orange county, ny

needed to get some thoughts written out before i start the day

as a mostly Ashkenazic Jew living in America, i benefit from white privilege

i grew up in a society that, if i did not say or do anything to mark myself as different, categorized me as white and afforded me the societal preference and silent benefits of racist hierarchy, even while it swore that that wasn’t how it was up here in the north

i grew up among other Jews who identified their own selves and thus me as white, if sometimes a different class of white

i grew up in a society that instilled racist values in me and taught me to regard myself as white and insisted through media and “jokes” that this meant that i was somehow superior.

i grew up with a father who managed to evade the Holocaust and survive life in Eastern Europe in the Forties, whose life experiences said that the identification of Jews as something other than White or European or whatever category, something other than the dominant Christian culture, was an element of Nazi propaganda. 

we grew up as part of Jewish cultures that clung to whiteness or Europeanness or being a particular Volk as a survival tactic, that had faced the notion that we might be anything other than that as a blood libel, an accusation of evil conspiracy.

cultures that clung so desperately to this because it could be stripped away at any instant. The town in Orange County, NY where my grandparents were stopped at the border and forbidden entry once identified as Jews. The flight of my great-grandparents from the lands of their birth. The “jokes” about putting me in an oven. The friend who was asked in confused yet serious tones what had happened to her horns and if she’d gotten them surgically removed.

clung so desperately to whiteness because often enough, the alternative wasn’t “other ethnicity”, but “not human”.

it was a mistake, as far as i am concerned. We should have allied with Romani, we should have sided with black and Hispanic people, should not have marked even other Jews as something removed from us as we hid behind this.

as a mostly Ashkenazic Jew living in America, i’m white until i am not. I count in the eyes of my fellow Jews, i count in the eyes of white goyim until they’re safe behind a mask or a computer screen displaying their favored online forum. I count against my will, lumped into agendas of “Judeo-Christian values” that are clearly just Rich White Christian values.

i do not believe that i am white; my ancestry is almost exclusively diasporic middle eastern. But i recognize that, when i don’t show any other sign of it, i pass as white. Even when i do, if i wear a kippah or tichel, if i speak Yiddish or Ladino or Hebrew, i am still (at least conditionally) white.

Until the next Neo-Nazi in a position of power decides to act on their bigotry, until the next time some vays sheygetz realizes that i’m not complicit in their agenda.

i do not believe i am white, but i have been brought up in a society that layered whiteness over me, like a thin coat of paint. So, to live as a decent human being, i must conduct myself with awareness of this; awareness of the perception of me and the privilege i receive regardless of its conditional nature. I must do what generations before me failed to do, and not overtly ally myself with whiteness, even where i am forced into that category.

whiteness is ultimately a historically recent social construct; there is no strict, scientific reality to it. But it is still a construct that i must engage with, and with recognition of how it has benefited me and my family.