We Jews and Blacks

We Jews and Blacks

Memoir with Poems
Willis Barnstone
With a Dialogue and Poems by Yusef Komunyakaa
Distribution: World
Publication date: 5/24/2004
ISBN: 978-0-253-11022-0
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2005 AAUP Public and Secondary School Library Selection
A central theme of this memoir by poet and translator Willis Barnstone is that of labels—names, ethnicities, all distinctions that cause suspicion, anger, and destruction. A fresh and significant contribution to American letters, We Jews and Blacks wrestles with problems of identity, difference, and the human condition. It is a dramatic, whimsical, and literary work that also contains a number of Barnstone’s poems, which offer a second view of an event, a crystallization of his thinking, both sorrowful and joyful. The book includes a dialogue with Yusef Komunyakaa and a small selection of his poems.

Author Bio

Willis Barnstone, distinguished poet and translator, is author of two other memoirs. He is perhaps best known for his translation of The Gnostic Bible. He lives in Oakland, California.

Yusef Komunyakaa is distinguished senior poet at New York University. He has received numerous awards, including the William Faulkner Prize (Université Rennes, France), the Ruth Lilly Prize for Poetry, and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His latest book is
Gilgamesh, a verse play. He lives in New York City.


"A work of profound intelligence and utter humanity; it is intensely engaging, exquisitely playful, unabashedly erudite without a trace of pretension, and radiant with love for fellow creatures." —Andrei Codrescu

"[A] moving, and at times astonishing, memoir . . . it sparkles and informs with intelligence and good intentions." —Publishers Weekly

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Table of Contents

Verse 1 A Chat with the Reader
The Hell Face of Sacred Distinctions
The Plot
Verse 2 Jews and Blacks of Early Childhood
Swans over Manhattan
Anatole Broyard (1920—90), the Inventor
What Was a Jew?
Dad Grew Up in the Streets
Languages of the Jews
Spanish Jews
Verse 3 Jews and Blacks of Early Adolescence
"At the Red Sea," by Yusef Komunyakaa
Assimilation and Passing under the Shadow of War and Holocaust
Yehuda Maccabee and Hellenization of the Jews
Gnosticism and Other Heresies
A Summer Camp in Maine with the Scent of Palestine
Sammy Propp of the Black Shoes
Black People
Leah Scott
My Unseen Black Grand-Stepmother
Reading the Bible in Hebrew
Bar Mitzvah
"Othello's Rose," by Yosef Komunyakaa
Verse 4 Early Jewish Corruption and Bayard Rustin, the Black Nightingale
Early Corruption
Yeshua ben Yosef Passing as Jesus Christ
So Long, Sammy
Off to the Quakers
Bayard Rustin, the Black Nightingale Singing His People into the Heart of the Makers of the Underground Railroad
More Deadly Application Blanks
Verse 5 Jews and Blacks in College, and Freedom in Europe
Bowdoin College: The Jewish and Black Ghetto in Old Longfellow Hall
A Letter to The Nation
Coming Out of My Own Ghetto of Silences
Off to Europe, Where Old-Fashioned Bigotry Is Huge, yet Now Who Cares? Not Me
Changing Money on the Rue des Rosiers and Getting Married by the Grand Rabbi of Paris
Verse 6 Having Fun at Gunpoint in Crete
Working in Greece for the King
White Islands and Northern Monasteries on Huge Stalagmites
Thessaloniki, a City of Peoples
Greeks and Jews and Blacks and Russians
Jews, Greeks, and Romans in Alexandria
Cavafy and His Poem "Of the Jews (A.D. 50)"
Romaniot Jews in Byzantium
The Sephardim in Muslim Spain
Jews and Greeks in Thessaloniki
Facts on the Slaughter
Thessaloniki and Absence
Days and Nights with Odysseus on the Way to Holy Athos
The Madness of a Jew Trying to Marry in a Greek Orthodox Church in Crete
Verse 7 A Black and White Illumination
Friendship in Tangier with a French Baroness Who Told Me I Had Killed Her Lord
Verse 8 "Sound Out Your Race Loud and Clear"
A Jewman in the U.S. Army
A Touch of Freedom
Fort Dix: "I'm Black and My Balls Are Made of Brass"
"Sound Out Your Race, Loud and Clear! Caucasian or Negra!" Yelled the White Sergeant in Segregated Georgia
Holy Communion of Bagels and Lox for Jewish Personnel
Black Barbers Brought on Base to Cut Black Men's Hair
Captain Hammond, Baritone, and the Children of the Périgord
Verse 9 Mumbling about Race and Religion in China, Nigeria, Tuscaloosa, and Buenos Aires
Ma Ke, a Chinese Jew with Whom I Shared Suppers in Beijing
Olaudah Equiano Bouncing around the Globe as a Slave Sailor under a Quaker Captain Until He Settles Down in London as a Distinguished Writer and Abolitionist
"Some of us grow ashamed," by Yusef Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa, the Black Nightingale Singing on Paper with the Richness of a Sweet Potato (YK & WB)
A Diversion Down to Argentina
Verse 10 Saying a Hebrew Prayer at My Brother's Christian Funeral
Saying a Hebrew Prayer at My Brother's Christian Funeral
My Brother Needed to Pass Like the Spanish Saints of Jewish Origin. Here Are Ancestors Whom My Brother, Not by Inquisition but by a Deeper Knife of Fire, Emulated
My Father, Who Never Tried to Pass, Succumbed to Denial of His Being and Passed from Life
Death Has a Way