I get worried when people talk about Jews having white privilege. The IJN recently ran an article with black Jews expressing how other Jews could support them, and a repeated refrain was that Jews should acknowledge their white privilege. I hear the point. There are American Jews who are perceived and treated as white. But it’s not that simple.
Most fundamentally, not every American Jew is Caucasian or of European descent, an assumption inherent to this point-of-view. If Arabs and Latinos are considered people of color, that means that Mizrachi Jews are too. Are they afforded white privilege? Has anyone even bothered to ask?
But let’s talk about the “white” Jews. What concerns me most about averring that Jews have white privilege is that it elides anti-Semitism. Jews should know that any privilege they have acquired is tenuous at best, at worst a veneer.
Not more than 100 years ago, Jews were enslaved and murdered en masse for being Jewish. Not more than 100 years ago, universities in the US had quotas on Jewish students. Not more than 80 years ago neighborhoods in Denver excluded Jews.
Not more than 60 years ago, Jews were expelled from their homes in Arab lands, forced to flee into exile, stripped of their possessions and wealth.
Not more than five years ago, Jews in France were brutally murdered simply because they were Jewish.
Not more than two years ago, Jews in Pittsburgh were murdered because they were Jewish.
Not more than seven months ago Jews in the Tri-State area were repeatedly harassed and murdered because they were Jewish.
Even the most successful “white” Jew is regularly smeared with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (George Soros, for example).
American Jews have a strong tradition of supporting fellow oppressed groups. If we have acquired some level of privilege, we should use it to continue that tradition. But it’s more than status that motivates us to do so; it’s practically written into our DNA, instructed time and again in the Torah. Seeing ourselves as part of a larger struggle for justice is a powerful motivator. The danger is when we lose sight that we’re part of the minority.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at email@example.com
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