Who Are You Calling "White," White Boy?

To me, this is just a funny little bit of inside-baseball commentary. Following an article in Haaretz called "Jews, White Privilege, and the fight against racism in America," there's been a tug of war going on about whether Jews are, or are not, white. A blogger at the Times of Israel says definitely not. Another blogger who writes at a place called "Jewnited Nations" says that, actually, Ashkenazi Jews are totally white.

This is obviously not my fight, and I don't care about the outcome of the argument. I'm just amused by the fact that they're having an argument over it. Personally, I don't care whether Jews want to think of themselves as white, not-white, white but Jewish first, Jewish and not anything else, or what have you. If they want to be white, I'm fine with that. If they don't, I'm happy to accept their desire to be left out.

It's not an easy question to answer anyway. The word means almost nothing. The underlying concept -- a "white race" or a set of "white races" -- was believed to exist in the 19th century, but now we don't believe there is anything real to which the term refers. In America, we use it very loosely compared to the way it was used a hundred years ago when people thought it meant something important.

In any case, there's probably no better marker for whiteness today than to be concerned about whether you have "white privilege."


E Hines said...

We haven't been "white" white since we started mingling with Neanderthal.

It's a foolish argument; we don't even have a good definition of "human" except by drawing an arbitrary line in the DNA.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

That's true. I keep trying to tell people that this holds for all species, actually: in biology we treat a species like canis familiaris as if it had a much harder line than it does. Life is vague. It may simply not be clear if you "are" or "are not" white, although there will be some cases we can all agree are examples of the thing we're using the word to describe. Probably everyone would agree that I am "white" in the way we use the term, and yet Elizabeth Warren was able to present herself as a 'person of color' without apparent challenge for many years.

Eric Blair said...

Heh. If what I have read is correct, before mating with Neanderthals, you'd be 'black' as in out of Africa.

Nobody was ever "white". Now, I recently did a DNA test that popped out some interesting data if it is correct, including markers from Spain, the British Isles and the Caucauses. (as well as makers for every other group in Europe you'd care to name--it's all there in varying degrees).

As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to be marking "Hispanic" on any forms I gotta sign from now on.

Grim said...

Ha! I didn't do one of those tests, but my parents both did them recently. As suspected, my ancestry very heavily lies in Great Britain, with some input from Western Europe. No real surprises, except a complete lack of Native American markers. Like Warren, our 'family lore' suggested I should have at least a couple of Native American ancestors (and maybe I did, but it doesn't turn up in the DNA test).

Grim said...

And by 'at least a couple,' I mean that there are a couple of spots on the family tree where someone is supposed to have taken a Cherokee or Creek wife. Obviously, if that were true, it would really mean a very vast number of such ancestors (i.e., her mother and father, their mothers and fathers, etc).