Dealing with Histories of Oppression: Black and Jewish Reactions to Passivity and Collaboration in William Styron's 'Confessions of Nat Turner' and Hannah Arendt's 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'
Posted: 8 Feb 2001
The Arendt and Styron episodes discussed here represented a kind of "critical race studies" avant le lettre. At a very inopportune time in the "civil rights moment" two important minority groups asserted a very particularist epistemology, one demanding empathy and narrative, among other restrictive devices, as prerequisites for judging both historical events and legal processes. The universalism, egalitarianism, and color-blindness of minority struggles came under siege. The Eichmann trial moved Jews toward a type of inward-directedness while the Nat Turner debate eroded integrationist impulses. Something was signalled by these episodes that later came to be manifest in the demands for affirmative action and holocaust studies. Not only did these two books generate similar controversies, but the two controversies actually intertwined. The "Nat Turner" episode played a notable role in the rapid deterioration of relations between Black and Jewish intellectuals after the Six Day War (of the same year), while the "Eichmann in Jerusalem" episode contributed to both a greater sense of confidence about Jewish life in America and to the perceived rightness of Israel. Jewish struggles and problems were thereby further distinguished from those of their erstwhile allies, the African-Americans.
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