This is the script to my video on Jewishness and whiteness, which you can watch here.
CONTENT WARNING: ANTISEMITISM, ANTIBLACK RACISM, WHITE SUPREMACISM, AND NAZISM
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
This video is not about Judaism. It’s about Jewishness, and ways of being Jewish. If Judaism and Jewishness being different causes you confusion; don’t worry about it, just know that they aren’t the same thing. Judaism is the religion, Jewishness is everything else.
This video is not about all Jews, either. It’s about one particular way of being Jewish, and the Jews who are Jewish in that way. It’s about the subset of Jews that most gentiles think of when they hear the word “Jew”.
You know... Jews?
You have heard of them, right?
You know, like these guys, or this guy, or this lady, or even this schmuck. They’re all Jews – but if you’re paying attention, you’ll have noticed they all have something else in common, aside from all being Jews. One thing is that they’re all Americans, and that’s not unintentional. The dynamic I’m looking at today is one that is unique to North American Racial Discourse™, so talking about other places, like modern-day Europe, the Middle East, or the Country Who Shall Not Be Named is a bit beyond this video’s scope.
No, the major thing they have in common is far more obvious, and yet also far more complicated and nebulous — All of them, whether they admit it or not, whether they like it or not, have a big old jar of mayonnaise in their pantry.
Now, this hunger for mayo isn’t the same thing as being Ashkenazi. There are Ashkenazim who don’t have mayonnaise in their pantry, and there are Sephardim and Mizrahim who do. While most mayo-having Jews are Ashkenazi, the two don’t overlap 1:1. Also, there are some Jewish converts who had the mayo in their pantry before they became Jews, and while they are fully Jews, and they do still have the mayonnaise, they’re not really who I’m talking about in this video either.
So, let’s do some analysis on Jewish mayonnaise!
JEWISHNESS AND WHITENESS
BY CHAIA ERAN
VOICEOVER BY NEAT ON THE ROCKS, CARRARIUM, AND ANTHONY T'CHALLA
MUSIC BY HANDEL, SCOTT JOPLIN, AND KEVIN MACLEOD
PART ONE: EYROPE UN DI NAYE VELT
The history of the Jews in Europe is, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty nasty. Christian Europe did not like Jews and held no qualms about making that very clear. But I’m not here to enumerate the miseries of Jews in Europe. That’s not the point. What’s relevant to this video is the justifications and apologetics used by the perpetrators; how they started, and how they changed. For a very long time, European antisemitism was perpetuated on a religious basis; the perpetrators were Christians, and the hatred for Jews stemmed from theological sources, most prominently from the claim that the Jews killed Jesus, which is its own can of worms.
But after the Spanish Inquisition hated Jews so much that they went after Jews who had converted to Christianity, and even after people they merely suspected of being Jews or having Jewish ancestry, things started to change; but to understand why, we have to place it within the larger context of a major shift in how Europeans saw themselves, especially in contrast not with Jews, but with Africans.
See, in the early 1600s, plantation owners in the West Indies and America were by-and-large reliant on the labour of European indentured servants who had either agreed to work in exchange for passage to the New World, or were convicted criminals; and while the conditions for those servants were brutal, they were Christians, and had certain rights; they couldn’t be held in lifetime captivity, their children didn’t inherit their servitude, and once they paid off their debt, they were free to go! Not to mention, indentured servants who fled the plantations could be given sanctuary in churches and could easily blend in with the general population.
But Africans, so far as the Europeans cared, weren’t Christian! They had no rights under colonial law! Stories of how brutal the plantations were had gotten back to Europe, and Europeans were refusing to become indentured servants, so the colonizers just went over and kidnapped a bunch of African people to work as slaves, just like the Portuguese had already been doing for two centuries. Problem was, they knew that the people they enslaved would fight back, and their worst fear was that indentured Europeans and enslaved Africans would team up against them, like in Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 — though I will note that Bacon’s Rebellion was also primarily about killing Indigenous people, and Nathaniel Bacon himself was a plantation owner, so nobody comes out of that one looking good.
