Monday, January 22, 2007

The Jewish Struggle With Whiteness in Dallas: My Speech Before the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, January 28, 2007

Dallas’ racial politics were never a simple matter of black and white.

African Americans always occupied the city’s bottom social rung and upper class Anglos the top. Much of the racial “action,” however, has rested with numerous groups who find themselves between the white and black extremes. Jews, Italians and other groups immigrating to Dallas found their whiteness challenged, and therefore struggled for a share of the city’s immense riches. Racial classification held greater significance than some abstract notion of identity. To be classified as "non-white" in Dallas meant assignment to low-wage, low-prestige jobs with little opportunity for advancement.

At the opening of the last decade of segregation in the 1960s, for instance, non-whites in Dallas County annually earned about one-fourth the yearly wages of whites while non-white males suffered twice the unemployment rate of their peers and were far more likely to be imprisoned. Economic disparities along racial lines survived the dismantling of Jim Crow in the mid-twentieth century.

Dallas’ power structure always depended on divisiveness. Skin color split the city and winning acceptance as part of the white ruling caste always represented the surest means of social advancement. Such a system depended on the notion that the black and white "races" represent distinct entities with innate qualities. Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould and most of the scientific community has argued that race has no real scientific meaning. There is more genetic variation — deviations in skin pigment, hair texture, inherited disorders, etc. — within the arbitrary racial boxes used to divide humanity than between each category.

Since miscegenation has proved as certain in human history as death, war and taxes, and since the purity of each group is a fiction, the definitions of these supposedly distinct categories change each time a child is born. As sociologist Howard Winant points out, " [I]n the United States, hybridity is universal: most blacks have ‘white blood,’ and many millions of whites have ‘black blood.’ . . . colonial rule, enslavement, and migration have dubious merits, but they are all effective 'race mixers.'" Regardless of how arbitrarily these classifications are defined, however, placement in a racial category held real-life consequences.

"Becoming white meant gaining access to a whole set of public and private privileges that materially and permanently guaranteed basic subsistence needs and, therefore, survival," wrote Cheryl I. Harris in a 1993 essay in the Harvard Law Review. "Becoming white increased the possibility of controlling critical aspects of one’s life rather than being the object of others’ domination."

Material motives abounded for seeking inclusion within whiteness. If such racial lines had proved unmovable living conditions might have proven so desperate as to spark violent resistance by people of color. The definition of racial identities such as white, black, and brown, however, vary over time and by location. Millions of Mexican Americans, for instance, magically ceased to be white in 1930 by virtue of the U.S. Census Bureau, which in its population statistics, separated those of Hispanic descent from the white population and placed them in a separate "Mexican" category. Such legal definitions had little to do with the reality of racial categories and more to do with preventing the transfer of wealth from a white master class to a population of color through inheritance by mixed-race children.

In Dallas, the flexibility of such categories lent the idea of race special power. Pressure fell heavily on groups, such as Mexican Americans and Jews, perceived as not fitting neatly within either the “white” or “black” extremes, to conform to white ideals and to embrace anti-black racism as part of the price for entering the ruling class. The story of Jewish racial identity in Dallas has national and even international implications provides a window into how religion shapes whiteness in the United States.

Early on, Dallas Jews suffered from what one historian calls the “ambivalent image.” The "good Jews" of the Old Testament who brought the Ten Commandments to the world vied for prominence in the Christian imagination with the "bad Jews" who crucified Jesus and grubbed for money. Jews began arriving in Dallas in large numbers after the construction of a railway line in the early 1870s that led directly to the city. Jewish merchants like E.M. Kahn and Alexander and Philip Sanger joined that immigrant rush. In naming their civic organizations, such as the Dallas Hebrew Benevolent Association, Jewish immigrants freely used the term "Hebrew," to evoke memories of Old Testament heroes.

At Dallas' Temple Emanu-El, Reform Jews followed Southern Protestant patterns of religious practice, with services conducted in English and the term "minister" used interchangeably with "rabbi,” assimilation that bridged considerable distance between the two cultures. Dallas Jews were noted for their generosity to charity and their volunteerism. The most financially successful in the community were rewarded for their civic-mindedness by winning a broad level of acceptance. Although Jews constituted less than five percent of the city's population, five Jews, all from the merchant class, were elected aldermen between 1873 and 1905.

