antisemitism and islamophobia are so very much alive and westerners like to pit us against one another which is an act of both
(or “My Latest Identity Crisis”)
For those of you who are new to my blog, the narrative I have been sharing over the past year has been that I am a person of Jewish heritage who is reconnecting with her Jewish roots. After reassessing what I know about my ancestry (which includes information I have gained through 23andMe and Family Tree DNA and a clue I had before I first submitted DNA for testing) I have reached some conclusions that have implications for how I identify and what I post here.
When I first received my results from 23andMe, I noted that I had some evidence of Ashkenazi ancestry as well as evidence of West Asian and North African (WANA*) ancestry. At the time I took this additional evidence to be further evidence of Jewish ancestry. I now believe that I was mistaken, in part because I had missed rather significant evidence of not necessarily Jewish ancestry from a geographical area in the vicinity of Asia Minor.
At this point I can say the following in all sincerity: Though I have what I consider to be significant WANA ancestry and I almost certainly have some Ashkenazi ancestry, I do not have any compelling reason to believe that I have a significant amount of Jewish ancestry. There are also indications that I am of Sephardi and North African heritage. (This does not necessarily mean that I am of WANA heritage via four lineages. In particular it seems likely that if I do I have Sephardi and North African ancestry, my North African heritage comes via Sephardim.) Unfortunately to an algorithm that has little data on me and no data on my first parents a person of Ashkenazi heritage is going to look a lot like a person with significant European and West Asian ancestry. I might never be able to disentangle my heritage.
In view of all this I have decided to stop identifying as a person of Jewish heritage. Though it seems that this is a technically correct designation, if I were to continue to wear it, I would feel I was like the white person who says, “I am 1/16th Cherokee.” Instead I will ordinarily identify as a person of WANA heritage. And while I will continue to blog about Judaism and antisemitism, I will refrain from inserting myself into discussions that are for people of Jewish heritage only.
What does this mean for me and Judaism? I still love Judaism, and I am eager to continue to practice Judaism and prepare for conversion. All the same, I am feeling a bit disconnected right now. For the past year thinking about my Jewish heritage has helped me feel grounded.
*I prefer “WANA” to “MENA” because (a) “Middle Eastern” is a Eurocentric term and (b) Statesiders need to learn that there are parts of Asia that lie west of Burma.
Kimberle Crenshaw, in her article Intersectionality and Identity Politics: Learning from Violence Against Women of Color. (via supreme-shieldmaiden)
when kimberle crenshaw speaks, you fucking listen. this is the incredible black woman who is responsible for creating the term intersectionality.
by Megan Ryland
Part of acknowledging my own white privilege is realizing how it has actively shaped my life. A key place to look is in the job market. The average employment and income figures for members of different racial groups tell a depressingly clear story.
In Ontario, Canada, a recent study found that racialized workers (another term for people of colour) faced higher unemployment rates (average of 8.7% versus 5.8%) and were paid less (racialized women earned approximately half of white men), regardless of educational achievement.
[Table can be found in the full Growing Gap report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Table lists the annual average income for men and women of many different racialized nationalities (people of colour) compared to the income of non-racialized (white) men and women. In total, it comes down to an average of $32,042 (racialized) versus $41,335 (non-racialized) a year. Transcript of graphic below at 1]
Another Canadian report highlights the difficulties that Indigenous people, immigrants and people of colour have both in finding employment and advancing within companies. In America, there is also a well documented pattern of significantly higher unemployment and lower incomes for those who aren’t white, and especially Black people.
[Table can be found in full at Inequality.org. Table compares the median income for non-hispanic white people and non-white people over two decades. The white group median income is consistently $15,000 to $20,000 higher. Transcript of graphic below at 2]
As a white person, it makes me uncomfortable to think that my income is tied to something other than my abilities as a worker or my educational achievement, but those statistics are pretty unambiguous. Being white helps. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to rolling in dough any time soon (privilege doesn’t equal riches), but it is part of the equation when I walk into a job interview. Researchers have done studies with resumes using names that sound more stereotypically Black or White and have found significant bias against those candidates whose name is identified as ‘Black,’ even if the resumes are identical. With this in mind, it’s naive to imagine that my race is not a factor, even if it makes me uncomfortable to think so.
Part of privilege is that it’s handed down, so it’s a factor for my family too. My father worked in a factory for a significant portion of his life. Starting on the floor, he worked overtime and made the right connections and worked hard, and he rose up the food chain; I have benefited from his success. He has worked hard—he still works hard—but acknowledging that whiteness is in his favour doesn’t diminish his hard work in my eyes. Acknowledging white privilege is not about diminishing his hard work, but acknowledging that differences in success are not a sign that people of colour are working any less hard.
My dad was once explaining how to be successful to his (also white) nephew and I found it instructive. He told him that, “No one owes you anything. You have to go get it yourself.” He said that “no names” (his handy term for white folk of ambiguous European descent) like us sometimes made poor employees because the immigrants (here presumed to be people of colour) understood that no one owed them anything. What he was describing was white privilege, expressed as white entitlement, in action. He wouldn’t have called it that, but I was so aware of it as I listened to the conversation. I was aware of the privilege that my family can count on to support upward mobility, and aware of the ways that white people can enact privileged entitlement so blatantly that even other white people notice.
White privilege is in the way you either “fit” or don’t after a job interview at a predominantly white business. If you are entering a new company, employers can only use their imagination to visualize how you’d be on their team, and if their imagination is filled with stereotypes, that can make a difference. White privilege is the way the edges of stereotypes soften into cheap jokes for white people, but can get someone else’s resume tossed aside. White people supposedly can’t dance—it’s the only negative stereotype* I can think of right now—and what job description has that ever excluded me from? I can joke about white stereotypes because they aren’t backed up by a system that can hold them against me, but I couldn’t just shrug it off if an interviewer presumed that I had been to prison, was in a gang, entered the country illegally, or couldn’t speak English well. Racist stereotypes matter.
The work place is just one of many locations where racial and ethnic stereotypes come out and can limit people’s opportunities. What does your workplace look like, if you look for privilege? If you make hiring decisions, how do you make certain that the process is accessible to people from many communities and the selection is based on skill, not unconscious bias? I could drive myself crazy trying to figure out in dollars and cents what my privilege has bought me, but it won’t make hiring practices more equitable, employment more accessible, or workplaces less hostile. That requires advocacy, allyship and affirmative action. Let’s get to work.
*All stereotypes are negative because they are limiting expectations that make assumptions about the personality and capabilities of people.