Chances are, if you’re British, you’re white. Chances are, if you’re white British, you’re a gentile.
Chances are, if you’re white British and gentile, you don’t identify as descended from a particular ethnic group.Yet there is a chance, if you’re white British and gentile, you’re a Norman, Celt, Saxon, Viking or other tribe.You may be descended from a clan which invaded, raped, pillaged, burned, and settled. Let’s say Viking. You’re a Viking.
You still carry some Viking genes which mean you are fair game to be judged as a rapist and pillager, and if I happen to be descended from a tribe which used to fight with your tribe (let’s say I am), you are almost certainly genetically inferior to me. Obviously. Viking.
Because you are a genetically inferior Viking with untrustworthy rape and pillage traits, I hate you. I will discriminate against you at best, verbally and physically abuse you at worst. I may even murder you. Whilst murdering you because you are inferior, I will also claim that I hate you because your genetic kin, your fellow Vikings, are secretly controlling the economy and all political power in some sort of Viking Conspiracy. I will write inflammatory material to that effect in order to get more Viking-haters on my side.
While you and others of your Viking kind retreat further and further into insular communities in the face of my abuse and propaganda, no doubt to carry out the disgusting religious rituals I’ve read about which include drinking enemies blood, crushing babies and sacrificing virgins, I will use your caution and defensiveness as another stick to beat you with. I will blame you for not integrating with MY tribe enough, and in my kinder, more patronising moments, explain carefully why getting on a bus with your horned helmet on is an advert for your genetic Viking inferiority and you should just try and blend in more to avoid discrimination.
Vikings killed Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, who I and my fellow tribesmen worship. I hate you for that. VIKING.
Vikings are dirty. You have dirty blood. You’re aggressive and you smell. Your food is weird and gross. Who eats GOAT?
Your customs and rituals, even the ones that don’t involve enemy skulls, are weird and inconvenient to me. Such primitive rites have no place in modern society.Even worse, have you SEEN what the Vikings settlers are doing in Norway? It’s an international disgrace, depending on whose side you are on.
Sound ridiculous? I’ve heard similar or worse about me, my family, my genetic group.
Now and again my Jewish ethnicity crops up, and I’ve been meaning to write this for a while to put to rest some of the common misconceptions about what it means to be ethnically Jewish (from nothing to everything depending who you ask) and why it’s often a problem.
For example, a while ago Twitter was a-kimbo with anger or defence of a British exam question, “Why are some people prejudiced against Jews? Explain briefly“.
The debate appeared to be largely centered around “what’s the problem with teaching anti-semitism?“, and a little bit of “some Jews have their yarmulks in a twist, let’s explain their own history to them as if they don’t know“.
This is a good example of the sort of irritant I face as an ethnic Jew, because it’s typically about declaring what things MEAN, without looking at what they SAY (aka the reality facing ethnic and religious Jews).The question is not “briefly explain some of the historical contributing factors to anti-semitism in the modern world” or “why did the holocaust happen?” or one of a dozen meanings that people have given the question in order to defend it. It asks why some people are prejudiced against Jews. That’s a stupid and naive way of asking the question.
Here’s my rationale, which doubles as a rationale for why ‘ethnically Jewish’ should be as meaningless as ‘ethnically Viking‘:
- “Jew” is often used as a pejorative. I know, I have been on the receiving end. I use it with caution and would not expect to see it in the context of that question any more than I’d expect to see “why are some people prejudiced against Negroes?”. You can argue all you like about who gets to declare ownership of which words, but unless you’ve had it shouted at you accompanied by a thrown weapon, you may not have a rounded perspective.
- There are two types of Jewish, religious and ethnic. This confuses some people, and rightly so because both are constructs, but nonetheless, that is how it is. I’ll try and explain:
Jew Type One – Ethnic
Ethnic Jews are those descended from another Jew, i.e. a genetic descendent of the original Abrahamic tribes. These are the ‘dirty blood big nose black hair’ types (like me) that the Nazi Ayran Bad Guys feel are so inferior and tried to eradicate once upon a world war. It is as meaningful as being ethnically Viking, but impossible to escape. Some people claim the ‘inferior blood’ claim is outdated, but those people just haven’t met anyone who believes it. I have, plenty.
