Posts Tagged 'Black'

Choice Leftovers: Re’eh and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

I cannot even remember the last time I played pick up basketball. Regardless, I still have that fear of not getting picked to play. We all know the feeling of not getting chosen, but can we identify the feeling of being chosen?

I was thinking about this idea this week while reading Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God: the Lord your God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be His treasured people.

Deuteronomy 14:2

In Judaism, “chosenness” is the belief that the Jews, via descent from the ancient Israelites, are the chosen people, i.e., chosen to be in a covenant with God. We have been chosen by God for a purpose, but what purpose? Sometimes this choice is seen as charging the Jewish people with a specific mission—to be a light unto the nations, and to exemplify the covenant with God.

While the concept of “choseness” implies ethnic supremacy, this idea does not play out well for us over history. More often than not we have ended up on the short end of the stick suffering at the hands of others. If we were chose to suffer, why would anyone want that? I was thinking about this recently while watching Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. There is some real depth to this movie.

Was Toledo a Real Person? Who Is Ma Rainey's Pianist Based on?

I was particularly struck by one line by Toledo the older musician when he said:

Now, I’m gonna show you how this goes . . . where you just a leftover from history. Everybody come from different places in Africa, right? Come from different tribes and things. Soonawhile they began to make one big stew. You had
the carrots, the peas, and potatoes and whatnot over here. And over there you had the meat, the nuts, the okra, corn … and then you mix it up and let it cook right through to get the flavors flowing together . . . then you got one thing. You got a stew. Now you take and eat the stew. You take and make your history with that stew. All right. Now it’s over. Your history’s over and you done ate the stew. But you look around and see some carrots over here, some potatoes over there. That stew’s still there. You done made your history and it’s still there. You can’t eat it all. So what you got? You got some leftovers. That’s what it is. You got leftovers and you can’t do nothing with it. You already making you another history. . . cooking you another meal, and you don’t need them leftovers no more. What to do? See, we’s the leftovers. The colored man is the leftovers. Now, what’s the colored man gonna do with himself? That’s what we waiting to find out. But first we gotta know we the leftovers. Now, who knows that? You find me a nigger that knows that and I’ll turn any whichaway you want me to. I’ll bend over for you. You ain’t gonna find that. And that’s what the problem is. The problem ain’t with the white man. The white man knows you just a leftover. ‘Cause he the one who done the eating and he know what he done ate. But we don’t know that we been took and made history out of. Done went and filled the white man’s belly and now he’s full and tired and wants you to get out the way and let him be by himself. Now, I know what I’m talking about.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

I would not claim that Jewish history to be the same as African American history, but there is something profound and resonant in this depiction of value and self. Looking at our history I often feel that we are less the Chosen People and more She’arit Yisrael, the remnant of Israel. We are what it left after a long history. I can relate to also being the leftovers of history. I like to think it is still a damn good stew.


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