Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The ultimate busman's-holiday post

-There's a new production of Romeo and Juliet, and while Romeo is white, controversy of controversies, Juliet is black. Having not given much thought to Shakespeare since high school required this (I somehow made it through college without taking a single English class), I'm not sure what race Romeo and Juliet have been in earlier productions. I remember something about men playing the male and female roles, but that was a very long time ago. Presumably their are Shakespeare-auditioning actors of all races. Is this pairing a first? I have no idea, but would doubt it. All I know is, Dodai Stewart of Jezebel isn't pleased, arguing that this casting was a way to cause controversy and sell tickets. Which... seems not very Jezebel. The problem here - if a problem there must be - is that Condola Rashad is the daughter of famous people, and therefore - however talented - a likely beneficiary of nepotism. The problem is not that a black woman has been a) cast in something, or b) cast alongside a white man.

-Stanley Fish presents Naomi Schaefer Riley's new book (that, fine, I probably have to read) on inter-religious marriage in America today. And the findings are... basically the same objections one found in 19th century France. (Although Riley herself is apparently intermarried, and therefore presumably OK with intermarriage.) That even those who think they're secular will, with Life Experience, find that they are, deep down, super-religious after all. That secularism is a childish flirtation, and that once one is a real grown-up, the desire to worship latkes or peeps or whatever will set in and not budge. Well. As a fake grown-up, one who's not yet 30, doesn't have kids, and is still technically a student, I may have to wait for my inner Hasid to emerge.

One thing not like 19th C France - Jews, Riley found, are actually the religious group most likely to marry out. And yet, the stereotype of the insular, intermarriage-fearing Jewish family (esp. Jewish mother-of-son) persists. Discuss amongst yourselves, while I track down this book, as I will probably need to cite this tidbit in my dissertation.

One thing I can't quite wrap my head around:

[F]aith has become “racialized”; that is, we have come to think that “like skin color [it] is a trait that need not divide us.” But, Riley demurs, believing that faith “is a superficial characteristic the way race [and] ethnicity are” doesn’t make it so. In fact, “religious identity … can and should be considered” as more substantive than racial identity; and like any other substance it remains in place even when the commonplaces of multicultural doctrine tell us that it shouldn’t really matter.
Given that it appears "interfaith" in this conversation appears to mean Jews marrying people who are either Catholics or Protestants, it would seem that Judaism was "racialized" long, long ago. Nazism? Dreyfus? Spanish Inquisition? But for most everyone, religion, culture, etc. are all wrapped into this one thing called Your Background, and it's tough to say what's what. The Christmas tree example Riley brings up - is this about religion? What if, as happens often enough, a non-Jewish spouse who never went to church nevertheless expects a tree? Is that atavistic Christianity? Isn't the far more likely explanation that, in otherwise secular couples, the tree is desired - or not -  for cultural reasons?


Jacob T. Levy said...

"Is this pairing a first?"

At the very most, it's a first *on Broadway.*

'[F]aith has become “racialized”; that is, we have come to think that “like skin color [it] is a trait that need not divide us.'

The wikipedia says that interracial couples are less than 4% of all married couples in the United States.

This thingy here says that interfaith couples make up 27% of all married couples in the United States even if one treats "Protestant" as all one category, and 37% if inter-denominational Protestant marriages are included.

That does not sound to me like a world in which interracial marriages represent some kind of normal universally-accepted condition and the question is whether or not one should think of interfaith marriages as also normal.

Phoebe said...

"That does not sound to me like a world in which interracial marriages represent some kind of normal universally-accepted condition and the question is whether or not one should think of interfaith marriages as also normal."

I see your point, but I'm not sure that there being fewer interracial than interfaith marriages means that the dynamic Riley describes couldn't exist. As I understood it, it relates to a certain dynamic I have seen: Jews who oppose intermarriage, esp. otherwise secular Jews, stand accused of, well, racism. Because if it's not really about religion, what else, goes the thinking. And there's this other level - that it's worse for a Jew to be racist, more problematic for Judaism to be defined as a race, b/c of the Holocaust. Meanwhile! Someone nominally Christian who advises offspring against marrying a secular Jew is of course going to seem racist. Riley's argument, if I understand correctly, is that deep down, everyone's really pious, and a fear of seeming racist shouldn't stop anyone from having qualms about "interfaith" unions between the ostensibly secular.