As a member of a narrow ethnic group I am more likely to be a match for bone marrow etc with other members of that group, so was specifically targeted by the Bone Marrow Register to join (which I did). When I fill in forms I’m White (other), which always raises questioning eyebrows. I shouldn’t have to feel awkward when filling in a form. I’d also be in line to be hauled off to the ovens should we fall into some sort of Nazi parallel timeline hole like that weird episode of Enterprise. No amount of “but I’m an ATHEIST!” pleading would save me, because it’s my genes…
…which is also bull because, get this, you’re only Jewish if your mother was. Hey, Jews and facists alike, that’s not how genes work, yo. But there it is, the traditional ‘rule’ that Jewishness is passed down only maternally. There are Jewish reformers who recognise the stupidity of this, have a read to get a better idea of the complexity. I have a slim understanding of the reform (and indeed the history), but my aim here is to explain what the hater-on-the-street thinks, and what information I was raised with, rather than the strict scholar interpretation. Or more simply put, the man with the weapon is the one who decides what a Jew is.
People with Jewish fathers sometimes call themselves half-Jewish. Some Jews reject that. Still, there it is and those Jews and those facists keep on insisting that Jewishness is an ethnicity, and governments keep protecting it as such, so we have to defend it as such.
In this way, being Jewish is like being black and why I get to bear the badge of “ethnic minority” if I want to. “Explain why some people are prejudiced against blacks” is a really dumb question too. Feel free to ask any bigots you know, they’ll give you some amazing answers. In the British documentary BNP Wives, one of the women explained that she hated blacks because her father’s body, when shipped back from Africa where he was stationed, was missing its wedding ring. Perhaps not what the examiners had in mind. I have outlined in my Viking strawman above the sort of reasons you might hear for why some people are prejudiced against Jews. Again, not what the examiners have in mind.
Jew Type Two – Religious
The second type of Jewish is “a person who has converted to the religion Judaism”. Doesn’t matter what your ethnic origin is, you are Jewish if you convert. There’s a ceremony and everything. It takes years to convert and from my own observations, even more years before you’re accepted into what we’ve acknowledged is an understandably suspicious and insular community (another factor leading to prejudice).
In *this* way, being Jewish is like being Muslim.
If the question was “why are some people prejudiced against Muslims?”, what would the answer be? Something something Bin Laden? This, that and the other oppression of women? You can’t explain why some people are prejudiced against a group without bringing up the negative things about that group, because those things are contributing factors to the prejudice along with ‘things the group hasn’t done/isn’t’. That’s how prejudice works and how stereotypes begin.
To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous, but that is not the answer the exam is looking for. I know, because the answer they are looking for is:
“We would expect [students to refer] to the Holocaust to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating,”
- I once had a fellow college student, a nice Christian boy, throw a chair at me during an in-class argument. He yelled “JUST SHUP UP, JEW”. Which bit of the Holocaust was he thinking about there?
- When I was fifteen, a young man pulled a knife out and said “I heard you’re Jewish, is that true?”. My friends hissed “deny it”, so I did. He said “good, because I’m Muslim”. Which part of WWII was he inspired by? This was, by the way, the first time I’d heard that Jews and Muslims are supposed to be sworn enemies.
- A few weeks after 9/11 a cab driver, during a chat about the tragedy and not realising my meaningless ethnicity, said to me quite matter-of-factly “if I got the call, I’d strap on a bomb and walk into the nearest synagogue”. Perhaps it was his “irrational fear and scapegoating” that lead him there. Be neat if you could summarise “briefly” for an exam. But to quote Ben Goldacre for the billionth time…
I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.
By all means, teach kids about the Holocaust, about prejudice and about Jewishness (if you can find a sufficiently simple definition). But for goodness sake don’t ask them to reduce modern prejudice to a few dates and events. It is as meaningful to the question of why people are prejudiced against me as Viking history is to why they aren’t prejudiced against you. And whatever you do, don’t call me Jew.
Thanks to @dcturner for the original illustration.