My Race, Ethnicity and Culture. More than ‘White.’
In our identity-obsessed culture, sometimes its important to remember the things that make us both human and unique. In my experience on Twitter I have been accused of being a fake conservative for being gay, a secret straight person playing a gay character for being conservative, accused of holding ‘white privilege’, of being a white supremacist and not being white at all by actual white supremacists. The absurdity is never-ending.
The Left, of course, always contributing to the national conversation of tolerance and acceptance, has been praising Munroe Bergdorf for her recent demand that ‘all white people’ are racist. The Guardian responded to this statement with an article titled: My fellow white people: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
The primary issue here is not ‘why can *insert x do/say this but insert y can’t?’, the issue is why we seem to care so much about who is saying it in the first place. As one of the above tweets demonstrates, I am often dismissed as a ‘white man’ when expressing an opinion on any topic a liberal thinks I shouldn’t be talking about. My skin color alone is enough to disqualify me from the discussion.
Ironically when I insert my minority statuses this opposition sometimes disappears or is adjusted. I either get a complete reversal of response, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Why do you think that then?’ or a display of mental gymnastics to justify the original bigotry, ‘Well you’re a WHITE Jew…’ It perplexes me to no end that an entire ideological population not only views people exclusively by their perceived skin tone, but feels entitled and justified in doing so.
Person of Color
‘Person of Color’ or POC is a very strange concept. By definition it is simply ‘anyone who isn’t white.’ Originally the term was used to described biracial individuals. Ironically, the notion that there are white people and everyone else, to me seems not only racist but derogatory to the ‘everyone else’ category. This implies ‘white’ is the default setting. The term is also not very clear as it includes ethnicity as well in practice. Hispanic or Latino people, for example, are included in the POC category where as there is no ‘Hispanic’ race per se. Hispanic or Latino refers to a generalized culture and language and can range from Spain to South America in cultural origin. One understanding of ‘person of color’ is ‘non-European’, but this would seem to exclude Hispanic people from Spain.
The term ‘white’ is also not very useful. I have light skin, blue eyes and red hair. But my grandmother’s grandfather was Native American and I am Jewish. In what way does this put me in the same category as someone with 100% English heritage or someone Greek, or Italian? ‘Jewish’ is an ethnicity; not a religious identity. One is either part of the Jewish people or they join the Jewish people, as I did. In Judaism we are a people. We have a common language, history, cultural mores, cues, body language etc. Jewish and Latino are in the same basic concept category.
Anti-Islamic thinking is often described as ‘racist.’ Muslims are considered ‘people of color’ regardless of their physical characteristics. You simply do not encounter a distinction between a white Muslim, born or converted, a black Muslim or an Arab Muslim. ‘Muslim’ is an ethnicity as well and anyone of any racial background can belong to it. Linda Sasour, Muslim leader of the Women’s March and vocal Leftist advocate, described herself as being an ‘ordinary white girl’ before putting on her hijab. She now describes herself and is identified by the liberal media as a ‘person of color.’
‘Asian’, for example, means something specific to people in Western countries, but individual Asian cultures are extremely specific and protective of their distinctiveness. ‘Asian’ can also define a person who would otherwise be described as Israeli, Indian, Arab, Chinese or Filipino. To describe a person in 2017 as ‘European’ simply narrows down their physical location. It says nothing of what they might look like. If one travels to Israel one would find Jewish people of literally every racial make-up on the planet.
In truth it would be impossible to predict what any person would look like by simply stating a country, let alone an entire continent. ‘African’ could mean Nigerian, Egyptian or South African. It is also relevant to note that the genetic make-up of any individual is likely more complex than they imagine, as white supremacists discovered when their genetic tests came back with more diverse results than expected. It is doubtful anyone is ‘pure’ anything.
Skin color is a poor standard for determining ‘race’ as I share the same skin tone with people from Japan, South America, England, India or China. Hair and eye color are obviously not reliable sources of origin and facial features are hardly definitive. Race as a concept is outdated and severely limited in thinking in today’s age.
We really should have evolved as a society to that understanding by now as it was the foundation of the Civil Rights movement and much of the colorblind societal ideal of the 1980’s and 90’s. It has only been the Left’s obsession with racial categories and historical injustice and vengeance that has continued the idea. Sadly modern-day minority groups do not have the same social pressure to reject racial identity or thinking the way white people have in the past.
Culture and Ethnicity
Proponents of ‘black pride’ often cite a battle against ‘white supremacy’ in denying them ownership of their cultural heritage. It seems to be an understood liberal idea that ‘white’ is the default setting, but also the neutral standard. I am often told white people do not have a culture. Phrases like ‘adding flavor’ or ‘adding color’ to a situation to describe including people of other racial origins is common and it is socially acceptable to mock the attempts of white people in adopting the cultural traditions of others. Others on the Left assert that white people have simply stolen culture from others and devote an inordinate amount of emotional effort into denouncing ‘cultural appropriation.’
There are really two aspects to this concept. First, it is accurate to say ‘white people’ do not have a culture. There is nothing connecting two people with similar ‘white’ features or ancestry together by default. I do not view other white people as ‘my people’ or associate any emotional obligation to other people who are also white. Articles that begin with ‘Dear white people…’ are fundamentally absurd as it is nonsense to think you could send a message relevant to everyone categorized as ‘white’ or that white people somehow have an interconnected system of communication distinct from everyone else. This is not the case for Jews. I feel a significant attachment to Jewish individuals regardless of geographical location. Jews are ‘my people’ and I am culturally linked to all of them.
