As a Jewish person, I do not always feel White. I’ve talked about this before because I see White culture as Christian culture. And yet, I look White, I grew up thinking I was White, and I have White privilege.
I went to the bank a few nights ago to deposit a check and one of the tellers told me the bank was closed. “Please go to the drive up.”
“I just need to endorse a check.” I told her. “Can I come in for a moment to use a pen?”
She told me no, that it was against policy for her to let me in. For a moment, I was upset. I felt I deserved to be able to use a pen at least. Then I realized, I was operating from a position of White privilege. The teller didn’t owe me entry. The teller didn’t owe me anything.
I was about to walk away when the manager got involved. The manager (a White male) told the teller (a Black female) to let me in. “It’s okay,” I told him. “I can use the drive up. It’s not a problem.”
He insisted I come inside and as I was endorsing the check, he quietly chastised the teller. I took the check and headed out so I could use the drive up window, but the manager continued to insist I remain in the branch and speak to a different teller behind the desk to deposit my check.
White privilege was happening to me and around me and I didn’t know what to do to stop it.
I would never feel comfortable saying I’m a person of color because I’m not! I walk through the world as a White person, where people like the White bank manager open doors for me (both literal and figurative) because they view me as one of them. Even though I am female, I am, at least a White female and therefore given certain rights as if they are my due.
Yet, I told the high school students I work with that I am Jewish, female and White and saying I’m White somehow still doesn’t feel right. Maybe, I am speaking from a desire to not be White and to not take responsibility for racism and the oppression I am a part of.
Paul Kivel, writes of a similar issue in his essay “I’M NOT WHITE, I’M JEWISH. BUT I’M WHITE: Standing as Jews in the Fight for Racial Justice” for Dayton University. Kivel says that at an Academic Conference on Whiteness (can we talk about privilege to hold such a conference?) none of the White people said they were White. From gender to sexual orientation to class, everyone had a reason to say they were not White.
I do not want to be that person. I am open to thoughts and insights into what it means to claim Whiteness, not just White privilege.