It didn't hurt the merchant Sanger family that brothers Issac, Lehman and Philip had served in the Confederate Army. Even as a sizeable influx of Northern immigrants into Dallas starting in the 1870s led to a contestation of the city’s regional identity, Jews claimed a shared Southern identity with still Confederate-sympathizing Gentile elites. The "good Jew" of Dallas — always loyal, generous, and supportive of the local leadership's policies and priorities — would be welcome as long as he conformed to stereotyped expectations. Jews were accepted, however, not as part of the Anglo-Saxon ruling bloc but only as closely related cousins of the Master Race. It took another former Confederate veteran, Cyrus Scofield, to bring his Jewish comrades-in-arms like the Sangers more completely into the white Dallas fold.

Scofield in the late 19th and early 20th century served as the pastor of First Congregational Church in Dallas. Scofield's persuasiveness, plus his friendship with wealthy members such as the Dealeys, whose son was an executive with the Dallas Morning News spurred the church's rapid growth. He grounded his theology in “pre-millennial dispensationalism” which emphasizes the prophetic nature of the Bible. Scofield preached that a literal Antichrist, an embodiment of evil, would one day serve as world dictator and attempt to defeat God's plan for salvation by completely annihilating the world’s Jews.

Before this happens, 144,000 surviving Jews will convert to Christianity. Jesus will return to destroy the Anti-Christ and save the Jewish people in a final battle of Armageddon before establishing a peaceful earthly reign lasting 1,000 years.
Earlier philo-Semites like Increase and Cotton Mather expressed admiration for Jews, but thought that only those who accepted that Jesus as the son of God would reach heaven. Scofield went much further. Scofield claimed that Jews held a unique compact with God and could achieve salvation without conversion, a revolutionary doctrine for a Christian fundamentalist. Scofield believed that Jews held a racial identity separate from Gentle Europeans. The evangelist described Jews as a "little nation which has ever had the strongest marks of race distinction and race peculiarity."

This segregation, he argued, resulted from a divinely inspired unique Jewish role in history. "Their history alone is told in Old Testament narrative and prophecy--other peoples being mentioned only as they touch the Jew," Scofield wrote.116 Jews acted as "a trouble to the Gentile, yet witnessing to them; cast out by them, but miraculously preserved."117 Anti-Semitism, to Scofield, was a sin and the prelude to divine retribution. "When [God] . . . comes back, it is first of all for their [Jews'] deliverance; then, for the judgment of the Gentiles according to their treatment of Israel," Scofield said. "I tell you, dear friends, it is a very serious thing to mistreat a Jew . . . Wherever a Jew goes he is a blessing or a curse, just according to the way he is received."

Scofield’s pre-millennial dispensationalism represented Dallas’ most successful cultural export. A religion scholar characterized the minister’s masterwork, The Scofield Reference Bible, which sold more than 10 million copies before a revision was released in 1967, as “perhaps the most important single document in all fundamentalist literature.” The revision sold another 2.5 million copies by 1990. A religion scholar characterized the Scofield Bible as "perhaps the most important single document in all fundamentalist literature." Middle-class Baptist and Presbyterian congregations became, as historian Paul Boyer puts it, "bastions of pre-millennialism."

In many fundamentalist Protestant congregations, ministers found themselves measured by a Scofield yardstick and found their careers threatened if they ventured too far from this new orthodoxy. The Dallas Theological Seminary became a center of dispensationalist teaching, with graduate Hal Lindsey writing the nonfiction best-seller of the 1970s, the Scofield-inspired The Late Great Planet Earth, which registered 28 million in sales by 1990. These remarkable sales paled compared to the immense success of the Left Behind series of novels written by Christian Right leader Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins starting in 1995, which by 2004 sold 60 million copies worldwide. According to a Newsweek poll released in November, 1999, “40 percent of American adults . . . believe that the world will one day end, as Revelation describes, in the Battle of Armageddon” and Scofield’s interpretation for how that apocalyptic narrative will unfold remains the dominant paradigm.

