Xiphias Gladius (xiphias) wrote,
Xiphias Gladius

I think this is the sixth thing I'm writing in this series? Maybe? I'm losing track

I guess I can call this one number 6. Actually, let's make this one 6a -- it feels like there's a break point I can make here.

I mean, I'm just writing things as I think of them; it's not like the numbering makes any difference. But since it was the Jewish stuff that went viral, I'm sort of trying to mark them, so people can figure out if they want to read them or not.

I kind of wanted to talk a little about WHY I'm writing these things. I mean, obviously, I wrote the first one because I was pissed off. But I've kept writing them, and I've been thinking about why.

Now, those of you who know me might assume that I'm writing them because I love to hear myself talk, and I love to have people pay attention to stuff I say.

You are, of course, correct. That absolutely is a big part of it.

My friends may also correctly assume that I'm doing this because I like teaching stuff. That's a big part, too.

But there's another big part as well, and THAT gets a little complicated. And this is ME saying "a little complicated", so, y'know, if you've been reading this, you know that I don't really know how to do "simple"... I guess I'm saying "please fasten your seatbelts and keep hands and arms inside the ride at all times"?

Anyway, let's go.

Oh -- first thing you have to know. I absolutely am an SJW. I know a lot of people are totally annoyed by SJWs, but I can't really apologize for that, because I'm not sorry for it. For people who aren't familiar with the term, "SJW" stands for "Social Justice Warrior", and it is mostly used sarcastically by people who don't like us, who think we're preachy and overbearing.

And I see your point. It's just... well, if you're trying to work for justice and goodness, there's a good chance you'll get preachy. And I get that it's annoying, but, *shrug*. It is what it is. I'm trying to save the world, here -- and that's a totally pompous, arrogant, preachy, overbearing thing to say. So just prep yourself for that, I guess. I'm not going to STOP being pompous, arrogant, preachy, or overbearing, but I try to be entertaining and/or interesting enough to be worth it.

Which is to say, I'm about to start talking about "white privilege".

The following discussion is how I see the situation. Other people may see different nuances; I don't expect that everybody else will agree with everything I'm saying, and I try to spend time learning about other people's perspectives on this who have different experiences, and have learned different things.

But according to me, anyway:

The thing we call "privilege" in a social justice context means a bunch of different things, but, on the whole, it maps pretty well to being considered the "default" in your culture. Like, if I say "a person", you're going to have a picture in your head that has a bunch of default features sketched in -- loosely, in pencil, easy to swap out if you find out that a different feature is more appropriate.

How do loose defaults like this work?

Let's try an experiment.

Right now, picture a vegetable. Just the first vegetable that pops into your head. Okay, that vegetable, whatever it is -- take the first letter of that.

Now go to the next letter of the alphabet, and think of a country that starts with that letter. Again, just the first country that starts with that letter that pops in your mind.

Go one further letter, and think of an animal that that starts with THAT letter. First one.

You have all that?

But elephants aren't native to Denmark.

This is one of those dumb tricks that you can do to annoy your friends. When I've done this to people, about half the time, the person went "carrot, Denmark, elephant." About half the time they haven't, but it's hilarious when it works. At least among people my age and in my social group, the most common "think of a vegetable" is a carrot. The most common country that starts with a D that people consider is Denmark, and the most common animal that starts with an E is elephant.

Maybe that wasn't you. For a lot of you, it wouldn't be.

But, in a sense, in my particular subculture, there exists a statistically significant default vegetable.

Now, picture a person.

Just like your default vegetable is more likely to be a carrot than any single other vegetable, if you live in the United States, your default person is more likely than not to be:
1. Male
2. In their 20s or 30s or thereabouts
3. Caucasian
4. Heterosexual
5. At least vaguely Christian
6. Middle-class-ish -- not obviously poor, not obviously rich

Stuff like that.

Those first three things, you could probably see in your mind's eye. The fourth, if I followed up by talking about the person's wife or girlfriend, you probably wouldn't need to shift anything; if I talked about the person's husband, you'd make a shift -- most likely shifting your assumption to the person being female. But a shift.

The last one, if I said, "went to talk to his minister", you'd be unlikely to make much of a shift; if I said "went to talk to his imam", there might be a shift.

These wouldn't necessarily be difficult shifts. But, for the most part, for most of us, most of the time, absent any other input, our first mental picture of a person is what we SJWs call "a white cis-het male".

There's a certain advantage -- or, more accurately, a lack-of-disadvantage -- to being close to the default expectation. As an example of "male privilege", there are all sorts of apps for your phone that let you track tons of data about your health day-to-day. But there were DOZENS of them before anybody thought to include tracking your period as part of those general health trackers. It wasn't hard to find a period tracker, but they were their own separate things; people didn't think to include them in the general catch-all trackers, because female bodies aren't the default. Eventually, people thought of it -- but it took time.

