I know most of us have pretty much said what we need to say about the Feministe debacle, but there’s one more thing I want to address before I try to put it behind me.
There were a few bloggers and commenters who, when responding to David’s reference to gentile privilege (a concept that immediately made sense to me), stated, explicitly or implicitly, that they didn’t believe it exists. In doing so, they broke one of the fundamental rules of anti-oppression work: you never, ever dictate to a group what its own experience looks like. If you haven’t lived as a member of that group, you simply do not have the right to tell them how they are or aren’t oppressed. This, for me, was the most hurtful aspect of the whole debate. If you don’t think you need to understand anti-Semitism in order to understand why Israel launched an outrageous and inexcusable attack on Gaza – fine, I’m glad you’ve got it figured out. If you feel you have the energy to learn about Palestinian oppression or Jewish oppression, but not both – fine, I’ll see you at half the meetings. But I think it’s clear here that if you’re not acknowledging the existence of gentile privilege, then you’re not acknowledging the existence of anti-Semitism. Oppression cannot exist without corresponding privilege. It’s just not possible, folks.
I feel like I should be inured to it – after all, it’s not like it hasn’t happened to WOC, the disabled, Muslims, and countless other groups who thought that social justice meant justice for them, too – but it’s been bothering me for days. Indeed, looking over my last post on the subject, I’m reminded that I mentioned it there, too. I didn’t think for a second that the concept of gentile privilege would, in a feminist, anti-racist space, be controversial. I should have, though. (No wonder so many activists I know just don’t read comment threads at all.)
So: a checklist. I wrote this based on my own experiences, so what you’re seeing is gentile privilege among American liberals and radicals from a white Ashkenazi point of view. That obviously means that it’s a work-in-progress and hopefully a collaborative effort, since I lack the expertise to write about Jews in conservative or apolitical communities, Jews in other countries, and American Jews of color. (I also think it’d be very useful to write up checklists on Ashkenazi privilege and male privilege within Jewish communities. UPDATE: Whit has linked to an Ashkenazi privilege list here.) Because gentile privilege often operates in tandem with white and Christian privilege, I’ve included a sort of “prologue” of instances of white and Christian privilege that happen to apply to Diaspora Jews (items i-vii). It doesn’t make sense to look at complete lists of white or Christian privilege when talking about Jews, since most European Jews have white privilege and many Jews identify as secular or even Christian, so I’ve only included instances relevant to the intersection of the various identities that comprise Jewishness.
There were certain aspects of anti-Semitism that I couldn’t quite articulate as a form of privilege. Does that mean that they fit into one of the items I’ve already written? Take, for instance, the non-Jews who insist that since anti-Semitism is an inaccurate term, we Jews shouldn’t have a specific word for our oppression at all. Is that a function of denial (8)? Of mistrust (11)? Is it a separate kind of privilege that I’m not getting at yet – or does it happen simply because people don’t know that anti-Semitism operates differently than other types of oppression? Also, how do Jewish women factor into this list? Everything I wrote resonates with me – but at the same time, I’ve been keenly aware of the fact that, with the notable exceptions of the JAP and the Jewish Mother, Jewish women remain largely invisible in both Jews’ and non-Jews’ perceptions of Jewishness. Does what I wrote resonate with me because I genuinely feel it, or because, lacking my own solid identity, I’m forced to siphon it off of Jewish men?
If a “final” draft of this list is ever produced, it’ll probably be very messy and complicated – more like multiple lists connected under the umbrella category of gentile privilege. I think this is the only way it’ll accurately reflect the various interconnections and distinctions of Jewish cultures around the globe. Or maybe this list will just serve as a brief and limited addendum to David’s essay. I’d be happy with that, too.
