a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Happy International Women’s Day!

Posted on: March 8, 2011

What, you didn’t know it was International Women’s Day.  You probably did, only because Google said so but it’s been 100 years that the day existed.  I wrote an article on Hollaback!.  Take a moment to check it out and then let’s get back to talking about being Jews.

Yesterday at work I met two gay Jews.  They were both male, both awesome, and neither of them questioned “how” I was Jewish and instead were like, “go homo Jews!” and gave one another hugs and high fives.  I appreciated their lack of question. It may have been because they were gay and understand what  it is to be “other.”  I wonder what an amazing place it would be if you didn’t have to question or qualify anyone.

Mirs and I have been having serious talks about race and ethnicity.  Mainly to do with her concerns about raising black children, who are Jews with two mommies but also to do with topics she’s discussing academically.  White privilege is the topic in her classes and it seems that it’s making the white people uncomfortable.  When, let’s face it.  If a white person cannot or choses not to understand the privilege they get based solely on their skin color, they’re lying.  If you google White privilege you’ll find the following list by Peggy McIntosh:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.

5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.

9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.

11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.

15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.

16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color.

18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.

19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.

20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.

21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.

25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.

30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.

31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.

32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.

33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.

38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.

39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.

40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.

44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.

45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.

46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.

49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.

50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.


 If you google a bit further you will also find an Ashkenazi checklist from the Jewish Multiracial Network

 I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as outsider.
___ I can walk into my temple and feel that others do not see me as exotic.
___ I can walk into my temple and feel that my children are seen as Jews.
___ I can walk into temple with my family and not worry that they will be treated unkindly.
___ I can enjoy music at my temple that reflects the tunes, prayers, and cultural roots of my specific Jewish heritage.
___ I can easily find greeting cards and books with images of Jews who look like me.
___ I can easily find Jewish books and toys for my children with images of Jews that look like them.
___ I am not singled out to speak about and as a representative of an “exotic” Jewish subgroup.
___ When I go to Jewish bookstores or restaurants, I am not seen as an outsider.
___ I find my experiences and images like mine in Jewish newspapers and magazines.
___ My rabbi never questions that I am Jewish.
___ When I tell other members of my synagogue that I feel marginalized, they are immediately and appropriately responsive.
___ There are other children at the religious school who look like my child.
___ My child’s authenticity as a Jew is never questioned by adults or children based on his/her skin color.
___ People never say to me, “But you don’t look Jewish,” either seriously or as though it was funny.
___ I do not worry about being seen or treated as a member of the janitorial staff at a synagogue or when attending a Jewish event.
___ I am never asked “how” I am Jewish at dating events or on Jewish dating websites.
___ I can arrange to be in the company of Jews of my heritage most of the time.
___ When attempting to join a synagogue or Jewish organization, I am sure that my ethnic background will not be held against me.
___ I can ask synagogues and Jewish organizations to include images and cultural traditions from my background without being seen as a nuisance.
___ I can enroll in a Jewish day school, yeshiva, and historically Jewish college and find Jewish students and professors with my racial or ethnic background.
___ People of color do not question why I am Jewish.
___ I can send my child to Hebrew School/Young Judea camp without him/her being subjected to racist slurs from other children.
___ I am not discriminated against in the aliyah process as a Jew of my particular ethnicity.
___ I know my ethnic background will not be held against me in being called to read the Torah.


What Mirs and I have been discussing is whiteness in America.  Before I go on, to what some may consider a rant, let me just say that I love my white, Ashkenazi partner.  I know that when we have children I will be raising children that are part Ashkenazi and part white so I do not have an issue or problem with Ashkenazi Jews or white folks…I just find it interesting and it’s what we’ve been talking about lately.

still from jews or color round table

So, in our chat we talked about the ability for groups of people to become White.  There is a book called “When Jews Became White Folks” that’s on my list of reading.  But it wasn’t just Jews who became white.  Nearly any race that could, did in order to assimilate to the world they immigrated to.  Italians, Jews, Russians, Irish, anyone fair enough to pass as white did, thus stripping themselves of their culture to avoid being an other.  When you’re Indian, Asian, Latino, or Black you don’t have that privilege.  The skin color you’re born with always “fails” and in any situation the jig is up-you are an “other”.

Add to that homosexuality and the fact that I’m  woman it’s a wonder that I would want to purposely add Jew to my otherness…which is where a lot of my discussions about raising children with my partner stem.  How is she, a white woman with 50+ printed privileges supposed to raise children of color?  I asked her what it was like being a Jew in Texas and she sort of got it.  I asked what it’s like to be a woman, to be gay.  True, you can “hide” your gay, although some people cannot, and she could hide her Jew she can’t hide being a woman.  When you are a person of color you generally have a strong sense of self, or at least I do. 

My parents raised me to know that coud go any where I pleased and be anyone I wanted to be.  I was raised to question nothing and everything.  I was raised to fear nothing.  Do people notice that I’m black when I walk into a store, I’m sure but I don’t notice them noticing me because I’m entitled to be there as much as any other person is.  That’s what my parent’s taught me and that’s what I will teach my children.  I’m proud to be a black woman.  I’m proud to be a gay woman.  I’m proud to be a Jew(to be).

2 Responses to "Happy International Women’s Day!"

There is also a list about male privilege floating around the net.

I once had someone tell me that I was becoming Jewish so I COULD become a minority. That I was a bored white girl tired of listening and acknoledging my white privilege and that I wanted the “privilege” of claiming minority status to feel like I could “own” my participation in the conversation of social privilege more.

It really made me stop and think about my actions and my thoughts and my belief, to ensure that this wasn’t the reason why I wanted official status as a Jew. What a horrible reason to accept any new facet of your identity–absolving me of my white privilege when so much work needs to be done.

It becomes particularly frustrating when my parents don’t understand that as whites, they can be racist and benefit from racist structures in this county but due to the historical conditions here, other races may be prejudiced but not racist. They conflate social class and gender problems with racial problems and it’s a big ole mess.

Sorry for the dissertation of a response.

Did you see my dissertation of a post? It’s okay! I know what you mean…A lot of people would pose the question, why would you want to be a Jew when you’re already black and a woman and gay. For, choosing Judaism wasn’t about adding another other point but finding a faith that spoke to me and made me feel like I could really be part of something amazing.

On the other hand, being a woman can be hard. Being black can be hard. Being gay can be hard but it teaches us how to navigate the world around us. Will it be easier to adjust to the “otherness” that is being a Jew? Probably not but at least I’ve got practice!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like it? Then “Like it!”

Candle Lighting Times


January 2018
« Jan