Sunday, June 11, 2017

Why Ashkenazim are still 'people of colour'

 Dani Ishai Behan has long beeen arguing against the common assumption that Jews are a 'white' people. In this article for the Times of Israel, he challenges a Tweeter called S I Rosenbaum, who asserts that Jews may not be 'white', but they are not 'persons of colour' either.

Back to Rosenbaum, she goes on to assert that Ashkenazim enjoy all of the “regular privileges” white people do, which is false. She is conflating the ability to pass (a common trait for certain POC groups, especially other Middle Easterners – Jews aren’t “special” here) with actually being white, despite her earlier concession that they’re not the same thing. Yet for unclear and contradictory reasons (beyond inane, unsupported platitudes like “antisemitism is not racism”), she insists on holding Jews to a very different set of standards.
Some of the faces which Dani Ishai Behan has collected for his gallery of 'white' Ashkenazi Jews
 Granted, some Ashkenazim – as well as some non-Ashkenazim – do have ambiguous or ostensibly “white” facial features, which are mainly the result of Cossack rapes during pogroms, and can therefore camouflage themselves, but a very large number cannot. As can be seen in the link I just posted, many either have a “Jewish” appearance, or a full blown Middle Eastern one. Moreover, having to hide one’s ethnic background just to be treated as a “normal” human being is not privilege, because white people (*actual* white people, not Jews, Arabs, etc) don’t have to do this. They don’t need to change their names, or flatten their noses, or bleach their skin, or straighten their hair, or take their kippahs off, etc. The fact that Ashkenazim, and white passing Jews in general, need to *work* just to be seen as regular people really says it all, and many (if not most) don’t even have the ability to do that. It’s simply not comparable.

More to the point, Jews are perhaps the oldest victims of what has come to be known as Orientalism. From the Greek and Roman colonial era where we were deemed “savages” in need of culture and enlightenment, to the evolution of these views under Christianity, to Enlightenment era Europeans openly declaring that we are Asiatics who are therefore culturally stagnant and incapable of reason, science, or progress, Orientalism has always been the bedrock of European antisemitism. These beliefs, rather than disappearing, have simply undergone further mutation in accordance with the West’s changing cultural milieus, and the classic European Orientalist perception of Jews as backwards, static, irrational, etc continues to inform antisemitism to this day. For more on that, see here.

All in all, we mustn’t make the mistake of assuming Jews enjoy “white privilege” just because our experiences are not symmetrical with those of African-Americans or Hispanics, as to do so would be unreasonable, fallacious, and hypocritical (again, no other ethnic minority is held to this standard). Anti-Jewish racism looks different because the stereotypes are different. In other words, we are not viewed by society as “uneducated thugs”, but as “dishonest”, “conniving”, “clannish”, and “bloodthirsty” mongrels who control everything behind the scenes, and these racist tropes play out in the way we are treated in this country. Moreover, we are frequently profiled at airports, viewed with suspicion when we are too successful, assumed to be in control of the US government, assaulted on the streets, typecast on TV and in movies (barring a number of exceptions) as geeks, criminals, hypochondriacs, and other stereotypes, our scalps are molested for horns by strangers, and so on and so forth.

Inasmuch as a group’s non-whiteness is contingent on their history, experiences, heritage, and relationship with the concept of “white” as defined by its pioneers, Ashkenazim certainly do qualify as a non-white people. Rosenbaum argues that whiteness vs non-whiteness is contingent on history and heritage, but despite Jews meeting every single qualifier to be considered a people of color, every single criterion down the line, she refuses to accept that we are one. Her claims that we are not a single, cohesive people of collective Middle Eastern stock is simply incorrect.

Read article in full


Jesterhead45 said...

It is interesting how a segment of Western Ashkenazim blindingly considered their former oppressors viewing them (and Jews in general) as White as a mark of social acceptance.

Think about it aside from slyly denying Jews are indigenous to Israel / West Asia (in a plausibly deniable manner of course) why would those former oppressors in the West suddenly seek to view Ashkenazim (and all Jews in general) as White after 2 millenia or more for being derided as Orientals / Asiatics? Especially when much of the West at the same time appears to have embraced a distorted suicidal virtue-signaling Anti-Western Anti-History Anti-White reality-denying form of pseudo-morality that they also seek to impose on Jews?

Were one to take the above to its unnuanced logical conclusion (and even now the groundwork is being laid in such a direction by Jew-haters of all stripes), it would have arguably more sinister and offensive implications then the fairly recent "Jews = Nazis" trope.

The Jewish people rather than being viewed as one of the primary victims of Western (and Muslim) colonialism and oppression for over 2 millennia, end up being cast as the "Uber-White" puppet-masters with "Uber-Privilege" who plot to oppress everyone else. Held ultimately responsible for the West's own horrid history and problems from behind the scenes (including Slavery, etc) since before the Romans as the West's ultimate scapegoat or something to that effect.

