In this lesson, students will watch and respond to a video clip from the film American Creed in which historian and author David Kennedy draws from W. E. B. Du Bois’ idea of “twoness” to explore the tensions that can exist when an individual’s American identity and their religious, ethnic, racial, and other identities are at odds with one another.
In American Creed, David Kennedy discusses the changing attitudes towards what he calls “hyphenated Americans” (Italian-American, Irish-American, Jewish-American, etc.). He asserts that there was a time in the history of the United States political discourse when embracing a hyphenated identity was considered disloyal. He goes on to comment that while identifying with your ethnic heritage today is considered a good thing, there is nonetheless an underlying assumption that it should be less prominent than your American one.
Over the course of this lesson, students will use Du Bois’s and Kennedy’s ideas to explore their own Jewish identities and consider how they coexist with their identities as Americans.
After watching David Kennedy’s American Creed video clip, students will read two texts that grapple with the idea of “twoness” and hyphenated identities. The first text is by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf who asserts that the many facets of his identity cannot and should not be categorized, and to do so would be dangerous.
Students will then read a short narrative essay by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman who reflects on what the phrase “I am Jewish” means to him. Like Maalouf, Friedman asserts that the different parts of his identity cannot be categorized into a hierarchy of importance. They all make up who he is.
Through reading the two texts and watching David Kennedy’s video clip, students will discuss if it is indeed necessary that we relegate our various identities below our American identity. The students will end the lesson by reflecting on their identities and writing their own “I am Jewish” narrative response.