Furthermore, the work of missionaries like the Quakers meant that more and more Black folks were converting to Christianity; and if they were Christians, then they had rights, and they had more and more in common with indentured Europeans. So, the plantation owners changed the rules. In 1681, the Servant Act in Jamaica swapped out the word “Christian” for the word “white”, something South Carolina would soon copy. In 1709, lawmakers in Barbados created the one-drop rule.
This new political category of mayonnaise-havers encompassed indentured Europeans and plenty of other poor folk and aligned their class interests with those of wealthy landowners — and away from Black people’s. But did it include Jews? In Europe, at least, the answer was no. Instead, antisemitism shifted from a religious persecution to a racial one. Religious antisemitism was still very much a thing, and still is today, but as the Enlightenment swept across Europe, scientific racism came to the fore. European “race scientists” divided up the European population into subraces and ranked them – and Jews were ranked near the bottom. Arthur de Gobineau, a 19th-century French race theorist, said, and I quote,
“Quoting dead racists verbatim doesn’t serve to actually counter their ideas, it just gives their racism a platform.”
So, OK, racists thought Jews had no mayo, but the Enlightenment did lead to the emancipation of Western and Central European Jews, who quickly assimilated and entered the bourgeoisie — sort of. Until Western Europe changed its mind. That’s its own video.
But... what about here, in North America?
PART TWO: DI GOLDENE MEDINA
The earliest Jews to come to the Americas were Sephardim; some were conquistador conversos who came with the Spanish, while some were actually pirates who stole from Spain in revenge for the Inquisition! That's pretty badass. In the USA specifically, almost all the Jews of the Colonial and Revolutionary Era were Sephardim from the Dutch Republic, Britain, and Spain. These Sephardic Jews primarily sided with the Patriots and joined the Continental Army, and in 1790, George Washington wrote a letter to the Sephardim of Newport, Rhode Island that said, among other things,
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
— George Washington, “Letter to Touro Synagogue”
So, at least at the time, Jews were protected, and as language shifted from favouring Christians to favouring whites, these earliest American Jews began to participate in civic life — and unfortunately, Southern Jews became slaveowners at the same rate as other white Americans. In an America dominated by the divide between black and white, many Jews fell comfortably under the mayonnaise umbrella, quickly discarding the ancient Jewish identifier of “nation” in favour of “religion” to stave off accusations of dual loyalty. Spanish-controlled Texas didn’t welcome Jews, but Antebellum America seemed to have no problem with them… until things started to change.
It started with German Jews in the 1840s and 1850s, who were educated liberal bourgeoisie who came out of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, with assimilationist tendencies and a drive to Become Americans. This smaller group mostly assimilated into American culture, with one rabbi in 1859 declaring,
“We are Jews in the synagogue, and Americans everywhere,” even as socially, they mostly interacted with other Jews through clubs and organizations like B’nai Brith. By the 1870s, however, as American Jews began to integrate further and further into white society, they felt the need to stress their distinctiveness as Jews — but in a way that wasn’t contingent on observance of Judaism like “religion” and wouldn’t lead to questions of loyalty like “nation”. The word they hit on was one that the outside world had already been using to describe them for a while — race.
At the same time, however, they couldn’t stress it too hard without risking being categorized with the newly-free Black population. They wanted to stay distinctively Jewish and have their jar of mayonnaise, and for a while, it worked, even as racial tensions began to flare with the establishment of Jim Crow laws, and white Americans uncertain about their place at the top of society began looking to circle the wagons. But in the 1880s, Tsar Alexander III introduced repressive antisemitic legislation in the Russian Empire, and in 1886, an Edict of Expulsion was enforced on Jews in Kyiv. From 1880 to 1924, 23 million Europeans immigrated to the USA, including 2 million Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.
Until now, most European immigrants assimilated well enough into the mayonnaise milieu, but with such massive waves of immigration, distinct ethnic identities from the Old World began to maintain themselves rather than assimilate, and WASPs were terrified of becoming a minority in a sea of working-class Slavs, Poles, Italians, and of course, Jews. People like Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt pushed to restrict immigration and encourage Anglo-Saxon women to B R E E D.
