Who are we?

Below I will describe a group of people who are marginalised and live in Europe, America, Canada and Australia. Who are we?

We are part of a tradition stretching back centuries.
We can and do live in every part of the world.
We are sometimes considered to be a race or a nation yet we are of many races and have no particular leader, government or land.

We have no leader yet each of us is held responsible for the actions of others like us.
We are each made to explain over and over that we are peaceful and acts of violence committed in our names were wrong.

We suffer violence daily in the so-called “Western World”.
Our children hear racist taunts.
We are harassed by strangers in the streets.
Our religious clothing is openly mocked and derided.
We are attacked and even killed.
Our places of worship are frequently graffiti-ed and desecrated.
We are stereotyped, mocked or invisible on TV and in films.
Our symbols and art are appropriated.
We are pressured to conform to white christian national norms.
If we manage this, we are mocked. If we fail, we are still mocked.
We form communities of our own and are accused of not trying to integrate.
We try to integrate and find ourselves isolated.
We can feel the target on our backs whenever we are out of home.

People who even “look” like the racist stereotype of how we “look” face the same slurs, the same exclusion, the same violence.
We try not to “look” like ourselves.
We are told we are ugly.
We can never do enough to “fit in”. Our names, our clothes, our food, our bodies will betray us.
The target never quite disappears.

We make ourselves small.
We make ourselves quiet.
We try to be “moderate”.

We are told we “take over” spaces; we take too much space.
We are accused of having too much influence; we “control” too much.
And we are called radical even if all we ask is to live our lives in peace.

Our loyalties are always suspect.
We cannot claim loud enough to love the country we live in,
Sending money abroad is a sin if we do it.
If we cannot love this country, we are told repeatedly to “Go home” –
No matter how many generations it’s been since “home” meant anywhere else.

Who are we?

The answer isn’t: “Jews”
And it’s not “Muslims” either.

It’s “Muslims AND Jews”.

Islamophobia and Anti-semitism are two sides of one very racist coin.

And that constant feeling of being a target, being unwanted, being impermissible because we can’t or won’t live within white christian cultures? That pressure is hurting Muslims and Jews across Europe and I suspect across the US, Canada and Australia as well.

Whiteness, Racial Prejudice and Racism (Part 1)

Part One: I Am The Hypothetical Child Bullied By POC Classmates For Being White And What Happened To Me Was NOT Racism

Link to Part 2

I am white.

I was born into a world that white people had already slashed and burned into our own image, a world where white people are a minority yet we are treated as default examples of humanity. I have always seen white people on my television screens and been taught about the deeds and sayings of a great many white people at school. I was brought up in a way that formed and fed the assumption that white people were everywhere, that we did and said almost everything of any real consequence. Images of both the past and the distant future presented to me by books and TV portrayed a world just as full of white people – often more full of white people than the town in which I lived where segregation was socially enforced. There were white areas of town and Asian areas and we all knew to keep ourselves in our place. I was taught that this was the fault of the Asian people who weren’t trying hard enough to “integrate”and definitely had nothing to do with the white people’s disproportionate response to Asian families moving in to an area – white families would simply move out.

I was born into a world that was set up so that I would be advantaged over my Asian friends and still feel able to blame them for their own relative lack of success.

Two things happened that have massively changed the way I see the world. From the age of 11 to 16, I attended a school where white pupils made up just two or three percent of all pupils and I was ostracised, bullied and harmed because of my skin colour and my race. Then, from the age of 23 I began to experience something that might accurately be called racism for the first time. This is because I had knowingly done something that made my previously unquestionable status as a white person become conditional and precarious: I began living openly as a Jew.

As a white child in a space where almost all the other children I spent five plus hours a day with were Asian (specifically, almost everyone was either of Indian or Pakistani descent) I was subjected to a range of unpleasant treatment specifically because of my skin colour and stereotypes and perceptions associated with it. I was called names, rumours were spread about me, I was hit, spat at, had things thrown at me, had people stalk me, got death threats and rape threats. I was stared at, I was ostracised and frequently ditched by so-called friends if popular children of their own race wanted to hang out with them. I was fetishised and told by boys that all girls of my race were sluts (I was still in the closet about being trans and was living as though a girl at the time). I was repeatedly told that being white made me a Christian even though I wasn’t. My decision to learn to speak Urdu was treated as incomprehensible. I was frequently mistaken for other white pupils or assumed to be related to white students who shared my (very common) surname. Teachers and pupils alike couldn’t understand why I wasn’t friends with other students whose only commonality with me was race.
And yet, while all of this was unpleasant and certain seems on the face of it to resemble racism, that was not racism. Racism requires power and privilege. Racism is structurally enforced. Those other children were not in a position to assert power over me nor was the prejudice they showed me structurally enforced. Nothing they could do to me would change the fact that I was born white in a white supremacist world and they were born not-white into that same world.