Scofield professed an admiration for Jews and their religion, but philo-Semitism represented only the friendlier flipside of anti-Semitism. In spite of his philo-Semitism, however, in Scofield's prophetic scenario, the future ultimately depended on the extinction of Judaism as a religion. Scofield taught that under the anti-Christ, only 144,000 Jews would survive a campaign of genocide and that the conversion of that remnant to Christianity would be the trigger for Christ’s return to Earth. Even after the Second Coming, the division between Christians and Jews remains through eternity. God's promise to Abraham in the Book of Genesis that his descendants, as numerous as the stars, would inherit Palestine, was interpreted by Scofield to be a literal, eternal divine pledge.

"Israel's distinction, glory and destiny, will always be earthly," Scofield wrote. After this dispensation, "there will of necessity be a division." At the end of Jesus’ millennial reign and the subsequent creation of a new Heaven and Earth, Christians go to Heaven, Scofield said. Jews rule the New Earth for eternity. Scofield attributed to Jews the central role in the human drama, but that assignment meant that Jews ultimately could not be part of the larger human family.

That sense of separateness has lead to what could at best be described as insensitivity towards Jews among Scofield’s later disciples. Hal Lindsey, for instance, in his book The Late Great Planet Earth, described the numerous chapter of Jewish suffering, including Nazi genocide, God taking his chosen people to the “woodshed” for s spanking for their disbelief. “Israel’s history of misery which has exactly fulfilled prophetic warnings should be a sign to the whole world — a sign which among other things should teach that God means what he says, and says what he means.” A logical implication of this argument makes God himself the author of the Holocaust, a belief that strongly suggests that the gas chambers of Auschwitz represented divine justice for e people who refuse to convert to Christianity.

Televangelist Jerry Falwell further illustrated the short distance between pre-millennial dispensationalism’s philo-Semitism and anti-Semitism when he opined in recent years that the prophesied anti-Christ was alive today and was most likely a Jewish male. In spite of Scofieldism’s chilling side, evangelicals embracing pre-millennial dispensationalism strongly influence American-Israeli politics today. So-called Christian Zaionists, fired by the millennial expectations of dispensationalism, strongly support right-wing Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu.

As author Jonathan Kirsch notes in his book A History of the End of the World, Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s group, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has raised about a quarter-billion dollars from about 400,000 Christian donors, mostly evangelicals, to fund various programs, including promotion of Jewish emigration to Israel. Similar fundraising efforts, which ultimately aim to provoke end-time events by assembling the Chosen People in the Promised Land, are carried on by other dispensationalists like San Antonio Pastor John Hagee and the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, which allows evangelical, prophecy oriented churches to “adopt” Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Leo Wieseltier, an editor for the New Republic, notes that cynicism and mutual exploitation marks the relationship between modern apocalyptic Christian preachers influenced by Cyrus Scofield and the Israeli right wing. “This is a grim comedy of mutual condescension,” he wrote. “The evangelical Christians condescend towards Jews by offering their support before they convert or kill them. And the conservative Jews condescend towards to Christians by accepting their support while believing that their eschatology is nonsense. This is a fine example of the political exploitation of religion.”

Scofieldism had other, less exotic effects on Dallas history in particular. Business elites saw Dallas’s late 19th century and early 20th century Jewish immigrants as a factor in the city’s economic development and Scofield’s philo-Semitism helped pave the way for these newcomers. Wealthy Jews became for Gentile elites a fantasy projection of elegance and worldliness, a group that could lift the town from its Dixie provincialism.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, The Dallas Herald and its successor, the Dallas Morning News obsessively covered weddings and soirees hosted by the Kahns and the Sangers, lavishing praise on the “beauty,” “brilliance” and “flashing wit” of these Jewish families. The Neiman-Marcus department store won praise, in part, for bringing New York-quality fashion to the plains. Confederate nostalgia became a deadweight as Dallas strove to become a global center of trade. By the 1930s, elites proudly bragged of Dallas’ “Southern” climate, “Northern” enterprise, “Eastern” sophistication and modishness and “Western” delight in newness and bigness for its own sake. Gentiles, drawing on ancient anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as rootless, transnational wanderers, looked to men like Stanley Marcus as a model for the city’s new cosmopolitan image.
Anti-Semitism, however, still marked a considerable part of the Dallas upper class in the early twentieth century. Among the most prominent of Dallas’ anti-Semites was attorney Lewis Meriwether Dabney, a member of the city’s prominent Critics Club. Dabney urged Dallas leaders to restrict immigration and eliminate the right to vote to all but the most "qualified" white men.

