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.