Friday, June 12, 2009

Degrees of privilege (by Suzie)

Last week, a reader wondered how I could see value in the concept of privilege in general terms if I saw problems in the particulars. Let me illustrate my reasoning with the idea that whites have racial privilege in regard to the accumulation of wealth because their race hasn’t prevented them from buying homes. Houses and land have greatly appreciated in value, for the most part, so that children could inherit from their parents. That’s important to understand when you look at disproportionate poverty among people of color. But this does not explain the circumstances of every individual, of course.

On my father’s side, the family had little or no property in Russia, at least in part because of discrimination against Jews, and my father inherited no money. Thus, my grandparents showed up in the U.S. with less white privilege packed away in their knapsack than did other whites.

In Russia, as elsewhere in Christian countries, Jews faced discrimination as foreigners and infidels before people invented racial classifications. Scholar Robert Coles says race prejudice began in Russia around the time of the birth of Alexander Pushkin, the acclaimed poet born in 1799, whose great-grandfather was born in Africa.

Many people now consider Jews (like my father) to be white, but white supremacists don’t. Anyone who forgot that got a reminder this week when the nut attacked a Holocaust museum, killing a guard.

ETA: Thanks to the anonymous reader who just corrected me. I added in the phrase "like my father" to clarify. Of course, Jews can come from any ethnic background and be any skin color. Here's an interesting article at Kos.