Thanks to an essay by Princeton University freshman Tal Fortgang, everyone is talking about “white privilege” — the idea that white people benefit from unacknowledged advantages because of their race.
Writing for The Princeton Tory, Fortgang complains that, when offering a conservative opinion to liberal classmates, he is often told to “check his privilege” — that is, consider the ways his political opinions are shaped by his being white, well-off, and male. Fortgang downplays the idea of white privilege, noting that his own grandparents came to the country as poor Jewish immigrants but worked hard to send their four children to day school and college.
What Fortgang overlooks is that he is actually a beneficiary of what scholars in North America call “Jewish privilege” — the unearned advantages of not having been born a gentile nor raised around horses.
The feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh once listed 46 examples of “white privilege,” including: “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed,” and “If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”
Here are just a few examples of Jewish privilege, with apologies to McIntosh, and just about everyone else:
- As a Jew, I can watch a network television and see characters that look like me. Unfortunately, they will either be lawyers or sports agents.
- I can apply to the top universities in the country confident that I will disappoint my parents if I wind up at a state school.
- I can spend time with 99.8 percent of the population and not encounter any anti-Semitism, but at some point I will have to leave Laos.
- I can play sports at the collegiate or professional level and, even if I am mediocre, be reasonably certain I’ll be referred to as the “Jewish Jordan,” the “next Koufax,” or “half-Jewish.”
- I can rent or purchase housing in any area I can afford, although I will still complain about closet space and how much nicer my college roommate’s place is.
- I can wear a yarmulke in a public setting and not worry about my safety, unless it is a New York Mets yarmulke and I am living in Philadelphia.
- I can open the New York Times “Style” section and see other members of my faith getting married — by an “Ethical Culture” minister to a Christian girl, nebbuch, but whatever, they love each other and isn’t that the most important thing?
- Having a first name like “Shmuley” or “Yerachmiel” will not prevent me from getting a job at some of the top camera stores in Manhattan.
- I can read a parenting blog in most metropolitan areas and come away thinking that the country’s population of child-rearing adults is about 90 percent Jewish.
- I can find kosher foods in most grocery stores, but still have trouble explaining the concept of “pareve” to the teenager who works behind the bakery counter.
- I can be at any Shabbat table and sing along with all the zemirot, but only if I went to Jewish summer camp; otherwise, I just sit there and hope it ends soon.
- If I need to take time off for religious observance, my boss will be understanding, unless he is Jewish, and then he’ll accuse me of making up holidays like “Shavuot” and “the last two days of Passover.”
- I can daven wherever and however I please, so long as I don’t move to Israel.