Saturday, July 12, 2008

What other people are saying

On being Jewish and white: I spend a lot of time discussing race here and on Anti-Racist Parent. And I'm a regular at other blogs that deal with race-related issues. But I have never read a post that explored what it means to identify as Jewish and white. The Girl Detective has tackled this issue over on Feministe. I'm a black woman and reading Girl Detective's post touched a few nerves that I really can't articulate. (Something like "Why the determination to be accepted as white?" The definition of "whiteness" has always been more about power, class and social structure than genetics. As the writer acknowleges, there was a time when, say, Italians were viewed as "not white," today, they are white. Or is it jealousy? Black people, even though many of us (including me) have white Northern European ancestors, will never be able to opt in to the white power structure.) But this really is an insightful post. Check it out:
I’ve written before on how angry I was when fellow progressives began to inform me that while some Jews consider themselves white, it’s only because they’ve assimilated into white culture. They never explained what white-looking Jews actually are, if not white, but the message was always clear: if we Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews think we’re white, well, it’s just because we wanted some of that tasty privilege so badly that we suppressed our real identity to get it. I’d known, of course, that many white extremists still considered Jewishness a race, but hearing such comments come from leftists surprised and upset me for a couple of reasons: 1) they were presuming to know more about a Jew’s identity than a Jew would, and 2) those who were people of color were surely familiar with the frustration at having others dictate how they should define themselves. Read more...

On being a transwoman: I have never had the privilege of speaking to a transgendered person about his or her life experience, so I enjoy reading what Monica Roberts has to say on her blog, Transgriot. But Monica's blog is valuable not just because it offers a window into the life of one transgendered woman. It is valuable because Monica lays it down on a variety of issues from politics to patriotism to sports to black pop culture...and does it very well. I was visiting this blog, the newest member of the Afrosphere, and found this wonderful post:
One of the things that bothers me from time to time is the fact that I didn't get to experience growing up female.

Sometimes it's triggered when I see a little girl walking hand in hand with her mother. Other times it may be a group of teenage girls walking through the mall laughing, giggling and talking as they wear their tight jeans and discreetly ogle the boys walking by. Sometimes it's seeing as prom season approaches girls with their dates or getting made up for the first time at the department store makeup counter.
Sometimes it's a reaction to the depressing news of another transwoman found dead or the madness of ignorant people who haven't picked up science textbooks or read the Constitution in a while. To paraphrase Houston's legendary crusading consumer affairs reporter, the late Marvin Zindler, 'It's hell to be transgender.'

Well, sometimes it is, depending on what part of the planet you live in.

But from time to time I wonder what my life would have been like if I'd come out of the womb with female genitalia. And yeah, sometimes I honestly do feel cheated that I didn't get to experience life growing up as a young African-American woman inside and outside. I'll never know what it was like to run for prom or homecoming queen,
be a cheerleader, have mom and my grandmother run a hot comb through my hair, do a pajama party/sleepover, pick out a prom dress, have 'The Talk' from the
feminine side or all the other assorted myriad experiences that mark a young girl's maturation into womanhood. I can imagine the tug-of war that would have happened between my godmother and my mom both subtly (and not so subtly) lobbying teen Monica to join their respective Divine Nine sororities once I hit college.

But at the same time, I have to consider the fact that spending 20 plus years on the male side of the gender fence has not only been an education into the drama that Black men face on an everyday basis, but for me led to a greater appreciation of my femininity. I had to go through so much time, work, money, prayerful contemplation and drama just to become the Phenomenal Transwoman proudly standing before you. Read more...


Anonymous said...

It is weird to read a transgender commentary on what she missed growing up as a young man.

First of all, I don't think all young girls want to dress up, become cheerleaders or go to hetero proms.

A lot of us were very serious scholars and were bored with heteronormative high school cultures.

I believe the whole point of feminism was to get rid of the sterotypical pressures foisted on girls and young women, not to go back to the role playing.

Are we going forward or just going into retro female mode now?

Anonymous said...

Jewish and white is more of an issue about assimilated vs. unassimilated Jews in America. Most of my family intermarried over the past 100 years or so.

And I think the Holocaust energized Jews, and helped create a new country.

Most people aren't very tuned into cultural identity anyway. If you speak standard English and look white, you are white.