Meanwhile, the integrated Jews whose presence predated the new wave of immigration were suddenly facing severe backlash as WASPs grappled with the sudden complication of their black-white dichotomy. Some WASPs pushed Jews and immigrants in with Blacks and other non-whites, such as Arthur T. Abernethy, who tried to prove that Jews were actually secretly Black the whole time; but most American “race scientists” instead expanded the dichotomy from a binary to a scale between two poles, with Blacks on one end and Whites on the other, like William Z. Ripley and Madison Grant, who divided European Americans into three ranked racial categories that fit along the new black-white scale.
This led to the creation of a category which anthropologist Karen Brodkin calls “off-white”, and historian Nell Irvin Painter calls “ethnic”; Italians, Slavs, Poles, and other Europeans were pushed into this category, as were mayonnaise-adjacent Jews. Legally, off-white groups were free white citizens, but culturally, they were different and lesser than “Nordic” whites. Off-white groups had more rights than people of colour — being able to, you know, vote — but the “Nordics” considered the perceived gap between themselves and the off-whites to be as large as the perceived gap between the off-whites and people of colour.
Immigration restrictions were placed on immigrants from both Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, and off-whites were barred from mainstream corporate professions — positions like doctors, lawyers, and pharmacists, which Jews often held, were often solo practices and were nowhere near as profitable, respected, or corporatized as they are now. Integrated Jews, who had been sitting comfortably in the mayonnaise umbrella until now, were suddenly terrified of losing their whiteness, and pushed back hard against the racial classification that they had, mere decades before, been using to identify themselves. In 1909, Washington attorney Simon Wolf gathered a coalition ranging from the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to B’nai Brith to oppose the presence of “Hebrew” as a race on census forms, an effort that fell flat in part because of that same tension in the Jewish community between wanting their mayonnaise, but also wanting to be distinct from the mainstream.
Off-white groups formed ethnic enclaves, like the Lower East Side in New York, where they maintained their own culture and language, something that embarrassed integrated Jews, who felt that Eastern European Jewish immigrants were making them look bad. They considered the Yiddish-speakers to be backward and un-American, but they also felt obligated to help them out, because, you know, כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה, so they tried to lift them out of poverty in the tradition of Jewish philanthropic tzedakah, sure, but they also tried to Americanize them; they were Jews, but they weren’t respectable Jews, because respectable Jews were just like the rest of white America. They didn’t speak Yiddish, they didn’t separate themselves from whites, and they certainly didn’t work and live among Black communities, something the Eastern European Jews had no problem doing — though they were loath to actually employ Black people in their businesses, something Black people in those neighbourhoods absolutely picked up on.
After World War I, things got worse. White Americans generally felt that they lived in a “botched society”, and a series of red scares made them fearful of communism, and eager to point the finger at Jews who came from Eastern Europe. The newly reborn Ku Klux Klan directed its venom at Jews as well as Blacks and Catholics, and famous industrialist Henry Ford published several antisemitic conspiracy theories, including an English translation of the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, an antisemitic forgery written in Russia in 1903 that accused Jews of secretly plotting to take over the world. It was in the interwar period that the idea of a “Jewish Problem” began to percolate, placing Jews outside the off-white category and into a role of infiltrators who wielded disproportionate power over white society.
Antisemitism reached a fever pitch on college campuses, where quotas were placed on Jewish admission. At the time, American colleges were less focused on the sort of professional degrees you’d get now, and more on being a finishing school for the children of wealthy WASPs, who were expected to play sports, join clubs, make connections, and accept Gentleman’s Cs on actual coursework; they didn’t want to look too academically inclined, since being too bookish was considered unmanly. On the other hand, Jewish students — at least, those that could afford to go to college — succeeded through their academic performance right around the time that modern technical and professional degrees were becoming a thing, and they were basically considered to be sneaking their way in on a technicality where they weren’t wanted. Unfortunately, though, most off-white people in the 20s, including the majority of off-white Jews, couldn’t afford to send their children to any sort of higher education.
