Abuse, Bigotry, Black Israelites, Covington Catholic High School (Kentucky), Domestic Violence, Edomites, Hebrew-Israelite Years, Hebrew-Israelites, Henry VIII, Hyper-Masculinity, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Kufi, Lepers, Misogynoir, Misogyny, Natalie Dormer, Patriarchy, Polygamy, The Tudors (2007-10)
I’m a month late with this post about the Covington Catholic High School White boys and their -isms-filled excursion across DC, including their well-filmed smirk and Native American-stereotyping confrontation with Nathan Phillips. The part of the confrontation that produced the most hype but little substance was the nearly two-hour period around the Lincoln Memorial, in which some of the privileged White-privileged-males made taunting runs the handful of people the media called “Black Hebrew-Israelites.” Clearly this was a misnomer, as if there were such a thing as White Hebrew-Israelites!
That these Black Israelites or Hebrew-Israelites could call these White boys “Edomites,” the descendants of Jacob’s suckered and inferior pink-skinned twin brother Esau, was apparently shocking for many Whites. But within a day or two, the “Black Hebrew Israelites” narrative went away, as the focus shifted to White boys shouldn’t have their lives ruined over a little bit of March for Life misogyny, racism, and intimidation.
The media dropped this line of inquiry, likely because it didn’t play to any of their typical tropes and other two-sided themes. As someone who spent three years of my life wearing kufis and yarmulke, eating kosherized meats, and understanding the meaning behind “unclean issues of blood,” I can tell you that the Hebrew-Israelites likely didn’t start the confrontation, but once taunted, were going to give as much as they got from the privileged White males from Kentucky. I can tell you that Black hyper-masculinity, misogyny, and a sort of anti-Whiteness was all part of my experience with the Shalom Aleichem crowd. White folks were either Edomites — the descendants of the less-favored Esau from Genesis, the first book of the Torah — or were “healed lepers.” Either way, Hebrew-Israelites saw Whites as a somewhere between a curse of God or God’s not-quite-as-chosen people.
To call Hebrew-Israelites a “hate group” — putting them on the same plane as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups — is astoundingly ridiculous and a waste of time. As a rule, Hebrew-Israelites may preach the fiery end times, but they’re not working particularly hard to make them happen. They especially want as little to do with White folk of any stripe as they can get away with. Now, at least for the sect of Hebrew-Israelites my family belonged to in the 1980s, there was support for Israel, and many certainly saw a certain degree of commonality with our Levite and Judahite brothers in Palestine, many also saw these European Jews as Edomites. To be both pro-Israel while also harboring some anti-European-Jews-as-Whites-in-disguise -isms, well, it all made sense to me sometime between October 1981 and March 1983 (no, not really).
What made more sense to me, though, was the connection between the ancient Israelites of the land of Canaan and the Ten Lost Tribes living in the US and reclaiming their birthright. Not just a homeland in Palestine, though. They claimed the practices of the ancient Israelites as well, including especially polygamy. Never mind that this practice could only work “in practice” if the man involved had the material means to provide for all of his women and for his progeny. That so many of the men didn’t possess the means but attempted this practice anyway speaks to the fact that being a Hebrew-Israelite for them merely meant easy access to women, sex, and reproduction via their sperm in a way that justified their misogynoiristic view of the world.
My stepfather Maurice, er, “Judah ben Israel,” gleefully used the temple teachings of proper polygamy as permission to act like he was living in the time of Saul, David, and Solomon. Maurice’s was some of the worst misogyny I have ever witnessed this side of Henry the Eighth as Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayed the portly king in Showtime’s The Tudors. He was with at least two other women in the months between January 1982 and June 1984, all while having knocked my Mom up with my two youngest siblings. All while also knocking my Mom around their master bedroom like she was a six-foot piñata. Keep in mind, for a three-year period between May 1979 and August 1982, my idiot stepfather didn’t work at all, and held down a part-time security job guarding an abandoned Vicks factory between August 1982 and October 1986.
I pretty much thought that the man was a piece of shit by the time I learned that my younger siblings has siblings of their own around the same age, sometime in 1984 or 1985. But that was the thing about a religion like this one. It attracted and still attracts a sector of Black men who otherwise feel emasculated, like strangers among strangers in a strange land, and hands them hyper-masculinity in return. It draws in Black women in search of a Yahweh, a stern and often unforgiving god who sees them as they see themselves, as unworthy of anything other than what can be drawn from family, from the men and the children and kindred sistahs in their lives.
So it’s not hard for me to believe the folks on my Twitter timeline who live in New York and in Philly feeling like they were on display at a butcher’s shop in the middle of Grand Central or Reading Terminal Market when encountering the kufi-wearing, Shalom-Aleichem set. But it’s also hard for me to believe that these privileged White boys fully comfortable with their White supremacy didn’t stoke and anger a group of Hebrew-Israelites as part of their -isms-laden tour of DC. There was enough White patriarchy and testosterone involved in these confrontations to make a lea full of sheep bald and barren.
Still, I thank God for every day I’ve had since surviving those Hebrew-Israelite years, those years of doubt, and all of that self-loathing and misogynoir. I can only hope that there are others who’ve made their way out of that malignancy.