Cities like Dallas, he complained, had filled with inferior whites, such as "mongrelized Asiatics, Greeks, Levantines, Southern Italians, and sweepings of the Balkans, of Poland and of Russia.” He worried that inferior whites had been tainted with a Socialist ideology "poisoning the rising generation with doctrines all right for Russian Jews but not to be tolerated by any free Anglo-Saxon soul." Dabney urged his Dallas audience in 1922 to end "promiscuous immigration" by Jews and other biologically retrograde groups.

Men like Dabney asserted that Jews represented a separate race, but most Dallasites could not surrender memories of the “good Jews” of the Old Testament or dismiss the fact that Christianity was rooted in Jewish origins. The Ku Klux Klan, which dominated Dallas politics in the 1920s, answered such reluctant anti-Semites by embracing British Israelism, an eccentric theology developed in England in the 19th century. British Israelism taught that white "Aryans" are the descendents of the so-called 10 "lost tribes of Israel" who disappeared from the Old Testament after their dispersal by the Assyrian Empire. Adherents of British Israelism believed that Jews, while descending from the Israelite tribe of Judah, became racially tainted by mixing with inferior Middle Eastern pagans. The ten lost tribes of Israel, meanwhile, had migrated to northern and central Europe and founded the most powerful modern empires, including Great Britain and the United States. Whites of Northern European descent, not Jews, were the chosen people of Bible, divinely granted racial superiority to subdue the planet. "[T]he Anglo Saxons are the ten tribes of Israel," The Texas 100 Per Cent American, the newspaper of the Dallas Klan, told its readers.

Unfortunately for the KKK, by the 1920s Jews represented a religious, not a racial, group to most Dallasites. Some rank-and-file members of the Klan rejected the leadership's British Israelism. “. . . I could see no reason for opposing the Jews as I have never been anti-religionist . . . I can't see telling anyone what religion they must believe in," a former Dallas Klansman recalled in the late 1940s.

Nevertheless, doubts concerning the racial identity of Jews persisted well into the twentieth century. In the 1930s, the Dallas health department listed “Hebrew” as a separate race, along with "Anglo-Saxon," "South European," "Mexican," "Negro" and "Asiatic" on its documents. Rabbi David Lefkowitz of Dallas’ Temple Emanu-El protested the practice. "The use of the word 'Hebrew,' . . . except as the designation of the original language of the Bible, is incorrect," Lefkowitz wrote. "The designation 'Jewish' is a proper one for religion . . . You are not, of course, seeking to determine the religion of those to whom you distribute the identification cards, otherwise you would put down Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodists, etc. In this group, the word Jewish could well be included, but not in the former."

Lefkowitz’s attempt to have Jews classified as an ethnicity or religion but not as a separate race from Gentiles fell short. In the 1950s, the Dallas Independent School District created a course on the Old Testament which taught students that Japheth, the son of Noah, was the father of the European “races” while another of Noah’s sons, Shem, fathered Jews, inhabitants of the Far East and other Asians. In 1951, longtime professor and Southern Methodist University English department chair John Beaty made national headlines with his book, Iron Curtain Over America. Beaty denied the existence of the Holocaust, and claimed that most Jews were not descended from the Hebrews of the Bible but were the children of Khazars, a "belligerent tribe" of "mixed stock, with Mongol and Turkic affinities” that, while living between the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea, converted en masse to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century A.D. Beaty charged these pseudo-Jews with provoking both World War I and World War II, of leading the Russian Revolution and of taking over the Democratic Party in American for subversive purposes. Beaty’s book inspired only tepid opposition in Dallas.