Quick note: I’m one person with a short history of anti-oppression work and an even shorter history of Jewish activism, so constructive criticism and collaboration will make the list better. But I’d like non-Jews to please remember that you are not an expert on Jewishness. If you see an item in the proper list that would be better placed in the prologue – awesome, thanks. But what I do not want to see is people who have never walked around as a Jew, never opened a book on Jewish history, or never heard of terms like “blood libel” lecturing me on how I’m whining and how a disagreement about Zionism or Gaza or the rhetoric in an essay excuses everything they said in the Feministe threads and how I obviously misunderstood what they meant in this thread or that post. If you’re not familiar with one or more of these items – some of them are pretty esoteric – April Rosenblum’s The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere is a great place to start, and has a good bibliography. If you read it and still have a question about one of the items, I’ll gladly answer it, but don’t start from the assumption that I pulled it out of thin air.
The Gentile Privilege Checklist (Liberal and Radical Edition)
i. My religious and cultural holidays are national holidays. Even if my job requires me to work on some holidays, generally speaking, I and my community members don’t have to explain ourselves to employers and teachers, request time off to celebrate and/or worship, and risk falling behind or losing pay when we take that time.
ii. Even if I “pass” for a member of another group, I can advertise my identity through my appearance, language, or other markers without fear of discrimination, harassment, or assault. Revealing my group identity has never felt like “outing” myself.
iii. I have never felt pressure to alter my body – chemically, surgically or otherwise – or engage in displays of strength or violence to compensate for perceptions of my group as ugly or weak.
iv. I can visit my place of worship or a community building without fear of injury or death.
v. Even if I’m in a sparsely populated area, it is never difficult to find other members of my group.
vi. Generally speaking, my community is not targeted for hate crimes or threats.
vii. When other members of my group commit violent crimes, I will not be held personally responsible for it, expected to explain or condemn their actions to members of other groups, or punished for continuing to identify as a member of my group. Others do not use those crimes to justify instigating or ignoring assault and harassment against me.
1. If I achieve success in my career, it will not be attributed to a predisposition to cunning and greed, or my group’s supposed control of the field, community, government, or world.
2. If I save money, accept money, or don’t spend as much as others think I should, it will not be attributed to a predisposition to stinginess or miserliness.
3. If I am angry, upset, or worried, my emotions are not attributed to my group’s supposed neurotic or infantile tendencies.
4. If my group suffers a monumental, culture-altering tragedy, no one speculates or tries to prove that I have exaggerated or fabricated the tragedy for material gain.
5. If I am robbed, it is not because the thief assumes, based on my group identity, that I am unusually rich.
6. When other members of my group commit violent crimes, I am not regularly portrayed as a monster that engages in demonic, inhuman acts.
7. In liberal and radical circles, It is not widely believed that my group has caused its own oppression, and I am not viewed as selfish or hypocritical for speaking about my oppression. It is generally accepted that fighting my oppression is not tantamount to endorsing the oppression of another group.
8. In liberal and radical circles, the very existence of my oppression – in any form or in any part of the world – is not routinely called into question or denied.
9. If, within a liberal or radical discussion, I feel that an individual’s criticism of members of my group is problematic, it is not immediately and universally assumed that my objection is delusional or a deliberate attempt to halt discussion. While it is acknowledged that one can “play the X-card,” legitimate instances of my oppression are given more attention than false accusations.
10. When economically oppressed groups organize to fight poverty, racism, and other injustices, they do not scapegoat me for those injustices.
11. When I work with liberals and radicals who are not members of my group, they do not view me with suspicion, require that I prove my loyalty to their cause, or wait for me to distinguish myself from the “bad” members of my group before they decide to trust me.
12. I can speak out against, or work to put a stop to, activities that promote hatred of my group without confirming beliefs that I am controlling the media or using a position of uncanny power over the community, government, or world to quell freedom of speech.
13. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – goes to war, I will not be blamed for starting it.
14. If the country in which I happen to live – or a country that is an ally to my country – loses a war, I will not be blamed for sabotaging it.
15. No one assumes, based on my group identity, that I am physically deformed. Upon meeting me, no one violates my privacy by asking to see that deformity, nor do they violate my bodily autonomy to search for it.
(Cross-posted at Modern Mitzvot.)