lodessa: bitches can walk (t:scc)
[personal profile] lodessa

The older I get, the more I think about it... about being Jewish and what does that mean, both for me and to others. I am sure I have talked before about how I had a lot of ambivalence about this part of my identity and as a teenager actually a lot of outright negativity. I disowned being Jewish. I disowned it because Zionism made me feel sick, because the other Jewish girls I knew were total bitches, because I didn't want to be "paranoid" or "have a chip on my shoulder". My mom was upset, and my extended family when it came up. The argument that my cousin and I had about Zionism is legendary (although, on that one my mom backed me up). The rest of my family was so angry with me and it is funny now because that same cousin has now converted to some born again type Christianity and now everyone is freaking out about her. In college, I learned a lot more about my history and profoundly changed my relationship with this part of my identity. But none of that is really what I wanted to talk about.

My experience is not representative. I am a blue eyed, fair skinned, Ashkenazi. My dad is a gentile. Thanks to to Shakespeare and Disney, not even my name keeps me from passing. As a teenager this made me feel safe, despite my mom's warnings. But the longer I think about it, the more I learn about my history and culture, the more I realize that is bullshit, not just because "no one is ever safe" (Come to think of it, it would be interesting to read Sarah Connor as Jewish) but because passing is always a lie. Even if it doesn't bother anyone, it comes at a cost to you. Every time you omit or someone makes an assumption, there is a a part of you that contracts. With growing regularity, I think of this whenever I read about marginalized experiences of any group.

Being Jewish sort of feels like marginalization-lite, you can mostly go about your business as long as you don't complain (don't wear your star of david, don't mention it, certainly don't stand up against ism-ist comments). You can be special, the exception, the cooperator. In fact, you are encouraged to be ist yourself. Don't believe me, go ahead and look up a list of yiddish insults. Jews are expected to play both sides of the fence. To cooperate with the oppression, but never to forget that you aren't one of them, that your "pass" could be revoked at any time. So be cool.

This applies to exoticism. "Jew-fuckers" as I have heard them called, get a little hint of mystery and otherness, but also get the benefit of your passing status. Many of them (my own father included) are anti-semitic. I am sure that people of all the colors of the rainbow will tell you the same about the white men who fetishize them. Because that is how exoticism works, being turned on by "otherness", stereotyping your experience. People get hooked on it. Since my parents split up, my father has screwed his way through ethnicities (Russian, Israeli, Spanish, French, Indian... the Japanese woman resisted his charms). He idealizes the woman and the culture and then when that gets boring, picks it apart, rejects it and goes back to his WASP family defaults. He picks the middle ground, European women who are actually from another country, non-European ethnicity women who are American born. Even though I love my husband, I have to face the fact that his prior long term relationship was with another Jew girl and that there is probably more to that than sheer chance.

In the world of marginalization, going back to the ideas of a paragraph ago, we will always be seen as the cooperator, the one who sells the other inmates of oppression out for special favors, to create a distance, for selfish gain. So who is going to feel sorry for us when the oppression turns our way? Didn't we ask for it by selling everyone else out? That's how our "special treatment" works. We get to be the lapdog of privilege, but that leaves us without solidarity with anyone else. Now of course that is a gross generalization. There is a strong social justice tradition within the Jewish culture. But there is just enough ring of truth to the banking Shylocks and the movie moguls and the ivory tower academic snobs, to use for scapegoating whenever necessary. The glass ceiling and subtle barbs of anti-semitism seem like petty grievances compared to ghettos and deportation. And they are. But that doesn't make them less real or less insidious than they would be without the comparison.

I am no free-er of antisemitism than I am of sexism, classism, or other forms of racism. Because I am part of this larger, toxic, culture. You will notice that I make no declarations about what being a Jew really means here. Part of that is because my experience is not representative, no one person's can be, but another part of it is because even for just my experience, I cannot separate out what parts of me are "Jewish" aspects and what parts are not. Because identity doesn't work that way. Like everyone, I am myself, made up of all my complexities, aspects, and experiences.
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Ariel

March 2016

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