More than a Feeling: Jews and Whiteness in Trump’s America
JFREJ JOC Caucus member Mark Tseng-Putterman authored a powerful essay on whiteness and anti-Semitism in Unruly, the online journal of the Jews of Color Caucus Organized in Partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace.
In his essay, Tseng-Putterman writes:
Our conversation is dominated by politics. Over a pre-dinner nosh, my grandmother tells us that she knows Trump “has the same heartbeat” as Hitler. When I replay that scene in my mind, she clutches her brooch as she says it. Later, over plates of spaghetti and chicken cutlets, they tell us how they came to buy the house they’ve inhabited for sixty-four years. It’s a story that starts with my great-grandmother’s birth in a Lower East Side tenement and ends with my grandparents choosing this Tudor-style house, after they learned a neighboring Long Island suburb wouldn’t sell to Jews. Without saying so, I know this story is of the same thought as our conversation about Trump and the anti-Semitism of decades long past. I come to realize that this house, with its Brady Bunch doorbell and white Cadillac in the garage, is a symbol. The end point in a journey from tenements to vodka tonics. This is where my Jewish family truly became American. This is where they became white.
In recent years, my grandmother has voiced her concern that my generation doesn’t understand what anti-Semitism is. But with Trump’s administration reinvigorating the worst segments of the American political spectrum, I think that’s one less thing she has to worry about. With this week’s vandalization of a St. Louis Jewish cemetery, a targeted campaign from neo-Nazi website Stormfront attempting to terrorize a Montana Jewish community, and 69 bomb threats targeting Jewish Community Centers over the past two months alone, American anti-Semitism is becoming visible in ways I have never seen in my lifetime. Coupled with the Trump administration’s toxic combination of known anti-Semites and right-wing Jews, resurgent anti-Semitism is challenging the existing political and analytical frameworks of our movements.
The contentious times have rekindled an old question: are Jews white? Unsurprisingly, the conversation has centered white Ashkenazi Jews, continuing to erase the experiences and raised stakes for Jewish people of color living under both anti-Semitism and white supremacy. A partial consequence of that erasure is that the question is typically framed less as, “Are Jews white?” but more as, “Do white Jews still feel white?” But “white,” as people of color know, denotes more than merely a feeling of safety, of security, of belonging. It is more than an “invisible knapsack”; whiteness is a legal and political construct, one created and perpetuated to serve the institution of white supremacy.