Excessive focus on Jewish issues vs Black issues at Alas?

In comments, Destinee wrote:

As a black woman, I am befuddled by the excessive focus on Jewish issues at Alas this past month.

Given that it was black people who built America as slaves, black people who had to fight for desegregation and civil rights less than 50 years ago, black people who continue to face hardships in housing/education/worklife, etc, given all of that, why is there no focus on black issues at Alas?

I am not saying as a Jewish person, you do not experience discrimination; I am saying that as a Jewish person who is more likely to pass as white than as any other racial background, you have it much easier than a black woman like myself who struggles each day because of the color of my skin.

Thanks for commenting, Destinee.

I don’t recall if you’ve posted on “Alas” before, so I’m not sure if you’re a longtime reader or not. Since “Alas” began, there have been 581 posts in the “racism” category,1 and 68 posts in the “antisemitism” category. I’m not saying that 581 posts is “enough,” and of course not all those posts are substantive, but I don’t think anyone who’s been following “Alas” for long would say that we write more about Jewish issues than black issues.

I am personally committed to continuing to write anti-racist posts on “Alas,” and I know other “Alas” posters are, too.

It is true that there have been an unusually high number of posts about Jewish issues in the last month or two.

That said, I don’t share the approach to blogging that your critique suggests, and I make no apology for the recent surge of posts about Jewish issues. With all due respect, it’s wrong for a non-Jew (assuming you’re not Jewish) to criticize Jewish bloggers2 for an “excessive” focus on Jewish issues. It’s not up to you, as a non-Jew, to tell Jews the appropriate amount of focus on Jewish issues.

If the US government concentrated more on antisemitism than racism, that would be wrong — because, like you, I think that POC in the US have more urgent issues than Jews in the US do, and the government is obliged to represent all of us.3 Large news organizations, whose mission is to cover news as a whole, have a similar obligation to make sure their coverage reflects the demographics and real needs of society as a whole.

But “Alas” is a blog, not a news organization or a government agency. And what we blog about is determined by what the “Alas” writers are passionate about blogging about, and also what our schedules are like.

As it happens, there’s usually much more blogging about race issues than Jewish issues on “Alas.” But if we mostly posted about Jewish issues, that would be fine. No blog is obligated to focus on issue X rather than issue Y just because many people — usually people unaffected by issue X — consider issue Y more important.

In the end, framing the question as “excessive” focus on Jewish issues versus insufficient focus on Black issues is a bad approach. It wrongly implies that there is such a thing as “excessive’ focus on Jewish issues for an individual blog, and it wrongly implies that there’s a competition for attention between Black issues and Jewish issues.

But for what it’s worth (and maybe that’s not much), “Alas” has always included posts attacking racism and white privilege, and it always will.

  1. Not all of those 581 posts are focused on Black issues specifically, but many of them are. []
  2. Not all bloggers on “Alas” are Jewish, but nearly all “Alas” posts about Jewish issues have been written by Jewish bloggers []
  3. It doesn’t represent all of us, but it is obligated to. It just ignores that obligation too often. []
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108 Responses to Excessive focus on Jewish issues vs Black issues at Alas?

  1. 101
    Eva says:

    Susanne – I’m addressing your question in comment #100. I see you’ve posted similar comments regarding the relevance of debate on the topic of the whiteness of Jews.

    Although it may be true, in your experience, that only the ignorant and people who are allied with hate groups see White Identified Jews and question their “whiteness”, that is, apparently, not the experience of many other WIJ, including a great number who have commented on posts here on Alas. And since having part of one’s identity questioned by people who are neither aggregiously ignorant nor overtly hatefull has been and continues to be an ordinary WIJ’s experience, I don’t know how it’s possible to dismiss it, merely because it is “factually incorrect” (assuming we have all the facts in a given case available).

    Never mind the complications of physically being identified with a group of people who hold sway, priviledge-wise, over everyone else in the world. Not everyone who holds such priviledge wants it or understands it, feels like they actually retain benefits from it, or, as others have said, feels like, from the inside, it is theirs to claim even though, from the outside, it is a priviledge granted.

    A roll of the DNA dice gave me the pink skin, fair (though curly) hair, and green eyes of my Dad’s Russian Jewish heritage, and my older brother got my Mom’s Middle Eastern looking, though of Polish Jewish heritage for centuries, olive skin, brown hair & brown eyes. Ultimately my brother and I both come from the Middle East (unless we came from people who converted to Judaism), if we go back far enough, as many Jews and non-Jews tend to mentally do. I think it’s that mental calculus that undercuts the perception of “whiteness”, despite what one’s eyes tell one about the person standing in front of them. I doubt very much that that mental calculus is ever going to go away. And although you may be able to dismiss it, or deny it, I can’t, and I wonder how many WIJ can.

  2. Susanne,

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “dismiss.” When an individual says things that are factually untrue, of course I can dismiss what he or she says, and I can dismiss him or her as well, assuming that we don’t have a connection I can’t ignore. Suppose, for example, she or he is my boss, or my colleague, or even my student. Suppose that person is my girlfriend’s father or mother, or my son’s art teacher. In each of those cases, to differing degrees, to the extent that there is such a thing as antisemitism in this country, and to the degree that what those people are saying is part of antisemitic rhetoric–albeit an old one–I cannot afford to dismiss either them or the values they express. That they can express those values at all is a mark of privilege, that I have to defend myself against that they are saying is a mark of their privilege.

