Genre: Politics, Non-Fiction, Race
Narrative Style: First person
Synopsis: David Baddiel discusses the ways in which anti-Semitism is treated differently from other types of racism and prejudice using examples from the media, TV and social media.
Time on Shelf: Not very long. I read The Plot Against America at the start of the year and that sparked an interest in Jewish History. Earlier in the year, I watched Baddiel confronting Holocaust deniers for a TV program and that made me warm to him in a way I hadn’t previously so when this book came up on Kindle I bought it.
I have a mixed history with David Baddiel. When he first appeared on the comedy scene – or at least when I first became aware of him – he was with The Mary Whitehouse Experience and I loved that but then came the football years and his (and Frank Skinner’s) humour was too laddish and football based to appeal to me. Then I read Whatever Love Means which I really think is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. After that, I didn’t really take much notice of what he was up to. Then earlier this year, I watched Confronting Holocaust Denial with David Baddiel. If I hadn’t watched that, I certainly wouldn’t have read this book.
Baddiel begins by talking about a review of Charlie Kaufman’s first novel Antkind by Holly Williams. Williams complains that it has a ‘white-male-cis-het perspective’ and is, therefore, part of the patriarchal orthodoxy. However, the narrator – B. Rosenberger Rosenberg is described as having Jewish characteristics such as a Rabbinical beard and other characters behave anti-Semitically towards him. Baddiel feels, rightly I think, that this means the character is less privileged than Williams assumes.
Baddiel contends that unlike other forms of prejudice, anti-Semitism isn’t treated with any depth of seriousness. He gives examples of non-Jewish actors playing Jewish roles not meeting with any sort of outrage and whilst actors don’t have to black up to play a Jewish character, there are a number of characteristics that called be donned to show that you are playing Jewish. (He compared this to the outrage that greets a heterosexual actor playing a homosexual character which is probably a more apt comparison than blacking up.) I admit that I hadn’t really considered this before. Partly because I wouldn’t necessarily know whether an actor was Jewish or not but mostly because I wouldn’t have thought it was something I needed to think about. Baddiel suggests that this is one of the ways that Jews don’t count. He gives the example of Al Pacino in Hunters and Gary Oldman in Mank, accusing Oldman of not only being not Jewish but a supporter of Mel Gibson and his famously anti-Semitic rant. He asks how could this be allowed to happen?
He suggests it is because Jews occupy a unique position in society – that is as both high and low – privileged, famously running the world in many conspiracy theories and money hoarding on the one hand, low, rat-like and sly on the other. In this way, Baddiel discusses how Jews can be seen as both white and not white. He explains that while Jews might often look white, they don’t often feel white. That is they are not able to feel the sense of privilege that comes with being white. Their lives are not secure. They do not feel safe. As Baddiel rightly points out, we are not that many generations away from the Holocaust and its effects can still be felt. He talks about his own grandparents who fled to England in 1939 with his mother who was a baby. They had been rich but had been robbed of it all by the time they fled. When you know can lose everything simply because you are Jewish, you do not have privilege.
Baddiel discusses many instances of his interactions on Twitter and his experiences of being told not he is experiencing racism or not. He looks at the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn’s abject failure to deal with anti-Semitism. It’s hard to imagine people leaping to Corbyn’s defence if any other type of prejudice were being discussed. In fact, Corbyn comes in for a lot of criticism and rightly so. Other people, such as Roald Dahl, are outed as anti-Semites.
It is easy to follow Baddiel’s arguments and I found them affecting and could understand his anger. I do think that his determination to focus on Twitter made his prose somewhat disjointed at times. Also, it is hard to take someone 100% seriously when they say they don’t count via a book they have had published which many will read. (I felt similarly when I read Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.) But these are minor quibbles. Definitely worth a read.