My Word: Identity crises, culture clashes and being canceled

It’s no longer enough to dismiss someone but you have to cancel them – delete their very existence.

Vandalized statues are seen outside the Surrogate’s Court, across from the ‘City Hall Autonomous Zone’ supporting Black Lives Matter, in Manhattan in June. (photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
Vandalized statues are seen outside the Surrogate’s Court, across from the ‘City Hall Autonomous Zone’ supporting Black Lives Matter, in Manhattan in June.
(photo credit: ANDREW KELLY / REUTERS)
 This is the story of Jessica Krug. Except she probably doesn’t have a story, but a narrative. And she’s not always known by that name. She has also been using the name Jess La Bombalera. And now she doesn’t exist. Or so we’re meant to believe.
Krug, or La Bombalera, grabbed headlines late last week when the activist and professor of African American history at George Washington University admitted that she’s not black. And she’s not from Harlem. Nor is she a part-Latina from the Bronx. Years ago, she simply decided she’s not white, Jewish and from Kansas City any more.
According to a post on Medium.com apparently written by Krug herself, she described her career as being “rooted in the napalm toxic soil of lies.”
Her public confession does not seem to have been spurred by the time in the Jewish calendar when ahead of the New Year next week, people are meant to repent their sins and apologize to those they’ve hurt. That would be way too Jewish for her. Various reports suggest she outed herself just ahead of having her true identity published by others.
Krug declared that her actions had been “the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways in which non-Black people continue to use and abuse Black identities and cultures.”
She put it down to a childhood trauma that she had only recently begun dealing with (and which she’d evidently kept as secret as her origins, until now.) And, for the sake of “restorative justice”  – a term she herself admitted she can’t define – she urged people: “You should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.”
How 2020 woke is that? It’s no longer enough to dismiss someone but you have to cancel them – delete their very existence.
Is there a word for canceling oneself? If not, it can only be a matter of time. As an article in The Daily Telegraph put it in July: “In 2020, there’s one c-word more politically charged than coronavirus: cancelled. The debate over so-called internet ‘cancel culture’ – a rallying cry or cudgel, depending on which end of the political spectrum you’re reading this from – has grown gradually louder over the second half of the decade.”
Krug, in my opinion, canceled herself a long time ago – when she decided that her own Jewish identity isn’t enough. Isn’t even acceptable. Or won’t make her accepted in the circles where she wants to be loved. No matter what her real story was, she would have been accused of having “white privilege.”
She decided that instead of being proud of her Jewish roots, religion and culture, she needed to become someone else entirely. The new persona – the identity fraud – not only condemned whites: She regularly bashed Israel and helped foster an environment in which other young Jews feel neither comfortable nor safe.
You don’t have to cancel Krug. She did it all by herself. She denied her own DNA.
As someone who takes being Jewish very seriously – and with great pride – I wondered how it came to this. Why being a member of a  minority with a population worldwide of fewer than 15-million, a history that dates back at least 4,000 years, an incredible story, and outstanding achievements, instead of making Krug walk tall made her feel small?
Part of it can be ascribed to her falling for her own narrative: Neatly dividing everything into, literally, black and white and elevating victimhood.
The situation brought to mind the story of former college instructor Rachel Dolezal, who described herself as “the world’s first trans-black case” after her white parents outed her following years in which she presented herself as a woman of color and a black rights activist.
As my colleague Seth J. Frantzman described the Krug case: “What is interesting is that a woman like the one in this story could be ‘black’ one day and ‘white’ the next. Students could see her as ‘black’ on Friday and on Monday she has become ‘white.’ Students who had questioned her ‘blackness’ in August 2020 would have been accused of racism against her...
“This story is about America and what the country’s history of race has done to people.”
Frantzman describes the “uniquely American obsession with defining White and Black and then seeing diversity in other places. That is why Korean and Japanese and Chinese and Filipino are seen as different ‘races’ on the US Census, but people from Bulgaria, Ireland and Finland, Turkey and Armenia, Syria and Uzbekistan, are all seen as ‘white.’”
Diversity is celebrated on the one hand and canceled on the other.
Krug’s success in academia is now academic. Canceled. She was given posts and grants based on her being somebody she’s not. Yet this also raises questions – and if you’ve read this far, it might be too late to add a trigger warning: Why could a white woman not teach African-American history in her own right? Can only Jews teach about the Holocaust? Do you have to be Chinese to teach Chinese medicine?
Part of the “cancel culture” requires that women write about women and men write about men; that actors stick strictly to their own ethnicity; and, it seems, that academics study only their own cultural milieu. This is not necessarily enriching.
ANOTHER CURIOUS but depressing story was one first broken by National Review. It reported that University of Southern California communications professor Greg Patton had been put on leave – which is a stage before being dismissed/canceled – after some black MBA students in his socio-linguistics class objected to the example he used when explaining the concept of “filler words” during an online lesson.
Patton unwittingly self-destructed when he told students:
“If you have a lot of ‘ums and ers,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language. Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’”
Turns out that some of his students weren’t just wide awake and paying attention – they were woke. A group of them threatened to drop his class rather than “endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor that disregards cultural diversity and sensitivities.”
Nèi ge sounds like a certain racial slur, they determined. 
According to the National Review, the students claimed their “mental health had been affected” and they could no longer trust Patton to grade them fairly. “In light of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the recent and continued collective protests and social awakening across the nation, we cannot let this stand,” the students declared.
The dean, Geoff Garrett, reacted like someone who saw his own cancellation looming and issued an apology saying: “I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma.” 
Patton later apologized and explained that this was the example he had been given by international students years ago. His own pronunciation of Chinese comes from time spent in Shanghai. “Given the difference in sounds, accent, context and language, I did not connect this in the moment to any English words and certainly not any racial slur,” he wrote.
The story took me back to my own Chinese studies at The Hebrew University. Not memories of learning “zhèi ge” and “nèi ge” for “this” and “that”: I recalled learning about the public shaming and horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
I worry about what some of this generation of students are learning on American campuses. How will they cope with the real world and how will the real world cope with them?
The lesson I’d like to see is this: Have pride in yourself – whatever your color, ethnicity, socio-economic background, gender, nationality or religion. If there’s something you don’t like about your society and surroundings, use your knowledge and skills to change it – peacefully. Boost positive identities over identity crises; and let’s cancel the cancel culture. That’s true social justice.