Emma Share, in the July 5 issue of the Jewish News, writes about a workshop inviting white people “to practice talking about race and whiteness.” At the workshop, she learned that in order to talk honestly about race, those of us who qualify have to accept “feeling confident as a white person in the world.” According to Share, we have to overcome the temptation of “rejecting our whiteness” or “dissociat[ing] from our whiteness.” Doing this, she assures us, will help us overcome racism.
Well, I do not want to accept my whiteness.
Whether I qualify as white depends entirely on the opinions of bigots. The category of racial whiteness has no objective reality; some people qualify as white because bigots accept them as white. Some people do not qualify as white because bigots define them as not white.
I do not participate in a special “white” culture. I do not engage in distinctive activities to express my whiteness. I do not feel a special kinship with white people.
Yes, I know that I have benefited from white privilege. When I encounter a police officer, I might feel threatened, but nothing like the threat perceived by non-white civilians.
Yes, when I meet people, I do notice whether they qualify as white or not. I cannot reliably tell what color eyes my acquaintances have or whether they have attached earlobes, but I can tell you whether they appear to qualify as white. That just means I must have internalized the teachings of the Klan. I wish I could not notice. Since I do notice, I rejoice at the successes of non-whites.
My own whiteness has a contingent aspect, and it never depends on me. As long as the bigot who makes the decision considers me white, I qualify for all the rights and privileges that the bigot has to offer. When the bigot focuses on my status as a Jew, that might override my pale skin color or it might not. Whether I qualify as white, and for how long I qualify as white, depends entirely on the bigot’s judgment.
As a pale-skinned Jew, I might qualify as white according to some broad-minded bigots. Other Jews look brown or black or Asian or Hispanic or Native American or Arab or East Indian, according to a widely accepted and largely illogical classification “system.” Since I notice, I applaud the successes of non-white Jews.
As for Emma Share’s invitation to confront racism by accepting my status as white, I politely decline.
— Eliezer Finkelman