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When identity turns toxic, resort to being a Spaniel

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“What are you?” was the first question she was asked. University had just started, and as a first-year student, my daughter was trying to figure out the lay of land. Another student, presumably in her class, had joined the group and kicked off the conversation. “What do you mean?” Confused, she sought clarification. “Like, what are you? Are you Greek? Or something?” Tempted to answer, “Part Spaniel with definite hints of Labrador,” she gave in to the process and said, “I’m Jewish.” “Thought so,” was the curt, self-satisfied reply.

And that was that.

Only it wasn’t. Because the question itself betrays on obsessive need to place people in a context that defines them. And one that governs how much credibility we give to their views.

According to my colleagues on the morning show, I’m the most hated person on the internet. Not because I’m inherently detestable – although I might be – but because I’m a plus 50-year-old, straight, white, Jewish, Zionist male. I’m also “abled”, meaning I have no disability – aside from flat feet and low muscle tone – and I don’t qualify for any form of social grant.

I was also born in South Africa before 1994, which means that I must have benefited from apartheid and loved every moment of it. In terms of that narrative, as we speak, I’m most likely frolicking through the open fields of a farm. A farm that I have no doubt stolen from someone.

There’s little that could place me any lower on the social status register.

The upshot of lowly status is that my view on anything will need to be filtered through these factors – male, Jewish, straight, Zionist, white, born in pre-democracy South Africa – to disqualify me along with my perspective. Years ago, when I wrote an article that suggested a possible solution to dealing with male dominance in the workplace, I was told by one publication that though my approach seemed to be a decent one, it wasn’t keen to have a male offer a solution to a problem faced by women.

And more recently, I had an interview with one of the local TV channels here in Africa, but it cancelled on short notice. The segment was meant to be about my recent trip to Israel following the 7 October invasion. Its concern was that I wouldn’t be an unbiased voice. Which is perfectly true. I wouldn’t be. And I would be upfront about that, as I’ve been in all other interviews.

But the assumption was that others that they interviewed on the subject are unbiased, and that their voice has a higher trust level than mine does. The presumption is patently absurd, given that not only is the very notion of “non-bias” naïve, but more importantly, it reflects a deep prejudice – that because of my Jewish Zionist identity, there’s no way my opinion can be trusted.

Whereas it’s not much of a challenge to be outraged when the offense has an impact on us, it’s equally important to hold ourselves to the same standard. It’s easy to point out, for example, that the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) minister has adopted the Muslim faith as though this explains her view, but to do so is to accept that our voices will also be filtered through ours. And whereas it’s much more difficult to counter her prejudice with fact and reasoning, it holds much greater value in the long run than if we attack her on her identity.

I have no advice for my daughter. I want her to stand proud as a Jew. But I also don’t want her to live in a world that defines and locks her into a role that limits her. Where perhaps I could offer some wisdom is to suggest that perhaps part Spaniel with a hint of French Poodle would be much more accurate a description. But that’s just my white, straight, over-50-male who is also a Jewish Zionist view.

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  1. Kaplan Lewis Wendy

    Mar 7, 2024 at 10:06 pm

    Love this article

  2. Larry Wigoder

    Mar 16, 2024 at 11:25 pm

    I would say that Bibi is the enemy of Zionism.

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