Call me Honky

This began as a discussion with a Jewish friend, someone I respect greatly. I will call my friend Aaron.

Aaron Ico

“Your telling me that (some of my effort) on this issue is “sad” is confusing. While I do think people of color can be mean and hateful, towards individuals and whole groups. I define racism in a way that doesn’t allow for them to be racist. Maybe it’s semantics, but I believe racism is about power and particularly white power.                                                                                         (I believe in ) the Jewish community of Seattle, showing up for people of color and particularly (for) Black-led justice work, and providing space for more Jewish (and our non-Jewish friends and partners) to process their role in working to end racism.                                                                                            My goal …. is to build a community that is full of Jewish people – the ones who are white people understanding their white privilege, despite the existence and history and current state of antisemitism, AND the ones who are people of color feeling central, leaders, and stakeholders. “

Aaron, of course is a pseudonym.  The words below the picture (of John Carridine as Aaron)  are an edited version of an email sent to me.

Aaron is a socially committed and very learned Jew. He has deeply held ideas about Jewish ethics. I share most of these ideas and meet with him to learn more of  the central Jewish concept of ethics.  I admire the efforts he makes to bridge the Jewish and Black communities’

I do not see his effort as being helped by embracing what I see as a a dysfunctional form of white guilt.

Like me, Aaron is proud of the Jewish heritage of fighting for justice .. whether that fight is the one typified by Moses in our Haggadah, the role of  Joe Slovo in fighting Apartheid or the fight Bernie is leading today. I am proud of this tradition and proud to call Aaron a friend .

But, in my opinion, Aaron is a racist.

I do not mean the Aaron is guilty of race based hate. He is instead  s practitioner of racial guilt. To use James Baldwin’s elegant term, Aaron wants to be white.  For Aaron this is a response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

So, if I may talk directly to Aaron, “you accomplish nothing by cloaking your goodness in white shame. “

So, that is where we disagree .   More specifically, I see Aaron’s identification of himself as “white” as supporting one of the most evil concepts in our culture , the idea that humans can be separated into breeds, more or less the way we classify dogs.

Maybe Dobermans and Labradors belong to different breeds but I do not see humans that way. 

The idea of race is especially odious to me as a Jew.  Most of my family was wiped out by Hitler under the laws of Nuremberg.  Those laws were simple .. Hitler and his scientists claimed there was a race, the Aryans, and various lesser races (or breeds) including Jews, Slavs and so on.   Hitler wanted to purify the Aryan race much as the American Kennel Club works to purify the Golden Retriever.

I might note, that peoples that Aaron might want to identify as white, were classified by Hitler into several races independently of skin color.  Along with the Jewish race, Hitler made a real effort at exterminating the Roma race (gypsies) but seems to have felt he could breed the  Slavs as .. well, a slave race?  I gather  Hitler decided Japanese were an OK breed, probably as long as they did not try to make puppies with Aryans.

Racism like Hitler’s is alive and well in today’s world.  Even without skin color, humans are racially classified and people’s lives  are at stake in Africa, in the Philippines and in Syria. Lives are being lost in Israel where fanatics on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides spout racism.   Aaron and I deeply share anger at this racism.  We know we are in kinship with the Arabs .. we both are kin to the Palestinians, certainly of the same race if that hateful term means anything.


Was Gandhi “white?”

As with racism between “white” Arabs and “white” Jews, racism is common amongst other folks who really do not look very different from each other.  Brahmins in India are a horrid example. They can be light but also can be dark. Yet, being Brahmin is inherited and justifies bigotry toward other Indians, especially the “untouchable” Dalit caste . Liberating the Dalits… still a problem . is not something that can be done by looking at skin.  I have had dinner with Hindus who castigated Gandhi for his effort to abolish racism in India, while I knew all to well that the young Gandhi was racist toward Batu people when he lived in South Africa.

Aaron, let me talk to you as  scientist.  I have read a lot about human origins and have even Maoriused DNA analysis to identify my own origins.  I actually am genetically close to the Cro Magnon and the Maori.  What “race” does that make me?  As a biologist, I am all to aware that there is  no definable category of human that can be identified as white vs colored.  So who is white?  Isn’t racism perpetuated if you adopt a racial identity?  Who decides this? Nuremberg laws? DNA tests? Ethnic identities?

So, Aaron are you white and I Maori? 

Sawant and the red book

Kshama Sawant, POC

I suppose I can not be Maori, regardless of my genome, because my skin is too light.

Here in Seattle, a city that has pretty much driven out its entire Black population we simply have white folks and everyone else is a “person of color.”  We have even had a Brahmin politician in this town run as a person of color, (POC) claiming her brown skin as a valued credential.