    There is more that I could say, and I am not sure I have said this clearly enough, but I need to go.

  3. 103
    PG says:

    Susanne, I’d add that there’s a difference between being able to dismiss the content of what someone is saying, and being able to dismiss the fact they’ve said it and the position they have that allows them to say untrue things apparently without concern that they will get called out as liars. I mean, it’s also untrue that if a Muslim man kills his wife, it must have been an “honor killing” instead of attributable to a longstanding history of abuse and untreated mental illness. But when I hear people saying that, I feel obligated to challenge it because allowing it to stand does affect how Muslims are treated, how Islam is regarded and even whether domestic violence victims will get help or just be dismissed as needing to change their religion. An untrue idea can have as much power or more than a true idea — “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on.”

  4. 104
    Simple Truth says:

    @PG #2

    I can suggest that in a particular situation, they might be too quick to see something that probably isn’t there, and even that they might need to step back and work on perspective, but I certainly am not going to say “And it’s wrong for you to be thinking and writing about that to the degree that you do.”

    PG (and Ampersand) – you are, of course, correct that I shouldn’t tell you when or what to think or write about.

    I was making the same point in the opposite direction – you shouldn’t tell others not to have an opinion, either.
    I agree that the original post was what I would consider off-topic and not germane to the discussion at hand. I just found it a little offensive to be told what I could or could not comment on due to my religious/cultural status. That being said, I do enjoy the amount of intellectual discourse here, and on topics that I wouldn’t normally have on my radar (like Jewish culture), and the level of respect usually displayed in the forums.

  5. 105
    PG says:

    Simple Truth,

    I think you are missing why it’s peculiarly inappropriate for someone who is not Jewish to scold Jews for talking “too much” about anti-Semitism and other issues that affect only Jews: someone who is not Jewish doesn’t experience these aspects of life and therefore can’t know how much is the “right” amount for people to talk about this. We (non-Jews) are just not part of the community that is dealing with it, and while we may be sympathetic allies, we can’t really share the perspective.

    That’s why it’s more problematic for someone who never has dealt with anti-Semitism to say “you’re talking about this too much” than for someone who has dealt with it to say the same. It’s like having a man tell a female rape survivor that she needs to get over her fear of men, versus having a fellow female rape survivor counsel her on how to do the same thing. Their points may be basically the same and equally (in)valid, but inevitably the speaker shapes the speech when giving a specific person a directive of this sort.

    We’re not talking about a generalized policy question like “Should we get rid of the prohibition on unlicensed practice of law?” where people will have different opinions shaped by whether they’re lawyers or not, but ultimately it’s a fairly impersonal and unspecific point and so the identity of the speaker ought to be divorced from the argument he makes. We’re talking about a criticism made of this specific weblog for hosting a series of posts discussing anti-Semitism, and especially a criticism couched in the assumption that there’s some zero-sum game in which discussing anti-Semitism leaves less bandwidth for discussing other forms of racism, and that this weblog has been insufficient in discussing other forms of racism. In that context, it is perfectly reasonable to have less patience with a criticism made by someone outside the community than someone within it.

    Or to put it much more briefly: of course you can have an opinion, but don’t be surprised if people tell you they don’t feel obligated to take your opinion all that seriously, and even find that opinion offensive, uninformed or inappropriate.

  6. 106
    Simple Truth says:


    I actually came back to search for this thread to see your response. I think I see where we are at loggerheads. I agree that no one should be told they are talking too much about an issue they are familiar with by someone who does not have any authority in saying so….I don’t really feel that people should be censored like that period, by anyone – authority or not.

    With all due respect, it’s wrong for a non-Jew (assuming you’re not Jewish) to criticize Jewish bloggers2 for an “excessive” focus on Jewish issues. It’s not up to you, as a non-Jew, to tell Jews the appropriate amount of focus on Jewish issues.

    The issue that bothered me, and I’m beginning to think that I took it out of context, was that someone was telling me “it’s wrong…to criticize” based on a status. At first, and again- this is not what Amp meant (I think) – I took it as signaling that I should not have an opinion on Jewish issues because I am not a Jew, period, end of statement. Upon rereading it and taking it solely to mean the curtailing of someone else’s opinion, I agree with Amp and your comments. However, it still runs dangerously close to the line of telling non-Jews what their appropriate focus is, which is what originally got my dander up.

    I’m starting to get more involved reading this blog so I hope you’ll forgive the growth spurts in commenting. It’s a developing skill that I’m learning.

  7. 107
    yrl says:

    Sorry I’m late, but … @Julie:

    gah, my brain hurts.

    Welcome to our world!

    – yet another white-privileged mixed ashkenazi/sephardi jew

  8. 108
    manfromearth says:

    Would Judge Diane Wood have dissented had a Christian been told a crucifix being placed outside their condo door was against the association by-laws? I’ve seen several comments regarding this case where that question is being raised.