Week 1: WHITENESS
We’re so glad you’re joining us for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation and YWCA Mahoning Valley’s 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge! Our challenge starts now and continues (Monday – Friday) through February 8th. While the 21-Day Challenge is a national project that has been deployed by the local YWCA and many others throughout the country, our curriculum was created specially by the Cleveland Jewish Federation to explore these difficult topics through a Jewish lens. We cannot thank the Cleveland Jewish Federation enough for their incredible work in curating this content and for allowing us to share it with our regional community.
At the completion of this unique 21-Day Challenge earlier this year, Gregg Levine, the Cleveland JCRC Chair noted, “what we know is that most people in our community are certainly not racist, but through this challenge, they learned how to be anti-racist. I learned that in order to do more to change systemic racism, I had to become an anti-racist; and before I become an anti-racist, I really needed to have the education and the foundation. This really taught me a great deal and challenged me to think about things differently than I did before.”
So in this spirit, we now must come together as a community to acknowledge our own prejudices, educate ourselves, and do the work to be anti-racist. This work is not easy and it is not simple. Racism has existed in our country for hundreds of years and it cannot be eradicated in a matter of months. It is a lifelong undertaking.
The first step to counter-acting systemic racism is to understand and recognize how it impacts our lives and the lives of those around us. Today, Day 1, we are going to focus on race as a social construct, how the concept of race originated, and how these centuries-old racist ideas continue to impact our daily lives through our thought processes, conscious and unconscious actions, and the larger systems in which we exist.
Option 1: Watch this video on the origins of racial pseudoscience and how such a creation impacted the founding of the United States and the amalgamation of “white people” over the course of American history. You can also read this article for a deeper dive.
Option 2: Read this article on the history of racial creation and the scientific reasons why different skin pigmentation exists.
Option 3: Read pgs. 12-16 of this book to learn about why the label “Caucasian” is both an inaccurate way to describe white people in the United States today and a perpetuation of outdated racial pseudoscience.
Following yesterday’s exploration of the construction of race both in the past and present, we will now transition to the ways in which whiteness and white supremacy continue to permeate society. In particular, the timeless work of James Baldwin functions as an important and necessary comparison between his life and ours. While the overtness of some expressions of white supremacy may have changed since the 1950s and 1960s, the fundamental ideology of whiteness and “racial difference” has remained constant over time.
White supremacists also use antisemitism to reinforce differences amongst those who may be categorized initially as “white.” Today’s readings will explain the distinctive and important position of antisemitism with respect to whiteness and the need for Jewish awareness and activism to combat the harmful effects of white supremacy.
Option 1: Read this article on James Baldwin and his perspective on whiteness in America, white supremacy, and the ways in which race was and continually is created and reinforced in society.
Option 2: Read this book review on Barbara and Karen Fields’ book Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life, which details the important differences between race and racism and the continual codification of race in America.
Option 3: Listen to this podcast about the ways in which white nationalism sustains itself through antisemitism and how new forms of antisemitism have emerged in recent years.
Option 4: Read this article about how white supremacy relies on maintaining antisemitism and how the work of white supremacy inhibits the logical solidarity between those groups targeted by white supremacists.
In order to situate yourself in a conversation about whiteness, you have to understand how the false idea of white supremacy permeates society providing people with white skin systemic advantages over black and brown people, often without white people even realizing it. Today, we are going to unpack some of those invisible privileges and give you tools for having more effective conversations about whiteness.
Option 1: Read this seminal article by Peggy McIntosh on recognizing the advantages that society bestows upon those with white skin.
Option 2: Listen to this podcast about the difficulties that accompany discussions of whiteness in America.
Option 3: Read this article on effective strategies to utilize when approaching a conversation with someone about their white privilege.
Option 4: Review this checklist on some ways that Ashkenazi Jews can be more aware of and active against issues of racial inequality in their synagogues and communities.
One of the difficulties in learning about and internalizing yesterday’s activities is the tendency for white people to react defensively, particularly when discussing racism and white privilege. That reaction is known as “white fragility,” a term Dr. Robin DiAngelo coined to describe how white defensiveness both shields white people from engaging in difficult conversations about issues of race and further impairs efforts to achieve racial justice. Deconstructing one’s privilege is a vital process that is necessary for white people to engage appropriately and productively in the ongoing efforts to make black lives matter and to achieve true racial equity and justice.
Option 1: Watch this video about the existence of white fragility in America today and the myriad ways that white fragility reinforces systemic racism and inequality.
Option 2: Take this quiz on how white fragility may exist in your life today.
Option 3: Read this article (and explore the accompanying videos if desired) about the history of whiteness in the United States and the existence of white privilege, white supremacy, and white fragility in America today.
Option 4: Watch this video where Robin DiAngelo deconstructs white privilege and explains what she means by “white fragility.”
After this week’s readings, you may be wondering: “Where do Jewish people ‘fit in’ with respect to whiteness?” The answer, of course, is neither easy nor simple. Many Jews are people of color, but Jewish people that are white face a unique situation. Unless they consciously choose to identify themselves as Jewish to others, they will be perceived as white.
Because of this complexity, it is essential to understand that, while white Jews do experience real and dangerous antisemitism, like all people with white skin, white Jews have privilege in America. Today’s readings discuss the importance of such self-reflection for white Jews, coupled with a recognition of how Jewish people who simultaneously occupy a position of power and suffer from oppression in American society should be emboldened to support those who also endure similar hatred, such as black Americans.
Option 1: Read this article discussing the precarious position in which white Jews exist in American society that makes a deep examination of Jewish privilege particularly difficult.
Option 2: Read this article that explains the fluidity of the concept of whiteness with respect to Jewish people and how American Ashkenazi Jews came to be perceived as white over time.
Option 3: Read this article that details why defining American Jews as “white” is complex and both an inaccurate and incomplete manner of defining white-skinned Jews in America.