The other is the notion that skin color determines cultural affiliation. In some things the Left supports the idea and in others they do not. For example, when Rachel Dolezal was discovered to be a white woman portraying herself as a black woman, black Americans felt incredibly offended. Of course, Linda Sarsour adopting the ‘person of color’ title and representing an ethnic minority has been widely celebrated.
Dolezal represents an interesting case where culture became confused with racial identity. As she is quoted in the above story, ‘I wasn’t identifying as black to upset people. I was being me.’ Culturally she identified with what is considered American black culture. She adopted the style of dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, worldviews, language etc. of this particular group. She did so to the point of complete assimilation and was accepted by other members of that culture who interpreted her as one of them. It can be argued that she should not have called herself ‘black’, but her experience is not so unusual.
When I converted to Judaism I adopted a style of dress, mannerisms, unspoken cues, a language, food, worldviews, obligations, minority insight etc. which I did not have before. 10 years later I am so integrated into the community there is no separation between myself and any other Jew in my area.
My race is ‘white’, my ethnicity is Jewish, but my culture is Appalachian.
I grew up in rural Ohio and West Virginia and I share the collective experience and cultural understanding of everyone else in my area. People in my area of all racial backgrounds, regardless of religion, share a common set of values and social understanding. This idea has been beautifully demonstrated in Texas in the aftermath of the massive hurricane, Harvey, that struck. People, regardless of sub-culture, proudly identified as ‘Texan.’
In my area there are people far more connected to West Virginia than I am, but I can translate the language and appreciate the folkways of nearly everyone here. I can also recognize the differences when I visit other parts of the country. There is a spectrum within the culture itself, but it has clearly defined borders. The largest spectrum is ‘American’ which holds its own set of shared values, heritage and folkways.
Interestingly it is extremely common for white people in my area to have Native American ancestors. Yet most do not identify as ‘Native American.’ I have not done genetic testing, but if my great-grandfather was Native America, does that change my ‘race’?
We all have a culture we belong to. I am fully aware that my yarmulke alone separates me from nearly everyone else in my immediate area. People treat me differently with it on than they do with it off (say at the gym). People see me and they immediately see ‘Jew’ which conjours a host of associations, prejudices and considerations they otherwise would not have had. My physical features do not play a role in this decision-making.
As Mr. Jamali crudely pointed out, by wearing a yarmulke I become an ‘other’ which I can ‘hide’ by taking it off. I can pass as white. By his assertion, I am, by default, something other than ‘white.’ And in a way he is correct. If ‘white’ means ‘blank’ then I certainly am not that. ‘White’ can also mean ‘anonymous’ or ‘invisible.’ That, I do not qualify for either. I always stand out.
Ethnocentrists, those primarily focused on their racial or ethnic identities, will argue that white people are capable of enjoying individuality whereas minorities are forced to survive in spite of their physical differences. I certainly do not hold an individual persona to most people I interact with as I am always ‘the Jewish guy.’
The liberal Jewish website, Tikkun, posted an article titled, Jews Are NOT “White” in 21st century USA in which the author, Rabbi Michael Lerner, argued the experience in Charlottesville during and after the recent white supremacist/Nazi rally demonstrated a distinction between Jews and the white people in the area. The extremely liberal site, The Atlantic, makes a similar argument in an article titled, Are Jews White? On the other more centrist end of the spectrum is the pro-Israeli website, Isreallycool which firmly states their position in an article titled, Jews Are Not White.
I am, to the best understanding of my genetic heritage, ‘Caucasian’, ‘European’ or, as I mark on forms, ‘white.’ But I am not ‘white’ in the sense liberals use the word, which is to imply social privilege, anonymity, collective thinking or assumption.
Unfortunately the Left has turned the descriptor ‘white’ into a slur which enables a person to engage in racist thinking or actions towards that person. It allows prejudicial judgement, unfounded accusation and collective guilt. When Munroe Bergdorf declares ‘all white people’, or any racial studies professor, Black Lives Matter activist etc. they are implying everyone they consider white to be guilty. This is the exact same mindset utilized in the last century to discriminate against anyone considered ‘black.’
We all hold unique cultural characteristics we share with other people around us. There is nothing negative about enjoying these cultural differences. That is the point of multiculturalism. We are not homogeneous. But to assign culture based on perceived race is absurdity. A person can identify with ‘black’ culture without holding 100% black African genetic heritage. I am genetically Irish yet I have absolutely no affiliation, sense of pride or social obligation to Irish people or Ireland.
To argue racial purity testing is a requirement for cultural approval is to revert to the racism our grandparents fought to eliminate from our society. We can understand and fight racism without resorting to engaging in it ourselves. These silly rules of who is allowed to hold which opinions and who can and cannot enjoy this or that cultural artifact is utter nonsense and should be firmly opposed.
People assigned the label ‘white’ for the purposes of discrimination should fight back just as hard as people did when they were assigned ‘negro’ in the last century. I often reply to ‘Oh, the white guy says…’ by stating ‘I’m not white.’ to point out this nonsense. This often confuses people. I am not asserting my ‘race’, whatever that means, is suddenly different nor am I aligning myself with another ‘race’ for political convenience. I am simply rejecting the idea that my entire body of ethnic and cultural heritage can be dismissed with a word that simply does not apply to me in the way it is used.
Only white supremacists, (who consequently do not consider me ‘white’) and Leftists care about racial identity. Average people could not care less. But acceptable racism, prejudice and bigotry in media and education should be opposed by everyone. It is simply time to eliminate the concept of ‘race’ from our collective mind and embrace the reality of diverse culture and ethnicity. Something each of us has.