A New Essay of Mine Has Been Published: “The Lines That Racism and Antisemitism Draw: Reflections on White Jewish Intersectionality”

The piece is up at Unlikely Stories. Here’s an excerpt:

I fully recognize that because of my skin color I benefit from the continued white male dominance of our society, whether I want to or not. Nonetheless, I can’t help but also know that while slavery was being practiced in the United States, my great and great-great and great-great-great grandparents were figuring out how to survive the pogroms of Eastern Europe and were subjected to many of the same kinds of discrimination and persecution that Black people have experienced in the U.S. My history, in other words—our history, yours and mine, and even that Jewish academic’s—is not the history of Anglo-European white people. Neither has my experience growing up in the United States been one of unadulterated white privilege. The boys who called me Heeb and threw rocks at me when I walked in the neighborhood; who burglarized my home and carved Kike into the wood of my bedroom door; who, with chains and a baseball bat, backed me up against a wall on a not-deserted street in the town where I grew up to scream at the top of their lungs about the oven they said they had waiting for me and my family in their basement; the people who walked by when that was happening and did nothing–every single one of them was white, almost certainly Christian, and not one of them saw my white skin as demanding even the mildest form of racial solidarity.

It’s not that I feel the need to say, “I may look white but…” every time the question of white privilege comes up, but I have become very conscious of how rarely the contingent nature of my access to that privilege is acknowledged. Ironically, the white supremacists from whom Donald Trump has drawn so much support know exactly what I am talking about. They have always linked whiteness to Christianness, excluding Jews from whiteness by definition.

I hope you’ll consider reading the whole thing.

This entry posted in Anti-Semitism, antiracism, Race, racism and related issues, Racism. Bookmark the permalink. 

9 Responses to A New Essay of Mine Has Been Published: “The Lines That Racism and Antisemitism Draw: Reflections on White Jewish Intersectionality”

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    … the white supremacists from whom Donald Trump has drawn so much support ….

    “So much support”? Over 60 million people voted for Donald Trump. How many white supremacists do you think were among them? How much money do you think they donated to him?

  2. Two things Ron:

    First, leaving aside for the moment that your question is a distraction from the main point, I was not referring to white supremacists as a percentage of those who voted for Trump, nor was I talking about their financial contribution. Rather, I was referring to the fact that white supremacists supported (and support) him enthusiastically and whole-heartedly.

    Second, precisely because your question is a distraction from the point I was making, and because this is in fact an excerpt from a significantly longer piece, I’d appreciate it if we (all of us, collectively) didn’t get into a discussion of it taken out of the context in which it actually exists.


  3. 3
    RonF says:

    I do not accept your reasoning, but as per your request I’ll leave it at that in this space.

  4. 4
    Jake Squid says:

    That’s a powerful set of letters, Richard. The last letter touches on something I’ve been thinking about recently – that minorities survive and thrive with only the thinnest of bulwarks between them and annihilation by the majority. That the division between survival and destruction can be removed with little or no warning and that the annihilators will be the same good people they were before the change.

  5. 5
    kate says:

    That was a beautiful series of letters.

    In the seventh letter you wrote:

    To put it another way, he was claiming that, because he is oppressed as a Jew, he does not experience—the full implication is that he has never experienced—what white privilege feels like, i.e., that physical sense of being at home in your own skin and therefore in the world, while at the same time doubting that anyone who isn’t white can ever have that same experience.

    Are you using “skin” here literally? If so, do you see yourself more as having something analogous to passing privilege?
    Or, are you using skin metaphorically? If so, this seems to be setting the bar for what white privilege feels like a bit too high. Metaphorically, there are many people who have white skin but are marginalized on other axes who don’t have “that physical sense of being at home in your own skin…”. I certainly don’t feel that way, and I have every form of privilege there is except gender.

  6. Thanks, Kate. That’s a good question and an important clarification for me to make if I ever have a chance to revise the essay for publication elsewhere. I mean something closer to your first understanding, i.e., that “skin” should be taken literally. Using the colloquialism “at home in your own skin,” especially since the essay is about intersectionality, was probably too broad and vague.

    Jake, yes. I’m glad the letters made you think of that. An idea like what you articulated was very much on my mind while I wrote.

  7. 7
    AJD says:

    I thiiiink I was taught in my Yiddish class sophomore year of college that “shvarts” is considered a slur in Yiddish as well.

    (And I also think I recall that, unfortunately, the non-slur Yiddish word meaning ‘black person’ is “neger”; but I’m less certain of that.)

  8. ADJ,

    Re your comment: “Neger,” according to this article on the Forward’s website was a Yiddishized version of Negro, not the original Yiddish word for Black people. I first heard the distinction between using the word “schwartzeh” in Yiddish and using the word in English from an African American Jewish woman who was a scholar of Jewish Studies and who spoke Yiddish fluently. Doesn’t mean she’s an absolute authority. I’m just saying where I heard it.

  9. 9
    Joe in Australia says:

    Yiddish evolved in Europe, where the social construction of race wasn’t primarily along color lines. There was simply no occasion to have a word in general speech that distinguished between “whites” and “blacks”, so on the rare occasions that it was necessary people reached for Biblical allusions (e.g., “Cushim”) or lengthy descriptive terms. When eugenics and race became a thing, Yiddish adopted the “scientific” German term, “neger”. I think The Forward is right about why American Jews dropped that term in favor of “schvartzeh”, and why that term should now be dropped as well.

    Regarding the essays as a whole, there’s a lot to think about and I’ll try to say more when I’ve had a chance to digest them.