butchrobot.tumblr.com: hey follower! i’ve been thinking a lot about jewish identity lately and i guess i am trying to make sense of whiteness and jewishness. i’m 1/4 paternally jewish and i consider myself to be ethnically jewish despite being brought up in catholic environments…but most of the jewish people i interact with irl are ashkenazi and white, and treat me like an outsider for it, so as a brown jew it’s sort of hard for me to conceptualize ashkenazi jews as white-passing instead of white. thoughts?
(jsyk, i’m writing this as a response to u, but as i’m writing it i’m thinking of research + essay topics to tackle and i’m answering this publicly cause i want this info and discussion to be public etc, getting these kinds of questions helps me a lot to help me understand my own identity and my place within jewish and goyische communities and i hope it does the same for others too
also, i’m using a bunch of made up words to explain some shit)
there’s a HUGE problem in n. american ashke communities w/ racism + not acknowledging/devaluing the jewishness of non-white/passing jews.
i can totally see why it’s hard for u to think of ashke = non-white, bc of that.
i think that n. american ashkes have a lot of anxiety about not being/passing for white. i mean, i don’t think that, i know that, at least in my exp. for ex, in my community in my city, the city-wide jewish community is EXTREMELY into emulating WASPyness. like, i’ve spoken to a few other people that have this same experience in their jewish communities, it’s fucking ridiculous. 3g has talked about this re: ezra koenig a bit, if anyone’s interested in that.
i’ve talked a bit about ashkenormativity and the “ashkenizing” of jewish identity in n. america, meaning that both within our community and without in the goyische community, jewish identity ISN’T “jewish” identity, it’s “ashkenaz” identity, but it’s so normalized+invisibilized..
for ex, i didn’t even know about sephardim until i was in highschool and told my mom about a new friend i’d made and she knew his fam, and told me about them and explained to me what sephardi means, etc. it was even later that i found out about mizrahim, when i was trying to do research on jewish ethnicity. granted, i never had much jewish education (religious or otherwise) anyway, so i have to figure i have just always known less than other jews who were, like, taught about themselves etc. but this is a totally common theme among ashke jews.
so there’s that, plus the racialization of jews (who are already “ashkenized”) from “jewish” to “white” that’s happened in the last ~30-50 years, depending on where u are. i’ve written a bit about that in other places in my jewish racial and ethnic identity tag, and other authors and scholars have written about it extensively as well, but i think this is the core of the racial anxiety of ashke jews. i mean, i really think the “core” of racial anxiety is from hashoah (we were massacred w the intention of being completely wiped out due to our racial status, so a way to combat that is to deny the racial aspect of our identity), or just prior to that when there was a movement of german (i think german) jews trying to de-racialize jewish identity and insist on it’s status as a religion-only religion, as opposed to an ethnoreligion, but i don’t know so much about that so i can’t write too much detail about it. ALSO, on the part of goyische america+canada, there was a huge push POST-hashoah to see jews as white or “other” white in order to garner sympathy for jewish refugees immigrating into the country/ies. (cause white people can only give a fuck about other white people)
so we have
- .”ashkenization” of jewish identity (ashkenormativity) both within jewish communities and without
- de-racialization of jewish identity on the part of jews, due to racial anxiety from hashoah + whatever
- “whiteifying” jewish identity (that has already been “ashkenized”) on the part of goyische n. america, which is then internalized by ashke jews
so after that, the existence/appearance of dark/er/non-white-passing jews, be they ashke or otherwise, within ashke communities, is a direct threat to the achievement of whiteness of white-passing ashk’im, which i’ve written about elsewhere, is conditional for most anyway. i mean, i don’t think that’s what these racist ashk’im are thinking when they see u, a brown jew, but those are the factors/causes that i can see going into it.
but yeah, i’ve heard that sentiment a lot from non-white/passing and even white-passing jews that aren’t ashke, that they feel unaccepted and unwelcome in jewish communities (read ashke jewish communities) and it’s a MAJOR MAJOR problem.
(for ashk’im reading this, we need to decenter ashkenormativity and eradicate racism/colourism from our understanding/speech/actions around judaism/jewishness. we need to call each other out on this, and we need to be addressing this within whatever invariably ashke jewish community we participate in/belong to.)
oh, i want to add: the way that i read on the tag you talk about non-white passing ashkenazim reminded me a lot of the arguments surrounding brown-passing italians/southern europeans, which i believe do hold access to whiteness despite the collateral aggression they face due to looking like people of color. it’s a nuanced discussion to be had but i’m interested to hear your perspective. my “jewish” features are racialized along with my brownness as latina, so i don’t face antisemitism that way
so this i’m not so sure i can speak on cause i’m not italian nor do i know too much about the racial identity of italians though i have heard that southerners are typically darker…
but it’s interesting that u say that ur jewish features are racialized as latina, bc i have heard similar things from other jews (except they are 100% ashke not mixed) – which points to the recognizing of a racial “other” but not as “jewish”.
this is a really really interesting thing that happens, bc i think that in some places in n. america, jewish “raceness” is becoming almost obsolete in that it’s less and less accepted/known, (white-passing) jews are achieving whiteness on a larger and more solid scale [obvi this isn’t everywhere in n. america but it is definitely something that’s picking up steam], BUT antisemitism remains just as racialized as it always has been, but the racial aspect of it is invisibilized.
like, what i mean is, for example, i have heard 2 opposite sentiments come from the same people, 1 that jews are inherently ______ [insert “bad” trait] and 2. that judaism is solely a religion and that antisemitism isn’t racism. so we have people committing hate crimes w racial undertones, but the general public refuses to acknowledge the severity of said hate crimes bc they “aren’t racial” and therefore not important.
and MANY white/passing jews support and propagate this. it becomes this, like, v strange cognitive dissonance thing. ex: my mom is completely white-assimilated, identifies as white 100%, but at the same time when we had a conversation ABOUT jewish racial identity she was like “well we’re not really white and they [white people] know that”. it’s just v weird.
the thing that makes antisemitism different than other racial bigotries (excpet antiziganism) in n. america, is that it’s an IMPORTED hate. that’s probably the biggest reason why jewish racial identity is so fucked up here, bc our racial identity doesn’t fit n. american racial paradigms, and at different times in different places, jews will face antisemitic hatred that is literally imported from other parts of the world AS WELL AS the hatred that has been formed within n. america.
i duno if i’m explaining that v well, and i’m p sure 3g has written something about this in greater detail, but what i’m trying to get at is that when goyische (as well as some jewish) n. americans talk about antisemitism, and jewish identity in general, there is a disconnect between what they have been taught/absorbed AS N. AMERICANS and how jewish identity exists — yes, jewish identity has changed somewhat along w the paradigms of the “new” continent but so too has it remained the same and just caused a shittonne of confusion for goyim and jews alike.