By the time the Great Depression rolled around, Nazism was growing in America, and white supremacists were quick to see Jewish conspiracies behind anything they didn’t like. Meanwhile, the Eastern European Jews were, in fact, becoming Americanized, and the line between integrated and immigrant Jews was rapidly disappearing. Off-white Jewish children who went to public schools were taught to identify with white America, but white America didn’t love them back. Bitterly, Jewish communities began to debate the concept of a Jewish race yet again. Yet, despite economic disadvantages, despite living during the height of American antisemitism, and despite the rise of Nazism in Europe, through a combination of hard work and sheer immigrant determination, mayonnaise-seeking Jews lifted themselves up by their bootstraps and I AM KIDDING, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and drew America into World War II.
PART THREE: VAYS FOLK
So, the Holocaust happened. I’m not gonna get into it here, but it made it very clear that Europe still didn’t consider Jews to be white. That’s all I’m going to say on the topic. More relevant to this video is the droves of American Jews who signed up to fight the Nazis. 550,000 Jews served in the US Armed Forces during World War II, and many of them came home to an America that had drastically changed. The prewar New Deal had already made it easier for mayonnaise-havers to buy a home, and the 1944 G.I. Bill offered sweeping benefits to returning white veterans, including Jews.
The GI Bill of Rights, as the 1944 Serviceman’s Readjustment Act was known, is arguably the most massive affirmative action program in American history. It was created to develop needed labor force skills and to provide those who had them with a lifestyle that reflected their value to the economy. The GI benefits that were ultimately extended to 16 million GIs (of the Korean War as well) included priority in jobs—that is, preferential hiring, but no one objected to it then—financial support during the job search, small loans for starting up businesses, and most important, low-interest home loans and educational benefits, which included tuition and living expenses. This legislation was rightly regarded as one of the most revolutionary postwar programs. I call it affirmative action because it was aimed at and disproportionately helped male, Euro-origin GIs.
— Karen Brodkin, “How Jews Became White Folks & What That Says About Race in America”
All of a sudden, off-white Jews could afford to leave the urban shtetls and participate in the white flight to the suburbs. They went from living in urban tenements in poor neighbourhoods alongside people of colour, to living in big suburban houses with front lawns, picket fences, shiny cars, and white neighbours with whom they longed to fit in. And with antisemitism roundly condemned as un-American during the war as a tactical measure against a Nazi fifth column, and America desperate to separate itself from the hated Nazi enemy, off-white Jews found themselves lifted by the rising tide of mayonnaise that had for so long been denied to them. Many more Jews went to college, and legal and medical jobs gained the sort of corporate prestige they have today.
Moreover, the racial discourse had suddenly changed. With FDR’s declaration in 1936 that European immigrants had become “fully American”, a new category began to rise, displacing the works of Ripley and Grant; “ethnicity.” The category of ethnicity was used as a subcategory within undifferentiated whiteness, allowing Irish, Italians, Slavs, Poles, and the now-official category of White Jews to maintain and express their distinction while still laying full, undisputed claim to their mayonnaise, a far cry from the lump-sum of off-white.
It seemed like the debate had been settled at long last. White Jews could have their menorah and their mayonnaise! The need for Jewish distinctiveness seemed settled at last by the rise of the term “Jewish people”, linked by a shared culture and tradition, rather than racial distinctions, which were heavily condemned as being Nazi concepts, at least as they applied to Jews. Not to mention, the Country Who Shall Not Be Named was established in 1948, and a radical shift in the perception of Jews accompanied it as the “people without a land” instead became much more like the Irish and the Italians. I don’t want to go too deeply into that, since it’s its own can of worms that’s deserving of its own video, but that is an artificial separation, and Zionism was a major contributing factor to the achievement of mayonnaise for American Jews. So, anyway, problem solved, right?
Well, despite a lot of Jewish public intellectuals’ writing in favour of integration, this wasn’t actually celebrated all around. Lots of White Jews felt uncomfortable joining the mainstream, especially where it chafed against Jewish traditions and values, and most especially in the shadow of the Holocaust. There was a lot of ink spilled by middle-class Jews anxious about their place in a society like 1950s America that prized excessive consumption and material success, which were considered goyische ways of life, and many valorized the urban shtetls from whence they’d come, while still having no desire to go back. But while White Jews had settled back under the umbrella of whiteness, seemingly for good, their position was rocked not twenty years after the end of the war by the rise of something that, to White Jews, seemingly came out of nowhere — Black nationalism.
