English R1B

Reading and Composition: Jewish and Black-ish: Race Relations in American Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
11 Fall 2020 Ullman, Alex
MWF 1-2


Judaism may be the only religion that takes an “-ish” in its adjectival form, but it’s certainly not the only identity in American culture to consider its partiality through language. As the 2014 sit-com Black-ish showed through its very title, African diasporic identity is fraught in the contemporary cultural imagination. But how does “Jew-ish-ness” differ from “Black-ish-ness”? Certainly all “ishs” aren’t the same. 

We will engage with texts and films from across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, from The Jazz Singer to Black-ish, to ask how literature and cultural production reflect but also complicate narratives of affiliation between Blacks and Jews. How are Jewish and Black relations depicted? How is historical trauma, specifically the Holocaust and the African slave trade, made sense of in artistic representation? What happens to Jewish and Black relations as identities become more mixed, more “-ish”? And how do the relations between these two identities speak to other notions of race relations in US culture and abroad?

The goal of this course will be for students to have a deeper understanding of the historical relationship between these two identity groups and that relationship's importance to narratives about American identity at large. Students will demonstrate their understanding of this relationship's past, present, and future by writing and engaging with discussion posts on bCourses, taking weekly in-class reading quizzes, and drafting two research papers.

Texts: Bernard Malamud, The Tenants (1971); Fran Ross, Oreo (1974); Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror (1992); Philip Roth, The Human Stain (2000); Kiese Laymon, Long Division (2013)

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