Sunday, April 06, 2008

Parenthetical whiteness

Via Amber, I just glanced at this far-left take on sexism and racism. I am struck, not as Amber is by the critique of white feminism--I've seen that plenty--but by the phrase "white (Jewish) lesbian feminist." That right there, leaving aside the "lesbian feminist" part of the phrase, says just about everything one needs to know about where Jews in America stand vis-a-vis whiteness. A Jew can be white, but one needs to throw in "Jewish" in a way no one would ever think to add "Presbyterian." But in parentheses, because one wants to emphasize the immense privilege experienced by everyone white, Jews included, no, Jews all the more so. But leaving "Jewish" out altogether would imply that one is talking about a real white person, which is far from the case.

I could write a whole post, if not more, on what's going on when "Jewish" gets put into parentheses, as so often is the case. But that's for another time.

10 comments:

Dr. Psycho said...

I remember all the jokes from the National Lampoon in the 1970s, about how Jews were "technically white", or "white for most purposes". The worst of all: "Jews aren't really white, except for the ones in the Bible".

The Lampoon was a valuable cultural document, being created mostly by Protestants and therefore quite different from the Jewish humor that predominates in this country.

Anonymous said...

Certainly not presbyterian but yes Mormon or maybe even Catholic.

It's not your assertion that you are or are not white that is annoying (by all means define or don't define yourself racially however you please), but your assertion that no other "white looking" group of people is labeled parenthetically on religious grounds.

Phoebe said...

I apologize for any annoyance my post may have caused, but please, Anonymous, return to the post I linked to, and try to imagine someone referring to a "white (Catholic) lesbian feminist." Unless the individual discussed happened to be a nun also, I doubt her affiliation would come up. Nothing about a person's whiteness changes if he is Catholic or, I'd think, Mormon. Unless the person's religion is being discussed, it won't come up.

From the story I link to, there's no mention of why we're supposed to care about the religion of Adrienne Rich. Nor, for that matter, do we have any reason to believe that Rich is a practicing Jew; in fact, the implication is that she's probably not Orthodox or even close. What's meant by "Jewish" is an ethnicity, one that keeps Rich from being totally white.

Withywindle said...

You're beginning to persuade me.

PhoebePhiliac said...

"Jewish" is an ethnicity, at least on Canadian census forms. Not all Jews are ethnically Jewish, but it is an option.

And like Giuliani (Italian) is parenthetically more-that-just-white, so is Phoebe.

Except that she isn't. The important part isn't that Pheobe is parenthetically Jewish, its that she is unparentheticaly white.

PhoebePhiliac (formerly schMaltzLover)

PhoebePhiliac said...

A proposed solution for Phoebe's Unbearable-Whiteness-of-Being. Let's use the authoritative determinant of whiteness, stuffwhitepeoplelike.

If Phoebe's WhiteScore is higher that, say 60, she's white. Between 40-60, she's beige. Under 40 -- Phoebe Maltz is actually Black. It's a solution we can all agree on.

Phoebe said...

Withywindle: No way!

Other psuedonym:
-Again, switch "(Jewish)" for "(Italian)." Unless the person in question is Donatella Versace, you're not going to hear about this quality.
-SWPL is so last week.

Anonymous said...

What about Wasp, Phoebe? That means Episcopalian - and occassionally Presbyterian.

Phoebe said...

Try the above-mentioned substitution. No one would ever write about a "white (WASP) lesbian feminist."

Phoebephiliac said...

They'd switch (Jewish) for (Italian) if they were talking about Toronto's white (Italian) dominated construction industry.

Here's a phrase for you:

"Indian-American (Gujurati) motel owners tend to support Hindu fundamentalist parties in India"

Do you read that as saying that Gujuratis are less Indian than non-Gujuratis? Or just indicating that the American motel business is dominated by a particular slice of Indians.

Put in Phoebe-speak, viewing an issue less ethnocentrically can reduce your levels of paranoia.