See, in our neat little history of Jewishness and the quest for mayonnaise up there, I mentioned several instances of White Jews trying to claim whiteness and avoiding stressing a racial identity too hard. Thing is, whiteness isn’t some neutral identity. The whole point of whiteness is a distinction from blackness. It was made up by oppressors to differentiate themselves from the people they were oppressing. It’s why the only tangible symbol of whiteness I could find that wasn’t tied to either racism or wealth was the fucking mayonnaise meme. To try and gain access to whiteness necessitates acts of antiblackness.
Jewish historian Eric L. Goldstein explains that Jewish-Black relationships were always fraught by this tension in White Jews between basic human empathy towards an oppressed people, born out of pogroms and centuries of European antisemitism, and this quest for whiteness that demands antiblack racism. And historically, from the moment White Jews first set foot on Turtle Island, the vast majority only ever pushed for Black rights in ways that didn’t threaten their own position as whites. Honest-to-God antiracist Jews did exist, including some very well-known ones, but they were outliers, not the norm. The first wave of Eastern European immigrants who came straight from the shtetl fought for antiracism, but they were also the only generation of off-white Jews who never tried to claim whiteness! The integrated Jews who preceded them claimed it, and their children claimed it.
And Black people noticed! They noticed that most White Jews were fair-weather allies! When Black nationalism came on the rise, it challenged the notion of racial justice that White Jews held to — the one that said that the key to ending racism was to slowly integrate into whiteness over generations, like they did — and accused White Jews not of being different from white society, but of being the same. White Jews were being held to account for their willing consumption of the mayonnaise.
What the Black American interprets the Jew as saying is that one must take the historical, the impersonal point of view concerning one's life and concerning the lives of one's kinsmen and children. "We suffered, too," one is told, "but we came through, and so will you. In time."
In whose time? One has only one life. One may become reconciled to the ruin of one's children's lives is not reconciliation. It is the sickness unto death. And one knows that such counselors are not present on these shores by following this advice. They arrived here out of the same effort the Black American is making: they wanted to live, and not tomorrow, but today. Now, since the Jew is living here, like all the other white men living here, he wants the Black man to wait. And the Jew sometimes--often--does this in the name of his Jewishness, which is a terrible mistake. He has absolutely no relevance in this context as a Jew. His only relevance is that he is white and values his color and uses it.
He is singled out by Black people not because he acts differently from other white men, but because he doesn't. His major distinction is given him by that history of Christendom, which has so successfully victimized both Black people and Jews. And he is playing in Harlem the role assigned him by Christians long ago: he is doing their dirty work.
— James Baldwin
James Baldwin wrote that essay in 1967 — and yes, I did update the language, that’s also why I didn’t include the title on the quotation screen — and the White Jewish backlash was massive. Baldwin was accused of antisemitism, of whitewashing the history of Jewish racial persecution in America, and of ignoring non-white Jews, which we’ll get back to later. But the essay’s actually a lot more complex and nuanced than that, and it’s really good. It’s available on the New York Times archives for free, and I highly recommend it, link in the down-there part, though it does use some outdated language, it is from the 60s.
Suddenly the mayonnaise jar had become a liability, rather than an endgoal, and White Jews were eager to distance themselves from its crimes, but if there’s one thing harder than getting into whiteness, it’s getting out. By eating the mayonnaise and claiming a stake in the power structure, White Jews had found themselves on the hook for systemic racism, something that couldn’t be easily shaken — especially considering the alternative.
