"The Black Jew Dialogues" Confronts Prejudice with Humor

February 07, 2011

Photo by Anna Montoya (Class of 2013)

Larry Jay Tish and Ron Jones perform "The Black Jew Dialogues."

Surely, there is nothing funny about racism and oppression—or is there?

In “The Black Jew Dialogues,” Larry Jay Tish and Ron Jones engaged the audience in a hysterical journey about the true nature of prejudice. “Our mission,” said Tish, “is to have the audience laugh, to find humor in the absurdity of prejudice and to arrive at a better understanding of self and others.” Through laughter, people can see how ridiculous these preconceived notions really are.

Rollins was introduced to “The Black Jew Dialogues” at the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) this past summer. Through the collaborative efforts of Professor of Religion and Director of the Jewish Studies Program Yudit Greenberg, the Jewish Student Union, the Black Student Union and the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), Rollins hosted Tish and Jones as they performed their 200th show on Tuesday, February 1.

The show provided a history of the relationship between the two cultures. The Jewish and Black communities were close during the Civil Rights movement, but have since experienced a rift. This split and the continued oppression of Blacks were the original motivations for the show. The dialogue resulted from real discussions that Tish and Jones had during a three-day stay at a cheap hotel. Both come from acting and improvisation backgrounds, which have allowed the show to evolve with the times.

The performance featured a series of related dialogues that ranged from two mothers from “the good old days” bonding over their experiences in the kitchen, to two friends at a Bar Mitzvah talking about how to become a man in their respected cultures, to two suburbanites talking about that black friend that every white person wants to have. Most of the time, Tish and Jones were simply playing themselves, and they always managed to find humor in their cross-cultural experiences.

“It was an opportunity to unlearn, to reflect and to repair the world,” said Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of multicultural affairs. “Two people from different backgrounds can find friendship through honest and authentic dialogue.”

The middle class today often uses stereotypes in order to instill fear and create a feeling of safety, resulting in what The Black Jew Dialogues calls “feareotypes.” “The only way to get past that,” said Jones, “is to see the people first.” We all share a common history rooted in fear and prejudice. As result, Jones argues that “before we can deal with who we are, we have to deal with who we were.” When we do so, our history can be a source of hope, showing us how far we have come.

“For the most part, people are not racist, but they’re not antiracist,” commented Michael Cardwell (Class of 2013) after the show. We’ve done better, and we’ve done worse.

“America still has issues,” said Alicia Cline (Class of 1997), “but they are not as blatant. We still have to work to clean up, and the dialogue showcased how people are thinking.”

It takes courage to be authentic, and humor allows us to explore our imperfections. “If you won’t deal with the totality of who you are—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you’re building a model of yourself,” said Jones. These models only represent one dimension of who we are. And we can’t live as stereotypes; we can only live as people.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs encourages Rollins’ 18 cultural organizations to collaborate and network with each other. Working together, cultural organizations host great events that inspire conversations about cultural identities and celebrate human differences. Learn more about the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the many ways you can get connected and become involved.

By Michael Barrett (Class of 2013)

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
For more information, contact news@rollins.edu

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