Becoming a black jew: Cultural racism and anti-racism in contemporary Israel

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Many scholars consider 'identity' and 'identity politics' to be among the most important means for cultural minority groups to challenge a discriminatory reality. Others caution that these processes might result in the polarisation of differences, potentially fuelling hatred, harsh conflict, exclusion and even violence. The tension between these two views is presented in this article through an examination of the way young Ethiopian Jews whose parents immigrated to Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s have developed their own particular identity precisely in the course of and as a result of the encounter with Israeli society and its mechanisms of exclusion, discrimination, and control. The state declared a policy of assimilation, but in practice relegated the new arrivals to a status of inferiority and marginality. As a result, young Ethiopian Jews reconstructed a new, complex and hybrid Israeli identity, in which blackness is one important element. This unique identity is presented in the paper as a crucial response by the youths to a discriminatory reality of cultural racism. However, the essay also raises doubts concerning their success in minimising their subjugation and in 'de-racialising' Israel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-266
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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