Like the Brahmin politician, many POC folks flout their racial identity. I know a  human resources officer, whose job it is to work on race issues. This HR official states that she is black but she could certainly pass as French, Jewish, Greek ????   She actively “protects” POC rights to the point  of castigating “white” employees, bragging that she fires them, if they are not sufficiently obsequious.  Of course this (unnamed) person considers it her privilege to determine  who is and is not “white.”  In one faculty meeting she bragged that she has never dealt with a race or gender complaint that was not false.

Some of my best friends are POC.  

I can identify  my boss, the UW President, Dr. Cauce as a POC.  Ana Mari, whom I admire, describes herself as POC and, as a POC,  has headed the UW’s ethnic studies Department.  Her family fled Cuba and she talks movingly of discrimination met by her darker skinned sibs.

I wonder whether Ana meets Aaron’s criteria for white? 

One of the saddest things I have participated in was a minority affairs committee at the UW. We had only one person who had African ancestry and a dark skin. Everyone else was there because someone had claimed that we were POC.  We had a Korean, a Japanese, a Hispanic from New Mexico (who was pretty white in appearance) and a (white?) person who identified as Cherokee.  I think I was there because I always refuse to fill out forms as “white.”  The irony here is that my African American colleague and I were the only two committee members who pushed to get more African Americans on the committee.  We were told by the other POC that the committee wanted to avoid burdening the too few AA on our faculty with committee work!  This on a committee that met maybe once every few months.

Aaron,  if you want to experience Black racism, click the image.   Close your eyes and just imagine the that the voice you will hear is a “white” guy. Racism is a gift that never stops taking.

I really can not believe that Aaron can not see racism in the African American community. The obvious example is Farrakhan.  Personally?  I believe this man murdered Malcolm X, perhaps because it was Malcolm (in his account of the Hadj ) who saw in Islam a concept that trumped race.  How much harm has Farrakhan done by his racism?  Can it be excused because the Nation of Islam does not have the power of the Nazis?

Leaving this obvious bigot aside, I wish the Black Lives Matter movement well.   The way we .. all of America of any “race” … treat Black Americans is disgusting. Yet, as Farrakhan also teaches, racism toward Blacks ought not to be an excuse for the dysfunction of Black communities. Some of the worst vituperation, race hatred I have ever heard has come from African Americans talking about slant eyes.   Are Koreans or Arabs who set up business guilty when their stores do well?   Are those business people POCs?

Another personal story comes from an experience my wife and I had one night at a Seattle

The NOI shows up to portrest a Jeiwh owned business in Seattle's Central Distict. Once this area was Balck, now it is almost entoely a white neghborhoof. Of course the NOI shows up. Are they raqcistr?

The NOI shows up to protest a Jewish owned business in Seattle’s Central District. Once this area was Black, Now it is 80% white.  To use a term derived from antisemitism ..  this neighborhood, MY neighborhood is now Schwarzenfrei.                                                                                                                       Of course the Nation of Islam  shows up. If these guys were wearing white sheets instead of red ties, would you call them racists?

middle school.  This school was a typical example of what I hope most now see as the School District’s failed efforts at integration.  The student population consisted of high achieving “whites” and “yellows” selected for an honors program.  These advanced kids, most of whom I think were not racist, had their classes in a school where most of the kids  were older African Americans, typically working at grade levels two or more years behind their ages.  The race lesson smelled as bad as rotten herring in a cart in Amsterdam with far less charm.   The two groups of kids were treated very differently.  At assembly one night, the “gifted” kids, including a smattering of dark faces, played jazz and classical music.  The African American kids were a group of girls, all dressed in sweat suits, being put through a very sexist performance by a tuxedo clad young boy.   To be blunt, the performance was erotic and sexist.  When we talked to the principle about this  he justified it because the kids involved were black.

Back to Aaron, who I hope is reading this.  Was it white racism to question whether these girls should have been treated that way? 

Back to “white,” and still talking to Aaron.   If you call me Kike, I will take offence.  The same is true if you call me white meaning that I am guilty of racism.    I suppose some White Citizens Council  or KKK type may take pride in being called white . But when I hear folks like you use it, it is derogatory.

Finally, I am concerned abut the harm that can be done by shame.  Do you think that shame is a way to get people to address wrongs?  Maybe.  I am impressed that the Germans have used shame over the Shoah to build a much better Germany.   I used to think that shame, or guilt, played a big role in our own civil right movement.  I say “used to think this” until we elected Barack Obama.  The hatred this man has endured and still endures seems to me to be driven by a revulsion against the shame some place of “white “Americans.

Put another way, I am not impressed that guilt drives responsibility.  As a Jew and as an American. I look to Martin Luther King, the Mississippi Three,  Saul Alinsky, Nadine Gordimer, Cesar Chavez, Barack Obama, and, now at Passover Time, the righteous few celebrated at Yad Vashem .  I do not believe any of these heroes were driven by guilt. 

Aaron, just be honest …..  call me Honkey




Comments are closed.