PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE
Your average demi-sexual French Canadian Aspie, addicted to (but not limited to) : Sherlock, Doctor Who, Music, Cabin Pressure and general fun, that has developed a subtle shipping of the Mystrade, Newtmann and 00Q variety when she wasn't looking.
My side blog: You Need More 'Zik in Your Life
My AO3 Account: FroggyBangBang
I keep thinking oh man, I’m so immature. How am I allowed to be an adult.
Then I spend time with teenagers.
And it’s like, wow, okay, yeah. I am an adult. I am so adult. Look at me adulting all over the place.
Hi—Susie the Moderator had asked if I wanted to submit something, and after a gap of many days, I have. If you have moved on and no longer need this, lemme know. I’m just proud that I stopped writing before I actually hit book length.
Stuff like this usually goes on my SemiticSemantics site, but I am also lodubimvloyaar as above.
Thanks for the opportunity!
Are Jews considered POC?
The short answer is, “Yes, no, and maybe.”
This is the long answer:
The terms ‘white’ and ‘people of color’ don’t work very well to describe many Jews, or many Jewish experiences. I’m going to try to explain why, and also to explain
The great majority of Jews are descended from an indigenous Middle Eastern people who, according to tradition, started from Iraq or Syria before settling in what is now Israel and Palestine. A global diaspora resulting from a series of invasions and population upheavals spread Jews across the map. We picked up some customs from the people we lived among, while preserving our own,and our own religion, legal code, and self-concept. We also picked up some genes along the way. Ashkenazim and Sephardim (these terms will be explained below) seem, according to modern genetics research, to be about 70% Middle Eastern, and 30% European. (I’m basically leaving Jews by choice out of this discussion, for several reasons, so I’m taking this moment to salute them and assure them that no disrespect is meant by this omission.)
The bulk of the diaspora can be split into three broad groups, distinguished by region, language, and minhag (a term referring to religious traditions). The Mizrahim, ‘the Easterners’, are the Jews of the Arabic-speaking world and their descendants, but the term is often also used for Persian Jews, and for Jews from West Asia and parts of the Caucasus. The Sephardim (from ‘Sefarad’, the Hebrew name for Spain) are the descendants of the medieval S*panish Jewish communities, expelled from Spain at the end of the fifteenth century, and Portugal during the sixteenth. And the Ashkenazim (from “Ashkenaz”, the Hebrew name for Germany) are the descendents of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe.
These groups are somewhat fluidly defined and described, not least because Jewish history has been one of continuous upheaval, expulsion and migration. Ashkenazi communities settled in parts of Turkey and other areas within the Ottoman Empire, and Sephardim ended up in Ottoman lands, Holland and North Africa. Mizrahim moved to France. Everyone moved to Israel and the United States. Marriages between the groups happened for centuries, and are now super-common in Israel. (As a well-known pop example, Jerry Seinfeld—yes, that Jerry Seinfeld—has an Ashkenazi father and a Mizrahi mother.)
The cultural divisions above, in addition, do not include the entire Jewish people, by any means. The Ethiopian community, for example, is an example of a large group that falls into an entirely different category, since their diaspora began earlier, and their religious practice reflects an earlier form of Judaism than the ‘beginning of the common era’ model the rest of us walked away with.
However, and this is something that is rarely understood by gentiles, and vitally important to any understanding of Jews, despite all of these cultural divisions and variations, we have actively considered ourselves a single people—am Yisrael—for thousands of years.
So, given all of this, are Jews people of color?
Some groups are undeniably ‘visible’ people of color, such as the Ethiopians or the Chinese communities, and no one attempts to define them otherwise. Ditto, visible people of color who are Jews by choice, or people of mixed Jewish and gentile PoC heritage.
Outside of this narrow zone, however, definitions get tricky.
Many European (both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews) have defined and do define themselves as white, since roughly the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the point at which the development of whiteness as a social construct intersected with the emancipation of the Jews of many European countries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_emancipation#Dates_of_emancipation. Many of these hopeful dates, of course, reflected false promises. If whiteness was offered in many places in Europe in the 1800s, one might say it was revoked, emphatically, during a period of the 1900s. Nevertheless, this is the starting point of the idea that Jews could be ‘white people’ in any real sense.
