About Me

Your Skin Color/ Ethnicity and Assumptions of Jewishness

The title and tone of this article made me cringe:

“Black and Jewish, and Seeing No Contradiction”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/28/nyregion/28blackjews.html

The assumption is that they should see a contradiction with being both. Why should they? Particularly for Shais Rison, one of the interviewees in the article, who is a fouth-generation Orthodox Jew. —Why the generations of his conversion is still being counted baffles me. According to this information, himself, his mom, and his grandmother were all born Jewish. Why does he still have to tell people when and who converted in his family? How long is his family going to have to tell that? How long does that have to remain public history?

There is no known history of conversion in my family as far as we know. That includes me. I didn’t convert. Yet, EVERYONE assumes that I am a convert. Why? In the blogging world, it’s because I talk about my Japanese identity, heritage, and upbringing. In the real world, people assume it once they hear my name and some assume it based on my appearance.

When I was in college, I saw many people going through the “I want to be religious and fit into the FFB (frum from birth) crowd” phase. I could understand where they were coming from, but just couldn’t get so invested in that. In fact, I really couldn’t get so invested in becoming “American” either. I knew that if I had only invested time in watching some American TV and catching up on American pop culture, I could pretty easily “assimilate” into both American and the more mainstream American Jewish culture.

Having grown up trying my best to “become Japanese”–more authentically than any other Japanese person–and learning that ultimately it just wasn’t going to happen, I learned that it was just not worth it. I look white and foreign to Japanese people and Japanese or Asian to the majority of white Jews in America. That was always going to be true. So why should I bother trying to “be Jewish” not on my own terms? That means I talk about my Japanese upbringing, my deep familiarity with Japanese culture both as an insider and an outsider, and my Japanese friends. Yet, that does not preclude me from having grown up celebrating Chanukah, Passover, Purim, Sukkot, etc.

Think about it: Why does being “white” American not clash or contradict with being Jewish, while being anything other than “white” American has to clash with being Jewish? What’s so “interesting” (as so many people say) about being Asian and Jewish or “difficult” or “contradictory” about being Black and Jewish?

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