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23 May 2011

The Browning of the World

This post is not about global warming - or global scorching as it might more accurately be called. The browning of the world is a perception in nations that have enjoyed had a majority white population (in numbers and/or power) and now are experiencing cultural and racial shifts in light of global migration patterns.
Early in the history of the United States black peoples made up a numerical majority even as they were commodified as a social and political minority. In modernity and exploding Latin@ population means that several individual states have lost and more are losing their white majority. And it is talked about as a "loss."
In Europe, there are significant tensions based on the immigration of peoples of color - especially Muslims, many of whom are among the large numbers of Asian workers who provide essential services throughout Europe - in recent years. Some nations are desperately trying to stem the tide of immigration, while encouraging their own citizens to have more children. All to maintain a cultural identity that is in part based on (the construction of) whiteness.
This past week I was reminded of this new reality listening to the serial speeches of President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu rejects out of hand the possibility of allowing Palestinian refugees who have been dispossessed from their ancestral land - land to which Israel also has some legitimate claim - because they would dilute the ethnic majority of the Israelis. PM Netanyahu did not deny the legitimacy of their claim. In order for Israel to exist as a Jewish state, Jews must be a numerical and enfranchised majority for him.
There are many sad and tragic ironies in this position. The slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust was based in part on their exclusion from the category "white." Jews and Arabs are both Semitic peoples - linguistically as speakers of Northwest Semitic languages in the Afro-Asiatic language family and religiously as Abrahamic/Ibrahimic peoples. And the "Jewishness" of Israel is very much in dispute with in its borders. Those who see "Jewishness" in terms of religiosity are a minority in Israel, albeit one with growing political power and influence. And even among Jews, Israel has differing immigration policies, permitting non-Jewish descendants of European Jews to immigrate for two generations while limiting the immigration of Ethiopian Jews to their Jewish family menders and still requiring them to go through conversion rituals. As a result Israel has seen a rise in anti-Semitic skinhead activity from the neo-Nazi grandchildren of European Jews who immigrated for the great social programs and standard of living in Israel.
I am preparing to go to Israel for the third time. I will live in Jerusalem for two months. East Jerusalem. That is code for Arab Jerusalem. I will be near the Palestinian checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Two walls - the remains of the external wall of the destroyed temple and the security fence on seized Palestinian land - frame Jerusalem. And I feel them closing in on me. Already.

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