This is a subject I almost posted about a few months ago, during the latest HP racism merry-go-round (not the Christmas and antisemitism one which I was too busy being swamped under work to properly follow which is a shame because it looked pretty interesting and I missed some excellent post and could link to only one of them), and eventually didn't because I wasn't too sure of myself. Then today lodessa
her flist, among other things, about : "Do you consider Jewish people to be White/Caucasian?"
Now before I go further, I must give you some context on how I see things. I'm French. In France, a few weeks ago there was an attempt to pass a law to actually let people do statistic studies using ethnic categories. That law was among other things asked by anti-racism groups in order to actually measure racism and its prejudice against people. (It was of course, also asked by big compagnies which would like to be able to do market studies about products like ethnic hair care and skin scare products... but never mind that). The law was eventually rejected after being voted for being anti-constitutionnal.
Classifying people by "races" isn't being looked up very nicely in France. There's some good reasons for that. History, for one : there's this little story about the French state, circa 1939, asking Jews to sign up on list so they could be protected against Nazis, and then a few month later this same list being used to gather up Jews and deport them. As a child, I was taught that racism was, before everything, believing that there are such a thing as human races
. Then, there's the whole thing of hierarchizing those "races" or associating specific traits, personnalities and abilities to those "races". But before that, you actually have to pretend that categorizing Humanity according racial lines has an actual scientific ground. Which it doesn't, it's total bullshit, ask any good genetician.
But "races" (and even there I have to use those quotation marks around the word) as used by anti-racist people, in the US or elsewhere, isn't so much about that as it is about the social groups formed around the visibility of cultural/ethnic differences. Being black-skinned is pretty visible, and that's got an effect on the practical life of people who are Black and live as minority within larger group, as well as with the cultural identity they self-identify, and I understand that.
But it still makes me go twitch.
So, chronologicaly, the first time I passed a quizz/test thing on the internet and they asked me my "race", I kind of frowned, and scratched my head. But I wanted to see the result of whatever it was, so I scanned the list : of course they didn't have "Jewish" on it, so after a while I clicked on "Other". I think I did that a few times over the years (not many internet quizzes ask you that).
Then I saw a few racism discussions in fandoms. I read, I learned, eventually I participated too. Among other things I learned about the concept of priviledge, and realized there were some I enjoyed, and some of which I was deprived. And once, I saw a link to a little .pdf pamphlet (
which I wish I had kept a link to.
ETA : this one : I can fix it
, by damaliayo! thanks to cryptoxin
for linking to it), which was giving white people some advice about how to not be racist. One of the first advice was owning up to the idea that we have race, and that this race was White.
Of course I had a little problem with that.
I don't self-identify as White, first because I still think the concept of "race" is stupid and wrong even if it's useful to fight against racism; and I don't really identify with the White culture (even though it's an obvious influence since I live in it) or the White agenda (as someone said over at lodessa
's post) since I'm Jewish. And I went away from studying Anthropology with the firm belief that you can't go around and tell people what they should identify as. Identity, complex thing, voluntary basis only.
Then again, that wasn't that pamphlet point. Because If I had been Black, Asian or Native American or whatever, would I have identified as a Person of Colour? Hell, yes. So, not identifying as White, in this configuration, does that mean I see white skin as "default"? Well... kinda. Hello me own skanky race issues.
However, I'm still not happy using racial categories as if there were, you know, actual human races out there. So that's still stopping me.
But an important point remains : I enjoy white priviledge. I know I enjoy it, even if I don't know and might never know how it is to live without enjoying it. I know I've never been called an "immigrant" even though I'm just as 3rd generation immigrant as your average Maghrebin youth from the Parisian suburbs who would typically be called that, with all the insidious racism going with it.
When talking about the Jews overall, there's another issue. The majority of the Jewish population in the US is, I believe, Ashkenazi, who look very "white" overall. However there are Black Jews (both the Ethiopan Jews and from conversion and mixing), and there are big population of Jews from the Mediterranean region and the middle east who can look pretty dark skinned (My mother who was born in Algeria has been confused for Arab at least a couple of times). So you can't really treat "Jewish" as a whole as a racial category separate from the others.
Then of course, people should be aware that there are physical characteristics which have been historically associated to Jews by racist people. Someday I might even properly rant about the way it disturbs me that JKR could describe Snape as sallow skinned and hook nosed, and a master of potions; or, even worse, the goblins has having very similar characteristics as well as being, you know, money-grabbing bankers; while still co-opting the history of antisemitic opression to write her story.
The bottom line is, I think, that those racial categories the US (and a few other countries) use can be a useful tool to fight racism, but they're also problematic. I think neither the US nor France have the best approach about them. US condones too much the idea that "race" is relevent in an essentialist way, and France blissfully ignores issues of priviledge as well as removing the tools to actually know how much racism is a problem. Those categories when used do not represent any essential truth about people, but social classifications which happen and reflect society's basic racism. On the one hand, most Jews enjoy white priviledge and are therefore White/Caucasian. On the other hand, Jews, even in the US, don't exactly enjoy perfect tolerance and integration, and belong to a cultural group which is often separated from the WASP culture that "White/Caucasian" means. Maybe another way to think such system would be better able to represent both those truths at the same time.
IMHO, I'm simply looking at what I understand of American culture through a foreigner's eyes and via the internet.