The privilege and responsibility of Jewish ’Whiteness’ -
We white Jews have the choice of navigating our lives without ever having to grapple with our racial identities and our place in a racially hierarchical system. A university class gave us this chance.
I have been hesitant to respond to a recent op-ed in Haaretz (“What Happens When a Tulane Student Queries Jews’ ‘Whiteness’”), since Carly is my friend, but I feel since she chose a public forum for this opinion, it warrants a public response.
I too am a Jewish student who took this class, and I believe my experiences directly contradict her conclusions. Critical Race Theory was one of the most thought-provoking, engaging, and inclusive classes I have ever been in. Our professor did not demand a monolithic view of race and racism, and I never once heard a thoughtful opinion rejected out of hand.
When our professor asked, “What’s a Jew?” he did not do so in a way that challenged our history of victimhood to oppression and genocide. He did not do so in a way that negated the real experience of anti-Semitism today. He did not do so in a way that belittled the faith or questioned its validity. He did so in an attempt to open our eyes to the very real ways in which white Jews (i.e. the ones he was discussing, as opposed to Mizrahi Jews or Jews of color), like Carly and I, have been incorporated into a racially hierarchical system. He did so in a way that exposed the very real ways in which we benefit from institutionalized white supremacy and anti-blackness in the United States. This is, as she says, how he sees it “in his eyes.”
But he is using his eyes to see the truth—that we are safe: on this campus, in this country, and at least comparatively speaking, in this world. She writes that “today more than ever Jewish people grapple with their racial identity,” but this simply is not true. Like all white people, we are granted the unfathomable privilege of navigating our lives without ever grappling with our racial identities, should we choose not to. But we should. This classroom offered us one place to do just that, led by a brilliant and empathetic scholar.
Anti-Semitism exists, and when demonstrated, we should fight against it with as much rigor and passion as any injustice. I’ll be there with Carly at the front lines. But as white American Jews, we face a choice of feigning an oppressed identity that flies in the face of our actual structural positioning or expressing genuine solidarity with people of color. We cannot have it both ways. Deepening our analyses of our own positioning allows us to serve as stronger, more informed allies.
I believe her when she says she wants to learn. But learning needs to start with listening. Listening must preempt, and then fuel, dialogue. She discusses her “desire to learn, study, expand my views and test [her] knowledge,” but I do not believe this desire is what she displayed in her article.
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Our professor gave us the opportunity to do exactly these things, but she did not like the answers. She writes that she “punctuate every lecture with a raised hand,” but maybe instead it’s time to punctuate every lecture with an open ear and an open mind.
As current Tulane University President Michael A. Fitts emphasized, “while we stand ready to enter into respectful debate with others, Tulane will never cease to defend the principles of non-discrimination, mutual respect and open inquiry upon which our university, our country and the international community of scholars are built. ”
I’ll hold you to it, Carly.
Josh Rosenbaum is junior at Tulane University studying Political Science and Gender and Sexuality Studies. He is a senator in the Undergraduate Student Government.
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