Minorities, Appropriation, and Privilege Checking

What with trying to put together this week’s Forward Thinking post and the first post of the Judaism 101 panel I’m hosting here, combined with trying to prepare for an academic conference, being out of town, working on projects that need doing around the house, and putting time into a new professional project, I don’t actually have a post ready for you this morning. But I thought I’d share two comments that were made by the panelists in the Judaism 101 project, because I think they say some very interesting things about the experience of being a minority.

Here is the first, by Ki Sarita, made in response to my asking her to compare Jewish concepts regarding creation to the Christian concepts I am familiar with:

I fear you may be stepping into a mistake that occurs quite often in majority-minority interdialogues. The majority, in this case Christian, attempts to find out more about the minority by taking elements of their world, and asking how it is expressed in the other’s world. This could present a skewed picture because it assumes that all the elements are the same and parallel. With regard to Judaism, the most important influence on Judaism is something that does not have a parallel in Christianity, and that is the Talmud.

The second comment was made by Rachel:

Because I’m a minority culture in the US, I often struggle with seeing Judaism appropriated, inaccurately interpreted, and played off for jokes. I get frustrated with so often being the ambassador instead of being able to simply be, to simplify my religion and history for other people’s edification rather than be able to wrangle with its complexities myself, and to be on my guard when discussing Judaism in the public sphere because I worry that it’s going to be misinterpreted. Then, on the other hand, I haven’t really suffered enough: I can “pass” for white and Christian, if I choose (although I’m also likely to be confused for Hispanic Catholic), and I have so many Jewish role models to choose from, so I don’t feel like I can complain on the same level as my obviously-“other” friends who get stereotyped based on their appearance or sexuality, and who have virtually no representation in the mainstream media.

I may be female, but I am white, grew up in an upper middle class family, and have a Christian background. I have a lot of privilege, and, for all intents and purposes, no experience with life as a minority. Hearing sentiments like the above from time to time helps keep me aware of my privilege.

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