I don’t mean to undermine the efforts to spread the awareness that Jews exist in all colors.
But, the way that that is being propagated lately makes me a little uncomfortable.
When you look at the posters of “diverse” Jews in America, you always see a “black” face, an “Asian” face, and a “Middle-Eastern” face. To the trained eye, it looks like this: There is an African-American, who either is born Jewish or converted (there is no way of telling, really. From my experience, both are equally likely with African-American looking people). There is usually also that Ethiopian face (which, needless to say, is usually someone born Jewish). The “Asian” face is usually an Asian girl, who was probably adopted by “white” Jewish parents. (Sorry for the stereo-typing, but I haven’t met an exception to this one yet.) The Middle-Eastern looking person could be a Yeminite Jew, or a Arabic-Jew with slightly tan skin. Occasionally, you also see a mixed-race child (although if there is, that tends to be an Asian-White child, like me).
I look at this and think…. Well, it’s great that there are advertising this…. But, we are not all the same. In fact, we have such a different history from one another. To lump us all together like this seems a little problematic because that shows me more than anything else that we are “the Other” Jewish population. I almost hear a voice saying, The Black ones, Asian ones, Middle Eastern ones (to a lesser extent) are all “weird” but we are going to bite our tongues and say, “we must embrace all the diverse Jews among us.”
Let’s get real for a second:
The existence of biracial and multiracial Jews (born Jewish or with a Jewish parent) is a pretty new (by which I mean about a half-century old) phenomenon which has a lot to do with the increased ease of movement between varying regions and countries, banning of anti-miscegenation (interracial marriage) laws (for more on this, look here), and the increased acceptance of such children in the general Jewish community. At least in the US. The Caribbean islands is one of the most interesting and earliest sites (to the best of my knowledge) that gave rise to this phenomenon that still continues till today.
The existence of black American Jews has its own rich history (details of which I don’t know yet) which goes back to as far as the mid-nineteenth-century in the US and also has links to the Black Pride Movement.
The Ethiopians Jews and Middle Eastern Jews, as a collective, have been Jews for ever. That they get lumped together with “us” newer-phenomenon Jews seems to point to the real reason all of this bothers me.
So many of those visuals that try to tout “diversity” in the Jewish communities seem to focus on the “Wow! You are a Jew?” factor that comes from the “general” (which is the “white”) Jewish population and does not seem to take into account “our” perspectives or even basic histories–the perspective of the ones who are being lumped together to compose the “mosaic” or “diverse face of Judaism today.” Honestly, when I see those visual images (and may I add that anything advertising something Jewish still uses the dark curly-haired white-skinned 20-something girl most often), I feel like I am being used to show to the rest of the (non-Jewish) American world, that “yes! We too, are ‘diverse’ like the rest of America!” (Assimilation complete!) Cynical? Perhaps.
This is a post I hesitated to post because I don’t want to shoot the positive movement of trying to diversify people’s ideas of who a Jew is. At the same time, I felt compelled to upload this because, really, it’s quite irritating that “diverse” is being used to only mean “non-white” and I think that use really needs to stop. Otherwise, real normalization can’t happen and we “diverse” Jews will always remain on the margin.
What alternatives remain then? I have ideas, but not now. To be continued…. Maybe….