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My Whiteness Problem, by Chloe Valdary (Tablet via Mosaic)

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July 25, 2018

How human vices hide behind the veneer of the identity-culture wars

Recently Chloé Valdary found herself debating proponents of anti-Israel boycotts. She encountered the usual lies and libels—but also something new, as Jews who spoke up to defend the Jewish state were met with accusations of “engaging in whiteness” unless they could prove themselves to be something other than white. Whiteness in this case implies a pathological tendency to oppress, whether by enslaving and slaughtering or by dominating a conversation. Valdary notes a “double irony” in this way of thinking:

[Something similar to this notion of “whiteness”] led to the death of millions of Jews in the Holocaust; then, the accusation wasn’t that whiteness was the problem but that Jewishness was and the people advancing the argument weren’t people of color but Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. The second irony is that if whiteness suggests domination while shutting others down, then it was many of the people who were the least white in the room exercising whiteness. They repeatedly sneered and hissed at Ashkenazim, [who, unlike other Jews, count as white], who disagreed with them. But this idea of course is silly, since anyone can behave in an exploitative fashion toward his or her neighbor regardless of skin color. To do so is not “whiteness” but human. . . .

Recently, there has been a debate within the Jewish community about the negative treatment of “Jews of color” within Jewish circles that are majority-Ashkenazi. As part of that debate, a war of words has been waged in the pages of the Forward between African-American Jews who insist that Ashkenazi Jews are white and Ashkenazi Jews who insist that not only are they not white but that to insist they are is an insult to their lived experiences of being persecuted in “white-dominated spaces.”

By “white” those involved in this debate don’t mean “pale skinned” but, once again, practitioners of whiteness—that dominating pathology that exploits and abuses and colonizes everything in its path. . . . Both parties to this debate are passionate and well-intended and also wrong. To believe in the presence of “whiteness”—albeit in the name of defeating it—is to accept a premise made by [racist] pseudoscientists and Nazis in the 20th century. . . . When people of color (Jewish or Gentile) claim that such a thing [as “whiteness”] exists, they are accepting the premise of a racist notion in order to fight against the effects of that racist notion. This is a contradiction that will not end well.

Likewise, when Ashkenazi Jews claim not to be white—i.e., not to be practitioners of so-called whiteness—they too are accepting the premise of a racist notion in order to claim to belong to no part of it. This exercise in linguistic gymnastics is madness.

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