Responding to a question about Jews and race

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I really don’t want to be rude but can you explain to me why there is some sort of line between being Jewish and white? I keep hearing this sentiment that people should not compare the two because of religion and culture but that to me is like Russian people saying they aren’t white because of religions and culture. I don’t mean to hurt feelings but I’m black and Native and I’ve face discrimination based on my looks but I’ve never been able to tell when a person was Jewish just by looking them. Help?

Also I know that there are Jewish people of color but this goes back to my ask of what do people see on them, their Jewishness or their skin color because unless Jewishness is a part of color then we would call them mixed instead of Jewish poc because that skin and lineage mixes with another skin and lineage and produces someone with a dual identity. If I’m out of place, sorry but I’m confused cause I’ve never thought anyone was Jewish from looking at them unless they had a religious identifier.

Realsocialskills said:

The very short version: All Jews are affected by anti-Jewish racism. Some Jews, in some contexts, also have white privilege. Both of these things matter.

White supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. And other ideologies of racism have intensely targeted Jews. (Including Nazism, but not limited to Nazism.)

Most living Jews are very closely related to Jews who were murdered by anti-Jewish racists. (Grandparents, parents, great-grandparents brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, etc.)

Many living Jews are first-generation refugees from anti-Jewish racial persecution, (or closely related to people who are). Jews have been repeatedly expelled from many, many places.

There are a lot of towns in Europe in which every Jewish resident was murdered. And a lot of Jews who were the sole survivors of those places, and who lost their entire families.

(There are few speakers of Yiddish today because so many Yiddish speakers were murdered by racists. The National Yiddish Book Center is dedicated to preserving as much literature as possible).

This isn’t just about culture and ethnicity. Converting to another religion did not save Jews from racial persecution. Neither did assimilating and acting like everyone else. And this isn’t a new thing, throughout history, Jews have been seen as racially suspect even if they convert to Christianity or another religion, regardless of actual behavior

Race and color are not the same thing. Color is a physical fact. Race is a social construct. And it’s socially constructed in different ways in different times and places. In the US, race mostly gets defined in terms of color. It’s defined differently in different times and places. In Europe, demographic forms have often listed “Jewish” as a race.

It’s also true that in the United States, light-skinned Jews have a degree of white privilege. Especially in liberal cities. Especially in comparison to black people and Native people. Jews are far less likely to face employment discrimination, and far less likely to face police violence. (It happens to Jews too, but it happens to black and Native people a lot more.) And any number of things.

But Jews are only seen as white some of the time. There are physical racialized characteristics associated with Jews. For instance, big noses.  There is also an antisemitic belief that Jews have horns, which used to be commonly believed in the US. It used to be fairly common for Jewish women to get nose jobs to escape from that racial characterization. For most white people, being seen as white has not required body modification.

When people look at skin color, they will probably see a white person. When they know that someone is a Jew, they may not see a white person anymore. It’s not about religious beliefs — Jews are seen as less white regardless of behavior and regardless of belief. (Jews who practice Judaism are often more *visible* as Jews, but anti-Jewish racism can’t be reduced to religious differences.) The novel/movie Gentleman’s Agreement is a good depiction of this issue. (It’s on Netflix, and your public library likely has a copy of the book.)

Related to this, white supremacists don’t think that Jews are white. As you know, white supremacy is still significant in the United States. Steve Bannon’s role in the Trump administration is causing Jews to fear for their own safety. People who are consistently seen as white are mostly not asking themselves “Do I need to flee the country?” (Unless they’re also gay or lesbian or trans or disabled or otherwise marginalized.)

There are significant numbers of antisemitic hate crimes in the United States. They’re reported as religious bias crimes, but that’s somewhat misleading. Eg: This article has an image of anti-semitic graffiti with a swastika and the words “Make America White again”  

Tl;dr The answer to “Are Jews white?” is “sometimes, and it depends on what you mean by white”. If you mean ‘light skinned people who have privilege over black and Native people in the US’, then yes, light-skinned Jews are white. If you mean ‘people who are safe from racialized persecution in the US and worldwide’, then no, Jews aren’t white even when they have light skin.

Light skinned Jews have some degree of white privilege in the US, but it only goes so far. Other white people can count on being seen as white. Jews can’t. Even in situations in white Jews are safe, Jews carry the effects of generational trauma from racial persecution, recent and ancient. The ways in which light skinned Jews have white privilege matter, and the ways in which light skinned Jews do not have white privilege also matter. In most contexts, both of these things are important, and both need to be acknowledged.

anonymous asked:
So, instead of “just pretend I’m purple”, I think it would be better to say “I’m trying to pretend I’m purple”. Maybe not good enough, though. Is there anything one can say that can help? Is the best one can do is to say nothing? Maybe it’s better to listen to what the other person is trying to say.

Realsocialskills answered:

I don’t think that helps, because pretending to be purple is not actually a good idea. Race matters in discussions about racism.

I think it’s better for white people to just admit that they’re white, and that being white has consequences. Pretending to be purple doesn’t help anything. It just obstructs the work people need to do in order to work against the longstanding tradition of racism and build a culture that treats everyone as fully human.

White people can’t just step out of being white; there’s no way to do that in our culture. There are too many centuries of racism and white supremacism. Regardless of how you identify, being white gives you things that no one should ever have.

It’s not your identity as a white person that hurts people. It’s a culture that values whiteness and devalues everyone else. Pretending not to be white won’t fix that.

Being white means you have a responsibility to do something about the pervasive racism and the way white people systemically hurt people of color. Pretending not to be white just means that you’re saying you can identify your way out of that responsibility.

You can’t. So don’t pretend you’re purple. You’re not purple.


: Something white people need to stop doing


A lot of times, white people call things or people racist as a joke or a generic insult. For instance:

  • In response to someone expressing a preference for white shoes over black shoes
  • In response to someone saying something that offends them for some unrelated reason
  • In…

matsuda-misa-mikami said:

However, there are people of a different ethnicity who do that too… Yet this gives the impression it’s only white people who should stop…

realsocialskills said:

Everyone should stop. But there is a reason that I mentioned white people specifically.

In the US, and I’m sure in other places as well, it’s really common for white people to base their self-image on seeing themselves as Good People Who Aren’t Racist. That racism comes from bad people, but we’re ~not that kind of people~.

Or, in other words: many, many white people care much more about seeing themselves as not-racist than they do about not doing racist things. This is considered normal and socially acceptable.

And it’s a problem, because our culture is founded on centuries of racist violence. (It’s also founded on many other things, many of them good and important. But racism is a major element, and that matters). Seeing yourself as above being racist doesn’t undo that. It takes actual work. Telling jokes like that trivializes the work that is needed.

"Just pretend I'm purple"

If you want to talk about racism, you have to acknowledge that racism exists.

And that people of different races are affected by it differently.

Everyone is equal, and that’s an important starting point. But not everyone is treated equally, and that affects everything.

Including what it’s like for people to listen to you talk about racism. When you talk about racism, it matters what race you are. If you want to say worthwhile things, it’s important to acknowledge that. Don’t try to pretend that you can just decide that it doesn’t matter for the purposes of the conversation you want to have.

In particular, if you say “just pretend I’m purple,” that will usually be understood to mean “I’m white and I’m not interested in thinking about how my white privilege affects other people.”