I can’t emphasize enough that this access to whiteness was conditional on the borders and attitudes of gentile nations and cultures. The perception that Ashkenazim were always privileged for being white Jews is entirely false. This extended to some of the Mizrahi communities as well: for example, the wealthy Baghdadi merchant families
I also can’t emphasize enough that all of these groups have, throughout Jewish history, understood ourselves as one people, one am. Despite separations of distance, we shared a language, a religion, a legal code, and an understanding of ourselves as the descendants of common ancestors. I am not going to be romantic enough to insist that distance, cultural difference and gentile concepts of race never got in the way of this, but I find that it is very hard for most gentiles to accept how deeply it ran and runs, and how core the concept that all Jews are a single people has been and continues to be.
In the United States, my experience has been that most light-skinned Jews tend to identify themselves as white. It is how we are commonly perceived by strangers, at least in urban, ethnically diverse areas, and it is how we are defined (like Arabs) on government paperwork. It also reflects, in the last few generations, the degree of white privilege we are able to access. This is not a universal. Some Jews, identifying themselves primarily as people of Middle Eastern descent, or as people consistently targeted historically and in the present day by white supremacy, choose to define themselves outside of whiteness. It’s common for American Jews who feel this way to define themselves as ‘white-passing’ or ‘conditionally white-passing’. Many Mizrahim, regardless of skin color, describe themselves as people of color, because of their cultural and historical distance from what is usually defined as whiteness.
This is the United States. Europe is a different matter, and I would argue that, outside of, perhaps, Great Britain, it’s impossible to define European Jews as being white in a European context. I’m basing this on my own experience, and that of people I’ve been close to, as well as discussions with Jews living or raised in Europe. If a European Jew wants to weigh in with more detail about this, please, please do. In areas where the dominant Gentile cultures are not white, there are other issues, and the concept of white/PoC may be entirely irrelevant, or only relevant in the context of the country’s experience of colonialism.
My back went up when I saw the original question. For Jews in places where it’s a relevant question, whether we are white or not has often been a subject that gentiles feel free to pronounce upon, often with political objectives of their own in mind. Jewish oppression, both historical and modern, is often dismissed scornfully—if Jews are white, how can we possibly have been the victims of racial oppression, the reasoning goes. Non-Jews with little understanding of Jewish history and culture often weigh in as experts, announcing confidently that Ashkenazim are white and Sephardim and Mizrahim are PoC. Not only does this not reflect either historical or modern reality—and reveals that these weighers-in have met very few if any Jews who are not assimilated American Ashkenazim—but from a standpoint of Jewish social and political identity, it can be a direct attack on our self-definition and our concept of peoplehood.
Often, the results of outsiders imposing their ideas of whiteness or color on Jews results in the idea that Ashkenazim are white—and that therefore, their privilege outweighs their oppression as Jews—and that the ‘exotic’ Sephardim and Mizrahim are people of color. As such, the gentile ‘definer’ will agree that they can experience racism—from white people, and from white Jews—but the ‘definer’ will seldom bother to understand their experience of anti-Semitism, nor to understand that the source of this anti-Semitism was often other people who would be called people of color.
The result of all this is to drive an artificial wedge…one not based in Jewish thought…through the Jewish people, insisting that a sociological distinction based on the concepts of white-supremacist non-Jewish cultures defines Jews more accurately than our own cultural concepts, and is entitled to divide us from one another.
To the questioner: ask. Don’t try to put some thirteen million people who were, until recently, flung world-wide into such a small box. One Jew may tell you she is white, another that she is white-passing, and yet another that she is a woman of color. All three may look the same to you, or they may look different. Understand that even if they give different answers, they are tied to one another by thousands of years of history.
Edit: I just sent through a submission, then realized one sentence got truncated. The sentence is from toward the beginning and should read: “The terms ‘white’ and ‘people of color’ don’t work very well to describe many Jews, or many Jewish experiences. I’m going to try to explain why, and also to explain to some extent how Jews actually identify ourselves.”
bolding mine, because there are some pieces here that a lot of people forget and really, really need to be remembered.
additionally, I CANNOT GET OVER Steve’s fucking Sadness Errands that he keeps running around DC, like, his schedule literally goes
6 AM: jogging
7:15: unburden soul to total stranger, lacking better options
3 PM: visit own museum exhibit to stare at the Dead Best Friend Wall
4:30: attempt meaningful human connection with sole surviving contemporary; fail due to Alzheimer’s
6 PM: dinner for one
7 PM: contemplate own loneliness, probably