What's hard to see, though, is how any of this applies to Protestant-Catholic same-race couples.

Jacob T. Levy said...

You must be right about what's in her head. But the idea that "racialized" is usefully defined as "ceasing to divide people very much," and that if religion *became like race in the United States* that that would mean *more* interfaith marriages, seems delusional.

There's some abstract normative sense in which "everyone" agrees there shouldn't be racism and the question is whether religious differences are like that or not like that. But there's also a real world in which "racialized" boundaries are the really powerful ones, not the really weak ones.

Phoebe said...

"But there's also a real world in which "racialized" boundaries are the really powerful ones, not the really weak ones."

Oh, absolutely.

Maybe the way to make sense of this is, it's not that race doesn't matter to people (and thus keep interracial marriage rates so low), but rather that people think it should not. Classifying interfaith (but, by U.S. standards, same-race) marriages as interracial makes it taboo to speak out against them. The social unacceptability of seeming racist prevents family members from speaking out. Whereas their children aren't even coming home with fiancés of other races in the first place.

But yes, this is all fussing around in the mind of someone whose argument - as presented by Fish, at least - I can't quite make sense of. If one is discussing not religion, but culture, and referring to every appearance of culture as some kind of atavistic religiosity (after all, many nominally-X individuals were, these days, raised in secular homes), then... religion may not be "race," as the much higher rates of interfaith marriage suggest, but it's not really "religion," either.

Flavia said...

Totally not a first. I am by no means an encyclopedia of performance history, nor even a particularly assiduous attender of Shakespeare productions in the seven years that I've been teaching Shakespeare. But even I have seen an interracial R&J, just a few years ago, at the London Globe. Shakespeare is now classical theatre, and casting is pretty much always color-blind.

I've never seen a production where all the Capulets or Montagues are of a different race, but I'm sure that that, too, is not a first.

Britta said...

My BFF is Jewish and I was raised in a Christian tradition, and being serious, philosophical types, when we were little playing house always got derailed by long debates about in which faith were we going to raise The Children. Somehow we both decided syncretism lacked integrity, and this had to be hashed out before our baby dolls made their appearance and bris or baptism had to be chosen. My sister, less patient with this sort of thing, thought we could celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah and call it a day, but my friend and I were adamant that that sort of unprincipled mishmash would just lead to disconnected secularists :P (Biblical exegesis was another hobby of ours.) Funnily, 20+ years later, we're both in interfaith relationships and neither one of us really cares about the future religion of The Children. It appears then that religious dogma* can relax as one gets older as well.

Ironically, my current debate with my partner is not over which religion to expose our hypothetical children to, but whether they should have any exposure at all. I'm an agnostic who sees at least some level early religious exposure (in whatever faith, except for maybe evangelical christianity) as beneficial, and he's one who doesn't.

*neither of us believed in God as kids, we were just Traditionalists, so it's not about becoming disillusioned with faith, or anything.

Britta said...

Oh, speaking of funny stories, this friend is now dating a guy from a very strong working class Irish Catholic background. When his parents found out she was Jewish, their first words were, "oh thank god she's not a protestant."

Phoebe said...


I thought you might have the answer to this. Thanks!


"It appears then that religious dogma* can relax as one gets older as well."

Point taken, and funny story! But I think the issue (for Riley, for my 19th C French-Jewish dudes) is supposed to be that everything's fine until one is at the very least married, but most likely, it all comes crashing down when there's a child. Not a theoretical child - an actual child who must be brought either to church or to temple, and somehow this is an issue even if both spouses are atheists and would rather skip both of those entirely. So anecdotal evidence (mine included!) that doesn't include these magically religiosity-eliciting creatures is not going to persuade the Rileys of the world. (I can vaguely remember finding something where someone said intermarriage was fine for couples without children.)