Beaty’s vociferous anti-Semitism remained alien to most Gentiles, but while most did not view Jews as evil revolutionaries or racial inferiors, many in the city continued to see Jews as a people apart. In the 1950s and 1960s, Jews were excluded from several country clubs, the Dallas Junior League and several sororities and fraternities at SMU. Such upper-level segregation held no life-or-death consequences for Jews as formal and informal Jim Crow did for Latinos and blacks. Jews were not systematically denied a quality education. They were not paid substantially less for the same work and did not suffer sharply higher rates of dangerous diseases like tuberculosis or polio as did their black or Mexican American peers, and as a result the oppression suffered by Jews was less visible.

The pressure on Jews to achieve a white identity in Dallas created strains in the community’s relationship with African Americans. There were Jews who boldly spoke out against the city’s racism, such as Rabbi Levi Olan. Often, however, Jews were not as prominent in the city’s civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s as they were elsewhere. Many Jews found themselves in the unusual position of advocating an end to Jim Crow even as they ran some of the largest segregated department stores in the city. Caught betwixt and between, Jews found themselves not entirely trusted by white Gentiles or African Americans.

Some blacks echoed traditional Gentile anti-Semitism, but more often they saw Jews as simply part of an undifferentiated white majority. This perspective was summed up years later in August 1993 by John Wiley Price who met with a crowd of more than 70 at the North Dallas Jewish Community Center. "Most African-Americans don't know enough to be anti-Semitic," Price told the crowd. "We don't know the difference between Anglos and Jewish people."

What Price did not know was that the erasure of that difference between "Anglos" and "Jewish people" was the result of about a century of difficult and not entirely successful Jewish effort. Early Jewish immigrants in Dallas reinforced the city’s Southern identity at a time that construction faced serious challenge. Jews then eased the way for Dallas to become an “international city.” This contribution to regional identity, however, did not directly challenge the power of whiteness in the city. Full whiteness for Jews remained a slippery objective. While Cyrus Scofield had argued for the separateness of Jews after the millennium, Dallas’ Jewish community remained outsiders in this world. And separate would not mean equal.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.


Barnabas41 said...

Excellent piece!

Following is an FYI you maybe interested in.

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Former Talk Show Host Writes Book
Challenging the Politics of Evangelicals

Redlands, CA - A former Los Angeles-based talk show host has written a book that challenges the evangelical doctrine that attempts to influence the U.S.’s political decisions concerning the state of Israel.

Joe Ortiz, the first Mexican American to host and English-language talk show on a commercial radio station, claims evangelicals who support the dispensational, premillennial doctrine have been misinformed by proponents who have misinterpreted the Bible.

Ortiz makes claims in his book, The End Times Passover that careful scrutiny of the Bible proves that the Promised Land is not in the Middle East, the state of Israel is not God’s time piece to Armageddon, that there will be no Pre-Tribulation Rapture, and that God’s true disciples will experience great tribulation.

“Right wing evangelicals who promote the Left Behind doctrine (like Tim LaHaye, John Hagee, Hal Lindsey and others), arguably believe that the State of Israel is key to Bible prophecy,” said Ortiz. “The proponents of this erroneous doctrine have unwittingly been pounding their theological hammers on U.S. foreign policy for over a century, only to drive a bigger wedge between Jews and Arabs who want peace in the Middle East.

Ortiz stated his book is not a politically-motivated treatise designed to influence people to choose sides between Palestinians or Jews. He said his is an academic polemic designed for people (Christians, especially) to recognize their role should be one of peacemakers rather than promoting or supporting a military solution to a feud that’s been going on for centuries. He said his research was based on analyzing the etymology of key words in the Bible that prove conclusively that the Left Behind notion promoted by many evangelicals begins to fall apart when examined carefully.

“It took over 20 years of research and writing to provide conclusive answers to the premillennial, dispensational debate,” said Ortiz.

The author, whose media experience includes more than 20 years of news reporting and hosting programs on TV and radio, as well as writing for a syndicated publisher in California, claims that “when those preachers and teachers of Bible prophecy read this book, they will soon realize they are promoting a militant and destructive doctrine instead of a genuine gospel of peace.”

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Michael said...

Good luck on your book. I will check it out.