How Not to Have an Intelligent Discussion about Race and EthnicityHow can we facilitate people learning more information about Jewish people and their culture? Put a Jew in a box and let folks ask him questions!  That seems to be the rationale behind a Jewish museum’s unusual exhibit called “The whole truth…everything you always wanted to know about Jews.”  One of the exhibit’s features is having a Jewish person sit in an elevated three-sided box and answer people’s random questions. Different people rotate for the “Ask a Jew” segment.

For visitors who might not be sure what to ask, the museum offers up eyebrow-raising prompts such as “Are Jews particularly good-looking, influential, intelligent, animal loving, or business savvy?” Yeah, let’s just not.

Slow clap for Germany still getting it wrong 70 years after WWII.  It’s great to want to foster communication and healthy dialogue about Jewish culture–especially in a place like Berlin with such a long and complicated story of Jewish life–but this is not the way to do it.

Honest conversations about race, culture and ethnicity can be difficult to manage without someone feeling insulted or disrespected. It can be a challenging task even when only intelligent people are involved. Adding in a hokey performance art aspect does not help.

I recall many times in college being the only black person or one of a handful in a classroom and feeling the weight of seeming to speak for the whole race. And I have fielded many a sheepish question from a blushing non-black person about black culture. I don’t mind a dialogue as long as it remains honest and respectful and the questions come from genuine curiosity.

What are some of the more memorable conversations you’ve had about race in a diverse setting? Do you think the German museum exhibit is an insult to Jewish culture?

Demetria Irwin is a New York City-based freelance writer/editor. Follow her on Twitter,@Love_Is_Dope.

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  • A white guy from the midwest once asked me why Jews & Blacks (mostly in Brooklyn) don’t get along. He had no idea about the riots in Crown Heights back in the day, so while it was a learning experience for him, the question was far too broad to give a real answer. There will always be generalization, and we can’t answer each one. My response may not have been the same for another Black person. So while its good for dialogue I can see it getting out of hand. There will just be an ignorant person who asks a stereotypical question no matter how controlled the environment.

    My belief is, if you want to get to know more about a race, go talk to them instead of assuming we’re all so different that we need to be in a glass box and incubated to ask us anything.

  • E

    It’s not “a” German museum…it’s the Jewish Museum in Berlin. You know, the one managed and operated by German Jews? Do better, Clutch. Please.

    • Thanks – maybe it was a mistake – with a small team – it’s happens. :)

      But, it is a German Museum – cause it’s in Germany. We know that it’s for Jewish Germans – but it’s in Germany.

      We will change if it’s a issue. :)

      We will “Do Better.”

      We also hope everyone strives to “do better” – you included. A great lesson to all :)

      If you have any other suggestions to help us “do better” please email us @ [email protected]

      Thanks!

    • Pseudonym

      Now that you guys changed it to a “Jewish museum” in this post, the article doesn’t make any sense b/c the sensationalism was built off a false pretense (i.e. The meanie ex-Nazi Germans being racist and insensitive against the Jews by putting them in a box). You should just delete this article; I saw posts to this effect before and this is basically a ripoff of other blog entries without actually doing any research into the actual exhibit. No sense in spreading the misunderstanding any further.

    • Thanks for your comment – we are not going to delete – because Demetria the writer of this piece took time out to write and post about this topic. Can you explain the misunderstanding and rip-off stance? We will forward your comment for her to reply.

      Thanks!

  • Seems like the popular “Ask a Mexican” newspaper column–I don’t really have a problem with it.

  • Hi Good People,

    I called it a German museum because it’s in Germany. A museum here in the US would be an American museum. I said not a word about “meanie Germans,” just stated the obvious that Germany’s relationship with Jews has been a complicated one. If anything is sensationalist it is the museum’s exhibit. This post was meant to be a catalyst for a conversation about inter-racial/cultural conversations.

    -Demetria Irwin

  • I’m black, born in America but raised in Germany. I just came back to the states about a year and a half ago. I speak fluent German, went to German schools, etc. I will tell you this: one cannot compare the racial/ethnic politics of America with racial/ethnic politics in Germany. We in America have a long, sordid historical relationship with the idea of race, a relationship that does not exist in Germany. Remember that Germany has always been relatively homogenous, whereas in America, there have always been people of many different ethnicities, meaning there has always been racial tension between us. In Germany, where most of the people are and always have been German, racial tension has been a relatively modern phenomenon.

    There is still rampant racism in many places in Germany (which I am too familiar with), but it’s not considered “offensive” to ask someone of a different ethnic background questions that would be intolerable in America. True, one cannot stereotype an entire ethnicity or culture based on the remarks of a few individuals who may belong to that particular group, but the fact that this exhibit exists is a testament to the fact that the issue of anti-Jewish racism is finally being discussed in Germany.

    Funnily enough, there aren’t many Jews in Germany today, yet the discussion of Judaism is extremely sensitive in the nation. People usually avoid talking about it because of the history surrounding it. A lot of Germans feel what could be compared to “white guilt” in America when it comes to Judaism. Being proud of being German is, unfortunately, often associated with far-right German nationalism. This is the first time that I have heard of anything like this being done in Germany. So while it may be strange to us in the U.S., it is somewhat of a milestone in Germany.