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When Jews deny the existence of white privilege, what space are we leaving for our Jews of Colour?

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Photo: Sandra Seitamaa (Unsplash)

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Is it possible for multiple truths to coexist simultaneously? Those truths don’t have to be at odds with one another, even if at first glance they seem to be. That coexistence is difficult for many people to assimilate, particularly in a society hell-bent on binary vision. For the sake of clarity, we like to put people in singular boxes. Recognizing that people can have a foot in more than one box is complex, nuanced and the basis for the theoretical framework introduced by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw – that is intersectionality.

I am a white, Jewish, Modern-Orthodox, middle-class person who identifies as female and heterosexual. I have a chronic disease and have four white children from the same father from whom I am divorced. My political leanings lend strongly towards the left.

I have listed 10 identifiers for myself. Ten different boxes that I have a hand in. Many of these boxes do not intersect and lower the value of my social currency. I am a white, heterosexual woman, which increases my societal value, but my single status and disease put me lower down. Add in Modern-Orthodox and left-leaning politics and in many circles, that throws me right to the bottom of the barrel.

This is all to say that I can be more than one thing at a time; like the mom who buys organic snacks but also lets her children watch far too much television. There is a lot of discussion surrounding white privilege, and shockingly many believe it to be a fallacy. I have heard the argument that because Jews have been persecuted, white privilege does not exist for us. Again, back to the beginning; multiple truths can coexist. You can be white. You can be Jewish. You may have faced antisemitism. You can have white privilege, all of the above notwithstanding.

White privilege doesn’t guarantee immunity to life’s trials and tribulations. It doesn’t wipe away hardship and pain. As of today in America, if you are a transgender white man you can be denied healthcare. The colour of your skin won’t save you in the face of your gender.

Being able to deny white privilege is the very existence of white privilege. You can say that you don’t have this privilege because you’ve experienced antisemitism. But what you fail to realize is that you have the privilege of not thinking about your skin colour. It never comes into play for you. So often people declare that they don’t see colour.

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“I see people, not their colour.”

You hear this statement from white people who have the privilege of forgetting the colour of their skin because they live in a world that has made that colour the default.

When Jews deny the existence of white privilege, what space are we leaving for our Jews of Colour? There are Jews who face not only antisemitism but racism as well. Are we telling them that their intersectional existence is a fabrication of their imaginations? Or are we saying that their religion has more value than their skin colour?

Photo: Jacky Zeng (Unsplash)

Acknowledging our white privilege doesn’t negate any part of who we are. It doesn’t right the wrongs of rampant antisemites. It doesn’t create a space where white people don’t experience pain. It doesn’t threaten our right to hold injustices that have been inflicted upon us. It simply acknowledges the layered experience. Imagine all the persecution we and our ancestors faced as Jews. Now add the layer of race onto that experience and see how that changes it.

Chicana feminist Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez coined the term ‘Oppression Olympics’- wherein people compete for the trophy of most oppressed and thus most validated.

What are we competing for, when we say white privilege is a societal construct, and black and marginalized communities are just riding this wave of entitlement? Do we want to be the winners of most persecuted, as Jews? Are we looking to deny the experiences of people of colour, specifically Jews of Colour? We are running headfirst on a track to the finish line, but for what? What is it that we want to win?

We need to stop charging for the finish line, running on the toes of others as we do so.

We need to be confident enough in ourselves that someone else’s pain doesn’t threaten our own, but rather it creates a space for empathy. 

Daniella English is the author of the acclaimed blog The Not So Single Life. She has written for various publications such as Savvymom and the CJN, and is now a columnist with TheJ.ca. She has been featured on What She Said Talks and The AM 640 Dating and Relationship Show.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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