People have racial sterotypes of Jews, and when I tell people I'm Jewish, they respond, "Oh you're not a sterotypical Jew, meaning pushy loud... actually many of the same things whites say about blacks, interestingly enough.

Maybe the usual formula applies: the quieter the thiner the wealthier, the noiser the fatter the more disenfranchised?? Any ideas about this?

Miriam said...

I thought being black and Jewish seemed more like a phenomenon to most people.

Jill said...

That post at Feministe is fascinating to me, and the comments are incredibly enlightening.

Thank you for pointing that out.

I relate to many, many different feelings and observations posted there and don't really know where to begin but again, thanks for noting it. I will have to keep thinking about it!

Tami said...


I thought it was interesting that the things that Monica feels she missed are stereotypical "girly" things, many of which I, as a biowoman, did not do. I was the bookish girl (serious scholar like you)not the cheerleader, but my friends and I did giggle over boys, experiment with makeup and cover our walls with posters of the latest teen idol.

I think the things Monica mentions in many ways do represent the experiences of a typical girl growing up in the US. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. I think a lot of girls come to that experience naturally. I didn't. You didn't. But a lot (maybe most?)do. I don't want to invalidate that experience, but rather validate my experience and yours and the other experiences of girls who don't fall into that narrow definition of girlhood.

Does that make sense? I think we need to expand the definition of girlhood to include all of us.


Agree on the "pushy, loud" thing. That is why I think "whiteness" in this country really isn't about DNA so much as skin color plus certain social markers.


Yes, I think it is. Far more...


When you gather your thoughts, I really would love to hear them.

Billigflüge said...

It just sucks that it is still a topic, whether someone is black, jewish or whatever. We are all human beeings and everyone has the right to live his life the way he wants to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the input Tami and others. Glad to know another woman who loved books.

I just put it out there that I hated that girly stuff, and found it suffocating when I was in high school. The cheerleaders were obnoxious and awful-- all of them changed their last names to their husband's last name, never left the hometown, and this explained a lot.

Transgender seems odd to me when it is a reproduction of the female sterotype to begin with. Some of the lesbian transgender women I met seemed real to me; you know the type, well read, highly literate, all the things a real woman should be in my opinion :-)

Somebodies Friend said...

I know all to well what it feels like to grow up transgendered. I was born the wrong sex for the body I was given.

I'm here to tell ya... It wasn't pretty. From a very early age I was teased, picked on, beat up and harrassed, I think you probably get the picture....

My self worth was so low it would not have even registered on the positive scale. It was so bad that I started abusing drugs at age twelve and was a full blown drug addict by the time I was fourteen.
I didn't care about anyone, including myself.

Every relationship I was ever in turned ugly in a hurry. I let the other person have their way with me. Everything, feelings, emotions, all of it, I could never start feeling to good, someone would need to take care of that pronto...........

The punching bag, that's what I was, an object to abuse, take advantage of and humiliate every chance they got, and it wasn't just the significant other, but anyone else who happened to be along for the ride at the time.

No more, I've made a full transition, I'm now a proud man in a man's body. I never knew how good it would feel to match, body and soul, outstanding, that is how it feels.

No more, pain, humiliation, being pushed around, KICKED around, no more..........

I am starting to feel respected for the first time in my life, not by everyone though, I now make most of my old "friends" feel threatened, they don't know how to handle this new guy that actually sticks up for himself, what happened to the girl we used to know, no more.

This new life is interesting but also kind of frieghtening, sometimes I still need to guess when it comes to knowing how to act, funny I almost always make a good, or even the best choice, before I was incapible of making these choices, I always let others make most of my choices for me, NO MORE!

I am proud, strong and now I feel like I can just

Monica Roberts said...

Transgender seems odd to me when it is a reproduction of the female sterotype to begin with. Some of the lesbian transgender women I met seemed real to me; you know the type, well read, highly literate, all the things a real woman should be in my opinio

You just described me, save being politically active and I'm not a lesbian transwoman. (not that there's anything wrong with being a lesbian or a lesbian transwoman)

That 'Girl, Interrupted' post was describing my feelings and how I see the world. It wasn't designed to be a blanket commentary on growing up transgender.

Your perception and life experiences may be different, but it doesn't make my transgender journey any less valid because it doesn't neatly line up with your perceptions of what a transgender person should be.


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