First of all, before I “you know nothing, Jon Snow” your ass on the Jewish front, let it just be established that my Dad is biracial, so even if I wasn’t ¾ Ashkenazi, I wouldn’t be “straight-up white.” I’m part Desi, and you can’t erase that.
Secondly, Jews—be we Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi, Cochin, Beta Israel, etc.—are all part of a distinct ethnoreligious group that makes up less than 0.2% of the world’s population. This is not just my own personal perception; this has been well-established in the scientific community through genetic testing.
Basically, all Jews (with the exception of people who have converted) are Semitic peoples descended from the Hebrew peoples of the Levant region (again, this is all scientifically confirmed). In this rendering of Jesus, done by anthropologists at the University of Manchester, you can see how the average Jew would have looked in roughly 30 CE:
Surprise! It’s a brown dude! Because neither Jesus nor any Hebrew Israelites were white.
So what happened? Well, in 70 CE The Romans expelled the Jews from ancient Israel, and we were forced into what is known as the Jewish Diaspora. We subsequently scattered all over the world, and through centuries of forced assimilation and rape (have you ever wondered why Jewishness is only passed on through the mother? It’s because of how often Jewish women were raped), we came to break into sub-ethnicities based on where we currently located. Ashkenazim were in Germany and Eastern Europe, Sephardim were in Spain and Portugal, Mizrahim were in the Middle East and Northern Africa, the Cochin were in India, the Beta Israel were in Ethiopia, etc. We no longer all looked alike, however, we still remained bonded by both Judaism itself and our inherited DNA (many of us still possess common traits, even among the post-Diasporic divides).
A recently study of Ashkenazi genes specifically determined that “despite [Ashkenazim’s] close ties with Europe, no more than half [46%] of their DNA comes from ancient Europeans, the researchers found…the rest of the Ashkenazi genome comes from the Middle East.”
Ergo, although most Ashkenazim appear to be white Europeans, our DNA tells a very different story (not even to mention that fact that we are still constantly racialised by gentiles—people love to tell me whether they think I do or do not “look Jewish” all the time).
Moreover, regardless of how Jews look and what part of the world we’ve lived in, we have been and continue to be “othered” by gentiles— particularly white ones—who have gone to great lengths to exclude white-passing Jews from the ranks of whiteness (there are certainly Jews of colour, including Ashkenazi Jews of colour, but you were obviously referring to white-passing Jews), through means of harassment, expulsion, and genocide. Of course, the Holocaust is the most obvious example of Jews being regarded as and killed for being non-white (I believe Hitler’s phrasing involved calling us unclean vermin who were a threat to the aryan race), but the Nazis were far from being the only group to persecute Ashkenazi Jews for being non-whites. In fact, the word “antisemitism” was coined in 1879 by writer and theorist Willhelm Marr, because he thought it sounded more “scientific” than “Judenhass” (Jew hate) and he really wanted to drive home the fact in his writings that we were non-white Middle Easterners.
Ironically (given the current political climate), the European concept of Ashkenazi Jews being non-white Middle Easterners was so common that there are countless examples of Jews all over Europe being told by the majority to “Go back to Palestine” where they came from. Here is graffiti on the window of a Jewish-owned shop in Norway:
It reads: “Palestine is calling. Jews are not tolerated in Norway.”
In 1902, there was a march through the Jewish quarters of London, where protesters shouted “Go back to Jerusalem.” Most likely, these Jews had all come to the UK from Russia or Ukraine, but they were still seen as non-white Middle Easterners in the eyes of the white Britons.
I did some personal genealogy research over the Summer and found the immigration records for some of my family members. Here is the transcription of the record for my great-Aunt Rose (at the time, known as Ruchel):
Did you catch it?
That’s right, even in America, Jews were long considered a separate race from whites. This isn’t some distant relative I’ve never met before. This is my grandmother’s sister, whose kitchen table I used to sit at while she baked mandel bread. This is the sister of my great-Aunt Sophie, who is currently 98 and still remembers when signs in front of hotels said “No Negroes, No Jews.”
Now, I realise that I look white to most people, and there is absolutely no denying that I am a beneficiary of the white privilege that exists in American society. That fact is absolutely NOT in dispute. However, I can and do identify as a white-passing beneficiary of white privilege rather than as a white person—not just because of my genetics, not just because of my history—but because a whole lot of white people have made it pretty damn clear to me over the years that I’m not one of them. I grew up in a somewhat conservative, predominantly white environment, and the number of kids and adults alike who acted like I lied to them upon learning I was Jewish was, in retrospect, kind of disturbing.
And while yes, I have privileges many people of colour do not have, I also don’t have the full range of white privilege, in that I don’t automatically make everybody’s “white person” list and therefore can’t walk through through certain places without wondering if I’m going to have my ass kicked if anybody “finds me out.”
White-looking Ashkenazi Jews are not exactly people of colour, and I never said we were. We live in a strange limbo in which we’re neither white enough for white, or non-white enough for non-white. However, we are an ethnic minority and we do have the right to identify as white-passing given our DNA, our history, and the way white people still regard us and treat us.
I appreciate your concern and I’m sure you meant this from a place of constructive social justice criticism, but you’re 100% wrong about Jewishness as an ethnicity, and hence, you’re identity policing an ethnic minority. That is super racist, so please stop.
And yes, I am adorbs. Thanks for noticing.