PART FOUR: TERMINEN UN TNAIM
All of my books on Jewishness and whiteness are out of date. Karen Brodkin’s book was published in 1998. Eric L. Goldstein’s was published in 2006. Both books end with a discussion of Jewish ambivalence towards whiteness. Brodkin talks about how several aspects of Jewish culture had to be excised in the name of whiteness, especially for Jewish women, who went from having an integral community role to being stuck in the mould of the 1950s housewife, their strength and outspokenness turned into jokes and stereotypes about Jewish mothers and Jewish American Princesses by Jewish men anxious to fit into white patriarchy. There’s a reason why so many second-wave feminists were Jewish. Goldstein talks about Jewish attempts to get out of the mayonnaise jar from the 1960s through to the 2000s, such as Jewish Renewal, a revived flareup of Zionism, Jewish genetic studies, and even the infamous Jewish supremacist Meir Kahane, none of which actually succeeded in absolving White Jews of whiteness. But both books actually have the same crucial flaw that Baldwin’s essay was accused of: where are the Jews of colour?
This privileging of the White Jewish experience as the Jewish experience is a pervasive and persistent issue in Jewish communities. Back when integrated Jews were looking to uplift and Americanize Jewish immigrants, they completely ignored Mizrahi immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. Rabbi Shais Rishon, a Black Orthodox rabbi who writes under the pen name Ma Nishtana, has spoken a great deal about racism he’s experienced from White Jews, including being stopped at synagogues and asked to justify his presence. He also just recently wrote an excellent Twitter thread about how Jews of colour are treated, which I’ll link in the description, assuming Twitter still exists by the time this video gets out. There’s still an ongoing debate over the presence of police officers in shuls who are ostensibly there to protect the shul from antisemites but whose presence tends to make the space hostile to people of colour — especially around the High Holy Days. All of these are serious, important issues that get overlooked when White Jews dominate the Jewish narrative — and especially when White Jews continue to cling to an eroding whiteness at all costs, up to and including the well-being of Jews of colour.
Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi, one of my primary sources for this video, defines two competing racisms in American society that are at odds with each other as often as they are with antiracism: assimilationism, and segregationism. Segregationism is the strain of racism that holds that there can be no unity, that people of colour are unchangeably inferior, and that the only solution is to keep them away by whatever means necessary. Assimilationism is the strain of racism that holds that unity is possible, that people of colour can be uplifted, and brought to the same level as white people. Both are racist, and both hold at their core the false claim that people of colour are inferior to white people — a claim that White Jews have held against people of colour, including Jews of colour, just as often as other white people. The only major difference is that White Jews have trended toward assimilationism more than segregationism, as a means of assuaging that tension within themselves.
I also bring this concept up because something very similar occurs with antisemitism, as Jewish author Dara Horn has also pointed out. She defines two antisemitisms, Purim antisemitism and Chanukah antisemitism. Purim antisemitism is analogous to segregationism: you know, "they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat." It’s the antisemitism of Henry Ford, of the Nazis, and of the alt-right. Chanukah antisemitism is analogous to assimilationism: "We will accept you, but only if you stop being Jewish." It’s the antisemitism of Theodore Roosevelt, and it is the dominant form of antisemitism in the American mainstream — or at least, it was at the time that Goldstein and Brodkin left off.
The election of Donald Trump and the rise of the alt-right signified a radical shift in antisemitism — away from assimilationism, and towards segregationism. And here’s the part where I get to talk about conditional whiteness! See, a few years ago, there was this trend in online Jewish spaces to start using the term “white-passing”, as an attempt to absolve White Jews of whiteness. The White Jews pushing it claimed that if they publicly identified themselves as Jews, the antisemitism they would face would be analogous to antiblack racism. This was, of course, nonsense. Antisemitism works very differently from other forms of racism in a way where “passing” doesn’t really apply, and the people of colour who actually coined the term “white-passing” quickly called this out.
