At one of my readings, a woman in the audience said, in a very respectful and open way, I thought, that she had not lived around very many Jews nor very many blacks in her life. Could I explain the relationship between the two groups? This relationship, especially as it has occurred in U.S. cities, lies at or near the center of my book, so it was a fair question. The answer, however, is difficult and huge. Fortunately, as I present my work to more audiences and listen to their comments and questions, I am starting to formulate a way to talk about this. I am formulating an understanding.
     First, I can say that here we have two oppressed populations. Second, I can say that in cities, blacks had an easier time finding housing near and around established Jewish neighborhoods. I would not necessarily say that blacks were welcomed, however, because once blacks moved into a neighborhood, Jews began an exodus to a new neighborhood. In Detroit, it was a northern and western exodus, eventually moving over the city limit (Eight Mile Rd) into the suburbs.
     In this scenario, Jews sold their homes, but many of them owned businesses in the neighborhoods they were leaving behind--often retail operations: furniture stores, drug stores, shoe stores, hardware stores, and so on. These, they held onto. So the business owner (usually the man of the house) would leave the neighborhood where he lived and drive to work in the old neighborhood, where most of his customers (and some employees, perhaps) were black. Sometimes he had apartments in that old neighborhood that he rented out to black tenants. Thus the two populations were economically interdependent, but you can see the potential for tension. One tension-provoking idea (and, I suppose, reality) was that the Jewish business owner was making his money from the black population and taking that money out of the neighborhood.
     Yes, yes, the Jews were very supportive of the Civil Rights Movement. And, yes, Jews have been very charitable toward organizations in the black community, and many Jews have well-tuned social consciences. Yet, many misunderstandings and tensions characterize the relationship. Perhaps I will try to say more about it in a future post--even quoting from my own novel.

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