The biggest advantage, or lack-of-disadvantage, however, is that if you match the default assumption in some way, you're unlikely to get shit for that specific characteristic. The more ways you match the default image in your culture, the fewer ways people will attack you.

In different times and different places, different types of difference are counted as different.

Like, when my grandmother was growing up, left-handedness was considered wrong. She was forced to learn to write with her right hand. Me, I never had that experience; nobody ever gave me any trouble for being a lefty. I'm not oppressed for being a lefty. There are inconveniences about it occasionally; there are occasional instances where things are slightly more annoying, but there's nothing really serious about it, the way it was when my grandmother was a girl. Handedness is no longer, in the United States, an axis upon which people are oppressed.

And, even if you are looking at a type of difference upon which people are oppressed, the things which go into the "oppressed" bucket of that type and the "not oppressed" bucket will change over time.

In the United States, one of the types of oppression that is most talked about is racial oppression. Sometimes in our history, it's been written into law; sometimes it's not. Sometimes there's more, sometimes there's less. But there's enough of a history that there's a lot to study. Generally speaking, we can use the term "white" to mean "in the bucket of not being particularly oppressed on the 'racial' category." "Whiteness" does track SOMEWHAT to the albedo of your skin, but not 100%. For instance, the way you sound can be as important as the way you look.

And there are cases where different groups of people started out as not-white and then got re-defined as white. My grandmother's family is from Italy, and at the time her parents came to the United States, Italians from Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise, Sicily, and Sardinia and half of Lazio were considered not-white, and those from Tuscany, Venice, Piedmont, Lombardy, etc. were considered white.

The most glaring case of "skin color does not grant whiteness" was the Irish, who, although often having an albedo light enough to make them nearly translucent, were not considered white for a long time.

However, on the whole throughout American history, the lighter your skin, the easier it is to be granted whiteness, and the darker your skin, the easier it is to have it revoked. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes were considered more-or-less white for a while, until Andrew Jackson decided they weren't. And the Irish, the Germans, and the rest of the Italians became so. And it's pretty obvious that Black people have had the roughest time of any of us.

What about Jews, though?

We Jews have a very weird history with regard to whiteness in the United States. George Washington wrote an incredibly nice letter to the Touro Synagogue about how Jews were part of America. Jews were considered white in the slave-holding South, and, while some in the North were part of the abolitionist movement, some in the south were slave owners and participated in the Slavers' Revolt of 1861-1865. In fact, embarrassingly, the only currency printed in the United States which features someone Jewish is the Confederate $2 bill, with Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin on it. At the time, Charleston, South Carolina, had the biggest Jewish population in the New World.

Those South Carolinian Jews were Sephardic. There two most widespread "flavors" of Judaism in the world are Ashkenazic and Sephardic. In the Middle Ages, the Sephardic group was mostly around Spain, Morocco, North Africa, Southern France, and so forth. The Ashkenazic group was in the Germany and Poland and thereabouts. When Jews were allowed back into England under Cromwell, the Jews who returned were Sephardic. So Sephardic Jews who came out of that English chunk were basically considered pretty much white.

But in the later 19th century, there was a lot more immigration, through Ellis Island, into New York and places like that, of Jews who came from that Germany-and-eastward group. And today, the vast majority of Jews in the United States are Ashkenazic.

On the whole, these Ashkenazic Jews were poorer and less stylish than the Sephardic Jews. Lower-class. And so we were subjected to a lot of anti-immigrant prejudice, which, in the United States, usually includes effectively defining the immigrant group as not-white.

It was never SIMPLE, or always exactly one thing or the other -- there were still upper-class Sephardic Jewish families. But that awkward intersection led to conspiracy theories. If these Sephardic Jews were hanging out with high-class people, but Ashkenazic Jews aren't white, then... IT MUST BE A CONSPIRACY THOSE SNEAKY JEWS ARE CONTROLLING THE BRAINS OF HIGH SOCIETY. That's my guess, anyway. It's definitely not the only factor. Books, bookshelves of books, bookcases of books, LIBRARIES of books have been written trying to pick apart exactly what's going on with all that stuff.

Jews bounced around on the fringes of whiteness throughout societies, sometimes in, sometimes out. In Austria and Germany, for instance, they were quite accepted, integrated into society, definitely part of the culture, with occasional bits of weirdness going on, but, on the whole, things were pretty good...

Posted at https://xiphias.dreamwidth.org/804282.html; you can comment there or here. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.

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