All the more reason why the Jewish people should embrace being People of Color and outright reject being called White by those seeking to deny the Jews are an indigenous people from Israel / West Asia.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

very good, Jester. I agree with much of what you write. But the whole notion of "white" & "brown" is off base and misleading. Certainly, you can't make a distinction between many of the southern Europeans --Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese-- and people living on the southern or eastern shore of the Mediterranean as far as skin color is concerned. Caucasian would be a better, more accuarate term. It was originally scientifically used to refer not only to people living in the Caucasus mountains but to Persians, Afghans, the native peoples of northern India and Pakistan, as well as to Jews, Arabs, Berbers, and the Europeans.
Further, even peoples considered the epitome of Europeans may be mixed with people from the south Mediterranean shore, not only with Jews but with Syrians and others. Consider that the Roman Empire settled army legions made up of Berbers [Moors, Mauri in Latin] along the Danube border of the Empire. An ancient Roman poet or other writer complained that the Orontes, a Syrian river, was flowing into the Tiber, the river that flows through Rome. He was referring to Syrian migration to Italy.

So migration even in Roman times was mixing up populations.

Now as far as Syrians are concerned, Syrian immigrants to the United State before 1900, who also included what are today called Lebanese, went to court to be declared "white." This was important because the USA in that period of the late 19th century was legislating restrictions on Asians --and they meant Chinese and Japanese first of all. But Syria too is in Asia and they were afraid that the new laws would apply to them too. In short, the court agreed with their suit that they were white rather than "Asian," at least racially. So the Syrians were legally "white" and not subject to the restrictions imposed on the east Asians of Mongol race. So these terms of "white" and "brown" or non-white are very elastic. And today terms like "white" or "brown" or "non-white" and "Black" are very political. And in the Arab-Israeli conflict, skin color is a red herring. Both Jews and Arabs show a broad range of skin colors. Many Jews, including Ashkenazim, are darker than many of the Arabs.

It is true that 200 years ago, prominent European philosophers, especially Germans but also the French Voltaire, were calling the Jews "Asians," "Asiatics," "Orientals." The German Kant wrote of the German Jews as "the Palestinians who live among us." They were very clearly considered aliens, and what the Germans saw as typical Jewish skin color was part of that. Nazi cartoons of Jews in Der Stuermer showed the Jews as dark-haird, dark-eyed, swarthy and large-nosed. Far from the Germans' stereotyped image of themselves.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Even before Roman times, Phoenicians were migrating around the Mediterranean Sea and establishing colonies and trading posts. These were in Spain, Sicily and Greece as well as North Africa. Moreover, some Phoenicians were granted citizenship in Greek localities like Athens, as we read in Herodotos. Greeks who may have been partly of Phoenician ancestry also set up colonies as in Sicily and in the arch of the Italian boot. So the Middle Eastern and southern European populations were never isolated from each other, until perhaps the Arab period.

Since I spent much of my childhood in the USA, I can recall that the average American was not so much bothered by the not so white skin color of some Caucasians. But Blacks were intensely hated. However, some times some people would see Jews or Italians for that matter, as N-----s. I recall hearing "Jews are N/////s turned inside out," which I thought was amusing although they were talking about me. I also heard it said of Italians.

Jesterhead45 said...


Understand and agree that the whole notion of skin color is off base. Am mainly referring to how Ashkenazi Jews were largely accepted in the West after WW2 as well as how Jew-haters nowadays seek to play on that fact as an excuse to justify their hatred, thereby allowing them to both deny Jews are indigenous to Israel / West Asia as well as tap into the Anti-Western / Anti-White reverse-racist zeitgeist currently spewed by higher education, media / popular culture and the establishments in much of the Western world.

Rodin New York said...

If that Zeid person , the execrable Palestinian diplomat and Linda So sewer and the Syrian refugees and Danny Thomas(retroactively) are people of color than so am I. Otherwise I am an indigenous person of South West Asia, Land of Israel, from the E. European Jewish Diaspora experience. Whether that is white, person of color or some other designation is immaterial.
I note that the people and organizations most concerned with designations of race practice the most racism.

Sylvia said...

Jews are not a race. So, moot point.

There will always be those who seek to divide, subdivide, categorize and subcategorize. They have some 800 Jewish religious movements to choose from (including all those Hassidic Houses) and still are not satisfied.
The way it's heading I won't be surprised to learn of the birth of a "Recaucasianism" Progressive movement.

But seriously now, where does it come from? What twisted worldview leads to this madness?

roth phallyka said...

These were in Spain, Sicily and Greece as well as North Africa.