Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday Factoid: Ethnicity

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Do you care about your ethnicity?

That's a complicated question for me partially because being white in my country is generally so uncomplicated. It's practically not seen as an ethnicity at all, even though it is, because it's processed as a blank space, a standard, a neutral choice.

It isn't.

I "care about" my ethnicity in that I think it's important for me to be aware of the privilege being white grants me and what opportunities I may be offered or attitudes I may be treated with because I am white (or at least because I am NOT another ethnicity that some people who control aspects of my life or might judge me on sight may be prejudiced against). I "care about" my ethnicity in that I do not want to accidentally or intentionally use it to oppress others or exploit the privileges it provides me.

I try to offset some of my privilege by listening to my friends who are people of color and paying attention to the news and education people of color are providing about their perspectives, experiences, and desires. And I try to educate other white people about those things when I am welcome to do so.
Getting a little bit more complicated on the subject of "ethnicity," my ancestry is primarily from four countries: Russia, Hungary, Germany, and France. I have very little understanding of what it means to be from any of those places or what the countries are like now. I apparently look pretty typical for someone with that ancestry. This cool link shows what claims to be "the average woman" from each country listed, based on an amalgam of photos, and here's what people look like from those countries:

And here's me for comparison:

So I look like I'm from where I'm from, but I don't know much about it.

What I do know is that the Russian and Hungarian side of my family is Jewish, and that's considered by some to be an ethnicity. I also know I am usually not assumed to be Jewish on sight (probably because when people think of Jewish people they usually assume we will have dark hair, and I don't). I actually even had a co-worker say something really nasty about Jews once and when I expressed shock he sneered "What do you care? YOU'RE not Jewish." Well well. I also had someone insist that my mom was lying to him about our family being Jewish because we didn't look like it.

I don't have a whole lot of attachments to the specific beliefs of Judaism, but as for the ethnicity/familial part of it, I also have mixed feelings. I don't feel like a huge part of my identity is wrapped up in being part of this group, but at the same time I do identify with it in a way. When people talk about the Holocaust or Jewish holidays or the Old Testament or Jewish traditions and foods or stuff about the Hebrew language, my default is to feel that they are talking about me and mine, and if I talk about those things I say "we," not "they." Because I don't practice enough of the religion for it to be noticeable in my daily life and because I don't do anything that makes me visibly Jewish, I've experienced very little anti-Semitism (except for the usual effects that occur when people talk crap about your group, act like your group is disgusting, or assume things about it). But all the same, there's a weird personal sort of sorrow that goes along with knowing my family was targeted by Nazi Germany and people distantly related to me are persecuted in some places because of their heritage, even though I know it isn't happening to me personally. That's hard to talk about though.

In most important ways, I function and think as a white person in society, so my relationship with whiteness is, in a way, important to me. Largely because being white means I can forget about being white all the time and nothing changes for me. I'll never have to live with the flip side of that, and I know I need to avoid taking that for granted or using my resultant security to perpetuate a society that makes NOT being white a more oppressive experience.

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