It’s hard to have a reasonable conversation about the apparent “success” of the Jewish community. For one thing, we Jews have an understandably defensive gut reaction to accusations of success. And they are often accusations. To quote the Illinois Holocaust Museum,
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis augmented this (Middle Ages idea of Jews as Jesus killers and userers) with a 19th century myth that emerged as a backlash to European Jewry’s emancipation and consequent involvement in and numerous contributions to European cultural, social, economic and political life in numbers disproportionate to its numeric presence in the general population. This myth stressed the existence of a “secret” Jewish plot to dominate the world through economic and political control.
So when people start saying that Jews have a lot of money or control the media, the hairs start raising on the backs of our necks.
But that doesn’t mean we can deny the statistics. Jews in America are better off than other groups. Only Hindus come close to having as many people making over $100,000 a year. Forbes 100 richest people included 30 Jews. That’s a third of the top 100 for a group that makes up less than 2% of the population. And while FAIR has thoroughly debunked the whole Jews own the media bullshit, there are a lot of Jews who work in media. In 2009, the Atlantic came out with a list of the top 50 bloggers. By my count, 27 of the 50 bloggers are Jewish. That’s more than half. That’s a hell of a lot.*
When confronted with Jewish “success” (and I put that in quotes because I don’t believe getting on the Forbes list is something to be proud of), many people will tell you that it is because our culture values education or because Jewish people take care of each other. The implication being, of course, that less “successful” minorities don’t look out for one another or value education.
It is complete bullshit, of course.
How do you measure how much a culture values education? How do you measure whether it is that they value education or simply don’t question the socialization? How do you know it is not that another culture faces more obstacles to obtaining an eduction? Besides, are only those people who have alphabet soup at the end of their name deserving of a living wage?
And isn’t it convenient how the education narrative conveniently ignores all the radical Jews who protested, picketed, boycotted, and otherwise scrapped in the streets? Isn’t it convenient how that narrative ignores that Jews in America aren’t a target of the authorities like other minorities are, or like they themselves were in other places and other times. It’s a lot easier to “take care of your own” when the prison industrial complex isn’t breathing down your neck. How many Jewish women do you know who had to take in their incarcerated relatives kids?
Nobody knows I am Jewish unless I tell them. People might not like Jews, but I’m a lot more likely to get past a prejudice. More importantly, while Jews weren’t always considered white, most of us are white now – at least, white enough. And if you don’t believe that privilege has anything to do with who gets to be a “success,” if you think that it is all hard work and commitment to education, let me ask you something. Why is that entire list of Jewish gazillionares on Forbes all white men? Maybe you can brush off the white part. There aren’t that many Black, Latino, Arab, or Asian Jews in the U.S. But last I checked, about half of us are women. Are women somehow immune to these supposed cultural proclivities that make Jews so “successful?”
So why am I writing this?
One of the bloggers I follow has now twice been accused of antisemitism. Once, she was accused for daring to include a Jewish category in a post where she breaks down minority representation in the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. And now recently she was accused of antisemitism for calling out the hypocrisy of Dan Snyder suing City Paper for a picture that supposedly depicts a prejudiced stereotype – when he owns the fucking REDSKINS!
And that really pisses me off.
It isn’t just that the accusers are wrong, or that people shouldn’t spew knee jerk accusations. It isn’t even about how those accusations can shut off conversations. Ultimately this is not really about Jewishness. It is about privilege, white supremacy, male supremacy, the illusion of equal opportunity, and the American mythology that weaves it all together.
Jewish success fits in nicely with America’s ideas about itself. Here you have an immigrant group who came here fleeing persecution. And while they faced prejudice, they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
What’s more, America’s embracing of Jews is in direct opposition to the Nazis – the enemy of all enemies. World War II was the good war, the war used to justify all other wars. And despite the fact that many Americans supported the Nazis, despite the fact that the U.S. didn’t even max out its immigration quotas in the war years, we like to think of ourselves as the anti-Nazi. We are the saviors of the Jews and of the world.
So this Jewish success narrative buttresses all our myths about heroic Americans, good wars, equal opportunity and all that crap. It is a minority mythology that does not challenge white supremacy or male supremacy. In fact, it actually provides cover for it. We Jews are used as a silent indictment of other groups, as cover for people who don’t want to change the power structures and hierarchies that privilege them.
Our inability to discuss Jewish “success” is an inability to challenge the hierarchies, prejudices, and myths that need to be challenged. I don’t want to provide cover for white supremacists. I don’t want to provide cover for greedy bastards who use accusations of antisemitism to deflect from their douchebaggery.
That doesn’t mean that antisemitism isn’t alive and well. (I’ve seen Glenn Beck’s list of Jews who have ruined the world.) It means that we have to be honest about the fact that this supposed “success” is really just a measure of how thoroughly a person has bought into and benefited from the American lies.
*Even more common than a Jewish background was attendance at Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, or University of Chicago. At least 30 of the 50 attended one or more of those schools.