The "Rising Cost" Of Whiteness Studies
March 09, 2006, 04:00 AM
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[Recently by Athena Kerry: Multicultural Education—No "Americans" Need Apply]

Spring Break! Defying the stereotype of a drunken topless coed in Cancun, I`ve spent my time quietly on campus, sleeping and catching up on homework while webs of snow cloud my frosted windows. I`ve also had time to watch a few movies—a rare luxury, since I lack not only both a VHS and a DVD player, but also a basic TV. 

But judging by the Oscars, giving up Hollywood for Lent isn`t such a bad idea. Here`s an unwelcome update: Brokeback Mountain, the favorite for Best Feature Film and accurately described by Jonathan Rosenbaum in the very liberal (and Michael Moore approved!) Chicago Reader as the type of "tearjerker that`s often overrated and smothered with prizes for flattering our tolerance and sensitivity" was snubbed in favor of Crash, a convoluted flick known by many as "the racism movie."

Oh yeah, and the Best Original Song was awarded to a hard-core gangster rap called "It`s Hard Out There for a Pimp."

Before rap group 3-6 Mafia received their award, they performed their, uh….song…in front of innumerable white actors and actresses who looked like they were dressed for a night at the opera. But maybe the audience related to the song more than you might think. As host Jon Stewart pointed out, "pimps…they`re like agents with better hats." And prostitutes…well, Stewart also noted that the actresses in the audience "could barely afford enough gown to cover their breasts."  

At one point, Stewart even said that Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America.

No!

Stewart`s political humor may be in touch with the real world, but not with his audience at the Oscars. Where there was laughter in America`s living rooms, there was silence in Kodak Theater. Silence when he made fun of the rich, the Scientologists, the celebrity efforts toward political and social justice.

And especially silence at this:

"Munich and Schindler`s List. Both tremendous films. I think I speak for all Jews when I say: [crosses fingers] I can`t wait for what happens to us Jews next!"

Which brings me to my VDARE.COM point. Thanks to my Catholic university education, I do know what happens next, Jon:

Jews will be unfairly considered white.

My professor told me so!

This semester, as part of their continuing orientation program, students working as Resident Assistants at my school were required to read an article by an academic called Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz entitled Jews in the U.S.: the Rising Costs of Whiteness. It appears in that indispensable volume Readings for Diversity and Social Justice : An Anthology on Racism, Sexism, Anti-Semitism, Heterosexism, Classism, and Ableism.

Kaye/Kantrowitz [send her mail] claims that the U.S. invented all color-based racial discrimination ("before America, no one was white...no one was Asian before they came to America either"). She quotes with approval the black writer James Baldwin saying "it took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this country became a white country...it is probably the Jewish community... that in America has paid the highest and most extraordinary price for becoming white." [On Being `White` and Other Lies," Essence, April 1984 (PDF)]

Kaye goes on to give contradictory examples of that "extraordinary price for being white". First, she reports having a bloody swastika painted on the door of her new house—proving that she is not accepted as a white. Then, she suggests that since she was not hassled but waved on after her last traffic violation, she is not being treated as a minority either. And she finds fault with the fact that in Women`s Studies courses, students are encouraged identify and oppose the "hierarchy of oppression" but not to discuss Jewish issues.

Finally, she complains that "in the academy, obligatory nods to issues of race/class/gender result in language so specialized it`s incomprehensible to most people."

Well, I do agree with that!

By way of introducing a long segment that attempts to determine whether Judaism is either a race or a religion, Kaye/Kantrowitz makes this stunning attack on Christianity:

"Christians—religiously observant or not—usually operate from the common self-definition of Christianity, a religion any individual can embrace through belief, detached from race, peoplehood, and culture.

"But I have come to understand this detachment as false. Do white Christians feel kinship with African-American Christians? White slave-owners, for example, with their slaves? White Klansmen with their black neighbors? Do white Christians feel akin to Christians converted by colonists all over the globe? Doesn`t Christianity really, for most white Christians, imply white? And for those white Christians, does white really include Jewish? Think of the massive Christian evasion of a simple fact: Jesus Christ was not, was never, a Christian. He was a Jew. What did he look like, Jesus of Nazareth, 2000 years ago? Blond, blue-eyed?"

Ironically, Kaye/Kantrowitz continues by describing the differences between Jews, even emphasizing the antagonisms between Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrachi.

So, Professor, here`s what I get out of it: Christians are a multiracial people who claim to love each other. Jews are a multiracial people who don`t claim to love each other, but were never slave-owners.

Therefore, Christians are intolerant.

But even that is too clear for Kaye/Kantrowitz.

In case her argument is making too much sense, she concludes that

"No, Jews are not a race...Ethnic studies scholars have labored to document the process of rationalization, the fact that race is not biological, but a sociohistorically specific phenomenon."  

She also claims that "Jewish is often trivialized as something you choose, a preference, like tea over coffee."

Ultimately, Kaye/Kantrowitz urges all non-Christians to join up together:

"In the U.S., Christian, like white, is an unmarked category in need of marking. Christianness, a majority, dominant culture, is not about religious practice or belief any more than Jewishness is. As racism names the system that normalizes, honors and rewards whiteness, we need a word for what normalizes, honors and rewards Christianity"

Since Christian domination is destructive to all non-Christians, not just Jews, Kaye/Kantrowitz argues, the terms "anti-Semitic" and "Christian hegemony" should be abandoned in favor of "Christianism", used pejoratively, because

"such a term would help contextualize Jewish experience as an experience of marginality shared with other non-Christians...in this time of rising Christian fundamentalism, as school prayer  attracts support from `moderates,` ...compelling [progressive Jews] to seek allies among Muslims and other religious minorities."

Remember, this article was assigned at a Catholic school.

In class, the reaction to this piece was not unlike the audience reaction on Oscar night: uncomfortable silence.

The RAs were divided into groups of 4-5 for "discussion time." But far from the spirited debate the instructors were expecting, Kaye/Kantrowitz`s piece was the elephant in the room. People discussed weekend plans or swapped "crazy resident" stories—anything to avoid the topic assigned.

The closest anyone got to it was a group that initiated what my friend Maeby calls "storytime," (once one person shares a personal anecdote, the class topples like dominoes). And all the stories started the same way: "this one time, I was a victim when…"

But there is a big difference between Jon Stewart and my professors.

Stewart won`t be giving Hollywood a grade that goes on its permanent record. Hollywood can go back to Beverly Hills and get on with ignoring him.

We students are expected to conform—and like it.

Athena Kerry (email her) recently graduated from a Catholic university somewhere in America.