Image: School Ties
How do you kiss a Jew? Doesn’t his nose get in the way?
Does this mean I get to go one day without being told about how my white privilege invalidates everything about me? For years I been saying “but…Jewish?” My grandparents’ worldview, my fake last name adopted ‘cause Grandpa Bernie couldn’t do business in NYC under his family name…but everything I’ve ever accomplished is nothing and everything I think is, in liberal communities, undermined by the color (or lack thereof) of my skin.
As I write in the below article, in some areas I am privileged. In many. In some I, and we, are not. That’s how it is for all of us–some more than others, and I am privileged more than most, and I am aware of that, and that awareness is vital.
I look white, whatever that is, so I enjoy that privilege–and must be aware of it, and aim to use it to be of benefit to all, rather than just sinking into guilt or ignorance, or defensive prejudice around it.
All my life, I’ve been “white.”
That’s the box I got to mark on my SATs and other such tests, as a kid. I attended Naropa University, and have generally lived in liberal contexts—and when privilege comes up, or patriarchy, I can feel eyes turn toward me.
It’s sad, but I get it. I’m white. Just as bad, I’m a man. Even worse, I’m tall, and look a bit like Beaver Cleaver.
And while I’ve gotten my fair share of tickets from police officers, I admit to a certain privilege that I never asked for and don’t want but nevertheless enjoy—enjoy in the sense that I get it. I’m white.
But I’m not white, as I remember every time I visited my grandparents, growing up. I’m half Jewish. My grandparents lived in a world defined by their ethnicity. My name isn’t Lewis, even—Lewis it the name my grandpa Bernie adopted so that he could do business in 1950s and 60s New York City. That’s how bad it was.
Time was, recently, that anti-Semitism was as deeply ingrained in the US as any sexism or racism. But we’ve come a long way, baby: only 15% of Americans are classified as anti-Semetic, now, and those bigots are also overwhelmingly sexist and racist generally. My grandparents worshipped those Jews who had succeeded despite open prejudice. They complemented me on how un-Jewish I looked, as if I’d deliberately figured out how to disguise myself and blend in with the ruling classes.
And so, though no one calls me a Christ-killer or asks how I can kiss with my Jew nose, I’ve been further privileged, I know now, to have a familial window into the kinds of prejudice far too many Americans still experience. It’s given me empathy, pride in my family’s perseverance, and gratitude that our society continues to evolve.
In the wake of Ferguson, seeing a nation donate to help the library there, or the owner of a bake shop, we can see the ready stirrings of empathy everywhere. And so though privilege, patriarchy, racial tension and sexism still persist, our human capacity for fundamental goodness grows stronger each decade.
The one area where I fear we grow weaker, however, is a tolerance for class inequality. America has long been the land of opportunity, a melting pot enriched by immigrants, a land that depends upon diversity and a healthy commonwealth. We must continue to invest in education, in public infrastructure, in enlightening architecture and libraries. We must continue to invest in our next generations. The payoff? Joy. Pride. Love. Equality. And the banishment of privilege, and prejudice.
Yours in the Vision of an Enlightened Society,
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” ~ Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Clips: School Ties