It was no coincidence that more than half of our teachers were white. It was no coincidence that I, often the only (other) white face in the room, was the star pupil, the teacher’s pet, the favourite and first unofficially and then officially the public face of the school. I was literally the school’s poster child, appearing in local papers, on local radio and on the local news. If there were to be cameras around, I was brought out and put in front of them. Parents interested in the school were told about my achievements. Was I bright? Yes – but not really the brightest pupil there. But I was white as well as intelligent and that is why a school with hundreds of pupils choose me to be its public face.
Looking back, I had a lot of power. If I had not been white, would the (also white) senior teachers have listened to me and accepted my wishes when I argued my way into only studying the subjects I wanted to, into taking a completely different syllabus from the rest of the school for one GCSE topic, into switching classes because I didn’t like the teacher or into the Gifted and Talented group? I honestly don’t know. I somehow doubt I managed all those things with reason and intelligence alone, rather than perhaps the spectre of one of the school’s few white families going to the local paper should I not get what I wanted. I walked out of classrooms without getting told off. I “lost” homework. I consistently turned up late to class and I often forgot my PE kit and yet I never had a single detention or note sent home. When teachers gave whole classes detention they let me go. If my skin had been a different colour, I doubt I would have been afforded so much lenience. I was assumed to always be telling the truth and to always have good intentions – not all my classmates were so lucky.

So, I was able to use my White privilege even there to get what I needed / wanted – whether that was an extra day to finish my homework, the right to sit in the G&T library or even to study a course no one else in the school was taking. Yet there’s more to why what happened to me at that school was not racism.
The school was a large part of my life but ultimately, it was escapable. 35 or so hours a week, 40 or so weeks a year for five years I was in a space where people who looked and sounded like me were massively outnumbered. The people I went to school with, on the other hand, will all spend much more time than I ever will in spaces where people who look like them are massively outnumbered by people who look like me. At the end of the school day, I could go back to my white neighbourhood to read books written by, for and about white people and watch television shows made by, for and about white people – and all my non-white friends would head home to Asian neighbourhoods to read books written by, for and about white people and watch TV made by, for and about white people. Whilst at school, we would read books written by, for and about white people, whatever the lesson. Everything, from English Literature to Science to History to Maths was about how White people had done just about everything ever worth noting except Islam which was the one thing brown people had ever done.
Any school in the UK would have taught pretty much the same. I could have chosen to leave the school for one where more people looked like me and that choice was not one my fellow pupils could make. It was seen by all as highly unusual for a school to be so non-white but no one questioned other schools having massive majorities of white students. In short, the prejudice I experienced for being white in a space where white skin was atypical was temporary, escape-able, considered highly unusual and greatly ameliorated by my White Privilege. The racism experienced daily by my fellow students who weren’t white was permanent, inescapable, commonplace and they had no white privilege to use to make it more tolerable. For as long as this world is a white supremacist one, I will be afforded advantages that I do not deserve any more than my fellow pupils did and they will not be afforded them. And that *is* racism.

Letter to a Drive-by Antisemite

So, today I got antisemitic harassment outside Tesco. This was a bit disturbing and I intend to report it but for now I’d like to make myself feel better by poking fun at the kind of guy who thinks it’s cool to yell things at people from a passing car.

SO:
“Dear Stranger,
Thank you for your unsolicited interest in my religious choices and genital configuration.

After considering your comments carefully, I have come to the conclusion that these facts are none of your business.

To help you in your quest to learn more about Jews, Judaism and my penis, I offer the following helpful hints:
1. Leaning out of the window of a moving car is not an ideal place to start a conversation. Try walking up to someone in a bar, cafe or, if you must, on the street.
2. “Oi, Jew!” is not a polite way to start a conversation. You might like to try “Hello, is it okay if I ask you about your hat?” or “Hi, my name is X, what’s your name?”
3. “You don’t have a foreskin on your penis!” is a declaration rather than a question. My genital configuration is a fact known only to me and a small number of other people, all of whom have actually seen my penis. You have not seen my penis and yelling at me in the street about it will not improve your chances of ever getting to see it. Street harassment is not sexy.
4. I am aware that I am Jewish. I am aware of what my penis looks like. I do not need your help to figure this out. You are not aware of either of these things and are going the right way to remain unaware.
5. As you are neither my doctor nor my boyfriend, there is no need for you to enquire about my genitals. We’ve only just met. I suggest selecting neutral topics such as the weather.

I hope you will take my advice and instead of yelling at the next vaguely Jewish-looking guy you see, will take the time to respectfully approach him, introduce yourself, talk about some neutral uncontentious topics and then *maybe* once settled into a pub or cafe you can think of turning the conversation to religion. Using such an approach, you might find that you learn something and even make a friend.

Yours,
Liam, the Jew who was sitting outside tesco when you drove past”