I am Black, queer, Jewish, and a woman. Every day, the intersection of my identities informs the way I lead my life. Sometimes, I face obstacles due to my intersecting identities, like my government cultivating an unsafe society for folks of many colors and creeds.
However, I still have privilege.
Yes, I am a member of multiple minority groups, but I have privilege, and I strongly believe that this topic deserves more discussion, especially in the Jewish community. Because, frankly, I am sick and tired of non-BIPOC Jews refusing to acknowledge their privilege. I understand that being Jewish and accepting that you still have privilege can cause some cognitive dissonance, but it is possible and it is necessary. And if I can do it, so can you.
Just like being white does not make you a white supremacist, in the same way that my being Black does not make me a thug or a threat, acknowledging privilege works similarly. I am Black, yet have been told by fellow Jews that Jews of color don’t exist. In that situation, I was not in a privileged position. However, I currently attend a private university, and I attended a private college preparatory school that prepared me for university. This is an example of privilege. Thousands of individuals my age do not have the funds or the time to be a full-time student.
Jews can experience antisemitism and bigotry and still have privilege. The same goes for many other groups. For example, white queer people experience homophobia but still benefit from white privilege in certain contexts, like being able to walk through their communities without white neighbors asking if they are lost, or being less likely to be targeted by cops than queer BIPOC. As you can see, privilege can be conditional. Acknowledging your privilege in one environment does not mean you have privilege in all situations, 100% of the time, a surprisingly common misconception.
When I write about or talk about my experiences as a Jew of color, I am often met with comments along the lines of “Jews are Jews are Jews.” While it might sound nice in theory, this is an unhelpful response to BIPOC Jews discussing how their race may influence their belonging in Jewish spaces, as it completely invalidates the individual’s experience. You are telling us that you are unwilling to listen and make space for our voices. Our experiences are valid, and no matter what you may think about racial divides in the Jewish community, the divides exist and they affect nonwhite Jews all the time.
One of my favorite Instagram accounts run by a Jewish woman of color, @yasmine.dreamz posts educational, digestible content about vocabulary that includes Jews of all backgrounds. She says that “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew” should be used to validate someone’s Judaism regardless of their race, how they identify, or how they practice, but should not be used to ignore “the very real antiblackness, xenophobia, & orientalism, & colorism, our community perpetuates on each other (as well as the rampant anti LGBTQ rhetoric ).”
For white Jews, it is impossible to ignore the ways in which your skin color affords you privileges, both inside and outside of Jewish spaces. If you feel comfortable with police presence at synagogues, if folks have never assumed you must have converted, if you have never received dirty or confused looks in shul, if you have never been told you don’t exist, you have privilege. Again, that does not invalidate any antisemitism you may face. Having privilege does not mean you are free from hatred or bigotry; it just means you’re acknowledging that certain aspects of your life and identity have affected the way you are able to navigate our very complicated society.
The purpose of this piece is not to create an “oppression Olympics” discussion. The point isn’t to talk about who has it “worst.” Acknowledging your privilege does not invalidate the obstacles you may face in certain situations. You are simply saying that you are aware that there are certain luxuries or advantages other folks cannot afford or do not have access to.
And why is it essential to acknowledge that? Awareness of privilege in the Jewish community is an important step in the recognition that although we are a global people, we are certainly not one and the same, and unfortunately, in some situations, we are not treated as equals. I’ve experienced that mistreatment firsthand, and unfortunately, whenever I do write about it, I’m met with white Jews who get defensive, judgmental, and even accuse me of racism (yes, I have been called racist for sharing my perspective as a Jew of color).
But if you haven’t experienced or witnessed racism within the Jewish community, that is privilege. If you’re used to seeing yourself represented all the time in Jewish stories, that is privilege. And if you haven’t really had to think about how race affects your place in the community, that is privilege.
So, let’s just acknowledge it. It may not be easy, but it is vital in uniting our community with truth, honesty, and transparency.