A Jewish Perspective on ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Esther Rosenfield
Aug 19, 2018 · 7 min read
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“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”

“Jewish? I dunno, am I?”

You probably recognize the former quote, even if you don’t know its origin. It’s a saying by Jewish Talmudic thinker Hillel, one of the most significant figures in Jewish history. It’s echoed early in Spike Lee’s new film BlacKkKlansman by the famous black activist and organizer Kwame Ture, who history classes taught me was named Stokely Carmichael. He’s speaking to members of a black student union in 1979, unaware that he’s being secretly recorded by police detective Ron Stallworth. Ture doesn’t cite Hillel by name, the saying having long since outlived its speaker. Yet still we have an icon of the struggle for black liberation stirring his audience with the words of an icon of Jewish cultural values. BlacKkKlansman is a film as much about one as it is the other, and we see this with the speaker of the second quote.

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