Evening before last, I was speaking with a couple who had stopped by for a visit. We were talking about everything from home mortgages to retirement and as usual, when Jewish people are speaking to each other, we spoke candidly about money. I told my friends every detail of my finances, the good, the bad and the ugly and they told me theirs – no holds barred. They’re from Argentina and so they kept saying they don’t understand Americans and their financial ways of being. And so I tried to fill them in as best I know of just what those ways are from my experience.
My experience of American is skewed though because my father wasn’t born in this country and he was Jewish from Sephardic parents who were born in Istanbul and Aleppo. So my whole way is different from the norm – what my family valued as far as finances and long-term planning was very different from what the average American family believes in.
And Sephardics in particular have had a different road than most Jews in the U.S. because they have been left out of the conversation of what it means to be an American Jew – often referred to as the “black” Jews, the darker race, almost the stepchildren of Judaism. So for me growing up for most of my life in the United States (with my early childhood spent in Central America), I came to understand myself as once removed from Judaism, and thrice removed from having a truly American experience – I was first generation American on my father’s side via our Hispanic and Jewish background, and again removed from the religious norm.
I say this because recently I was watching a video of what constitutes an Hispanic and the video sliced and diced this group into so many different ethnicities.
Then I read an article that said Hispanic is not a race but an ethnicity [don’t even get in the debate about Judaism] and most Hispanics consider themselves white instead of how Hispanics are grouped in discussions of racism in this country – as people of color. And I again found myself identity challenged – as a Jew I am a fraud, as an American I am a fraud, as an Hispanic I am a fraud, as a white person I am a fraud.
And yet, I have now started using the term “white” to describe who I am and am getting more comfortable with the term despite its connotations. I am understanding it brings me privilege and with that privilege I have the responsibility and ability to be active in fighting racism in this country.
Then there is the term Caucasian.
What I can’t abide by is being called a Caucasian, since everyone agrees with everyone that classifications of race – Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid, and Astroloid – were born out of pseudoscience and are completely artificial and what’s more, now defunct. We are able to discuss “race” in its cultural sense, but these racial categories have no place in serious discussion. And yet, the term Caucasian was used in handouts at a workshop I recently attended on racial dialogue, and was used on a school application I recently filled out, and was used by an educated and aware African American woman the other day in conversation.
Frankly, I refuse to add Caucasian to my list of fraudulent identity challenges.
And current N-word controversy aside, because being called a Caucasian in no way compares to being called the N-word, this is not about what Caucasian signifies because it signifies nothing – almost the equivalent of flat earth – it’s a term, um, that was useful to institute a system of oppression but it has no use in current language. Today in the New York Times, in an article “Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost its Meaning?” I was taken first by my color categorization as being “fair white” (I put my arm up to the image in newsprint) and also relieved the writer ended with the same conclusion as me – Caucasian is done.