A Letter to Ish Entertainment and the Producers of “Kosher Soul”:
I got a tweet Monday night I should probably pass on to you:
I was mortified. It’s official, the thing I have railed against in my crusade for culinary and cultural justice had come for me: my name, established long before someone got the bright idea for a merger of ethnic stereotypes, has been compromised by your “sense” of “koshersoul.”
Appropriation—the big word that seems to have been repeatedly hurled from London to Tokyo—un-reciprocated and unwelcome borrowing, or if you will outright theft of the cultural and artistic production of “others” seems too obvious to even whisper here so I will leave it up to my readers to decide whether you in bad faith decided to nab my moniker for your own purposes or if you just carelessly decided to ignore my work when naming your program.
The “others” I mention above are we the people who in our struggles to make this a more perfect Union, are often marginalized and robbed of our ability to rise and achieve by being denied the same platform as those appropriating our creations. There is a difference between respectful quoting, acknowledging sources and origins and sharing words, genres, styles and modes on the one hand and lifting them wholesale and using them in ways that diminish and demean originators.
The promo trailer for “Kosher Soul” shows a classic collision of cultures- and who could be more different than “the Blacks” and “the Jews?” What could be funnier than a Black man passing out from the sacred ritual of hatafat-dam-brit (blood drop circumcision)? Ooh his baseball cap says “Kosher” in thug motif! Her mother is skeptical, the Jews and their customs are so bizarre that it’s a guilty pleasure you can’t wait to shmear your eyes with. Goodness gracious glory be to Hashem-this TV show sho’ do “look so funny.” (How easy the sarcasm flows…)
Because it “look so funny,” (sic) things will be slow to change. We will go on believing that to be Black is monolithic and to be Jewish only means Ashkenazi; or that Blacks have to be invited into Jewish civilization, not that we have always been a part of it from the Jews of Ethiopia to Harlem synagogues in the 1920’s and far beyond. Despite this we we have to remind the entertainment media that we’ve done this stereotype/archetype game before, it’s so tired, so boring, so basic. In the shadow of Ferguson, in the clearing haze of the Chapel Hill shooting, television seems to have abdicated making cross-cultural understanding possible in exchange for preserving Old World demons and New World canards. Because the world believes what it sees, and perception “is reality,” it means that real people suffer because their vision and their truth rarely make it to the screen or page.
Michael Twitty’s eloquent response to his carefully-nurtured unique cultural heritage being misappropriated and ridiculed by an idiotic sitcom full of lame stereotypes is simply heartbreaking.