What fits this tense history much better is the term “conditional whiteness”. When White Jews publicly identify as Jewish, they’re still not harassed by police officers, or denied life-saving medical care. Their white privilege isn’t that shaky anymore, not with assimilationist antisemitism as the dominant mode. Rather, what their whiteness is conditioned on isn’t their Jewishness, but on their allegiance to the white power structure, and on that white power structure’s commitment to assimilationism. It’s why so many White Jews are liberals and centrists. In a liberal system of white hegemony, their whiteness goes unquestioned, but in an antiracist system that deconstructs whiteness, White Jews are called to account for their white privilege — and so, they have a strong incentive to turn away from identity politics and intersectionality. On the other side, in an authoritarian system of white supremacy, assimilationism is discarded, and segregationism strips White Jews of their whiteness — when Donald Trump won the presidency, antisemitic hate crimes skyrocketed, the single deadliest antisemitic attack on American Jews in history happened in 2018, and Jewish whiteness became very fragile. Horseshoe theory may be bullshit, but for White Jews, it is very persuasive bullshit, because if the needle moves too far left or right, then one way or another, they lose their white privilege.
Let me be clear. Any attempt by White Jews to divest ourselves from whiteness that doesn’t take ownership of and deconstruct said whiteness is going to fail. It doesn’t matter how much emphasis on Jewish culture or religion we stress, or how many Y-STR markers we find in a genome shared by Kohanim. Whiteness isn’t about culture or genetics, it’s a political category. The way I see it, we have two options. We could sit around and pretend the mayonnaise isn’t there, even as it does extensive harm to people of colour, and especially Jews of colour, and as it hinders our ability to effectively fight fascism, then act shocked when the leopards eat our faces, and people like Nick fucking Fuentes move more and more into the open.
Or, we could do the hard thing; we could take the mayonnaise from our pantry, acknowledge it, and work to dismantle it. It wouldn’t be easy. It would involve a lot of unlearning and going against our immediate self-interest. But, in the words of the man that us White Jews constantly love to point to as proof that we, personally and collectively, aren’t racist:
We must act even when inclination and vested interests would militate against equality. Human self interest is often our Nemesis! […] Mere knowledge or belief is too feeble to be a cure of man’s hostility to man, of man’s tendency to fratricide. The only remedy is personal sacrifice: to abandon, to reject what seems dear and even plausible for the sake of the greater truth; […] Required is a breakthrough, a leap of action. It is the deed that will purify the heart. It is the deed that will sanctify the mind. The deed is the test, the trial, and the risk.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Religion and Race”
I was originally gonna end this video with the standard antiracist ending. You know, “we have a responsibility to recognize our white privilege and support people of colour,” and all that. But the truth is, in the time since I started writing this video, segregationist antisemitism has accelerated, and Jewish whiteness on this continent is on the brink of collapse. Everything I was going to say is true, and important. So, like, don't think that it's not important. But this isn't just an allyship situation anymore, it’s also self-preservation.
We have to get rid of this mayonnaise. It's killing us, and our Yiddishkeit will still be there without it. But the only way out is through.
- Baird, Robert P. “The Invention of Whiteness: The Long History of a Dangerous Idea.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Apr. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/apr/20/the-invention-of-whiteness-long-history-dangerous-idea.
- Baldwin, James. “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Apr. 1967, https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-antisem.html.
- Brodkin, Karen. How Jews Became White Folks: And What That Says about Race in America. Rutgers University Press, 1998.
- Burton, Nylah. “White Jews: Stop Calling Yourselves “White-Passing”” The Forward, 2 Jul. 2018, https://forward.com/opinion/404482/white-jews-stop-calling-yourselves-white-passing/.
- Goldstein, Eric L. The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity. Princeton University Press, 2006.
- Green, Emma. “Can Jews Still Assume They're White?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 5 Dec. 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/12/are-jews-white/509453/.
- Grisar, PJ. “Black Jews, He Says, 'Get Traumatized Twice.' to Cope, He Painted Their Experience.” The Forward, 18 Jan. 2021, https://forward.com/culture/448154/black-jews-manishtana-protests-racism-twitter-painting/.
- Heschel, Abraham Joshua. “National Conference of Christians and Jews on Religion and Race.” Farrar, Straus & Giroux, The Insecurity of Freedom; Essays on Human Existence, 1966, pp. 85–100.
- Jewish Women's Archive. "Episode 69: Dara Horn: People Love Dead Jews.", https://jwa.org/podcasts/canwetalk/episode-69-dara-horn-people-love-dead-jews.
- Kendi, Ibrahim X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Bold Type Books, 2017.
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