Friday, July 07, 2017

Can we *please* stop asking if Jews are white?: a ten trillionth blog-attempt at explaining anti-Semitism

Missed a whole lot of news cycles due to the move, but it seems the question of whether (pale-skinned, usually but not exclusively Ashkenazi) Jews are white has stuck around. Yes, I was weighing in on this before it was... not cool exactly, but you know what I mean. (It's in the book. It's in the WWPD archives. It's in the dissertation. It was, prior to this, already the subject of plenty of attention, scholarly and otherwise, from others.) For that reason, I feel a bit done with the topic. But... I'm not thrilled with how it's getting explained, nor with how I've previously explained it. So, here goes:

It's understood, on the left, that there are various axes of oppression. Yes, they intersect, but trying to superimpose one axis onto another doesn't work. That is: to understand sexism, you don't ask whether women - all women, as women - are disabled. To understand homophobia, you don't ask whether gay people - all gay people, as gay people - are women. You have to look at each form of discrimination in its own terms. Not in isolation - some women are disabled, some gay people are women, and this impacts how they experience sexism and homophobia, respectively - but in its own terms. By which I mean: It's not necessary to claim that sexism exists solely and primarily as a form of some other type of discrimination in order to believe that sexism is real and really a problem.

So. To speak of Jewish difference as a question of whether Jews - all Jews - are "of color" is to make an analogy. It's to insist upon an analogy. To do so is to be left with two answers: Either we're people of color, and therefore oppression against us counts, or we're white, so any claims we make of being oppressed - certainly in cases where the oppressors are themselves people of color - fall under the old "reverse racism" rubric, which is to say, don't count. Or maybe there will be some middle-ground position, where Jews wind up classified as not quite white. More nuance, same terms.

All these possibilities fail to get at the truth, which is that most American Jews are white, and anti-Semitism exists. Yes, there's such a thing as racial anti-Semitism, which overlaps in some ways with the racism that exists against people of color. (See also: Islamophobia, which ostensibly isn't racism, but which has a tendency to impact even secular people of Muslim heritage, or those of other faiths who are perceived of as Muslim.) But anti-Semitism can't be understood simply as bias against groups according to their relative non-resemblance to Scandinavians. Anti-Semitism is not now and has never been about Jewish non-whiteness, not-quite-whiteness, or even, as a 19th century European would have put it, Jews' "Orientalness." It's about Jewish Jewishness.

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