Daily Archives: July 27, 2015

The Holocaust and White Privilege

I was surprised last fall when, during a day of equity training at my school, some of my white Jewish colleagues struggled with the idea that they were privileged. This was due to their awareness of historical anti-semitism against Jews, especially the Holocaust, even though, in most cases, their own immediate families had not experienced this firsthand. As someone who is first generation German Jewish and did have immediate family who had experienced this, I was puzzled. My father, who fled Germany at age 14 after far too much experience with Nazis (his father stayed and was killed), always spoke of how lucky I was not to have experienced anti-semitism. He would have been the first to point out to me how fortunate I was to be able to attend a distinguished college (as he was at Columbia I was able to get multiple degrees there without having to pay tuition) and to do all sorts of things because of my race, education, class, and more. (Not money as we were extremely poor when I was young, something that might surprise people who would assume a young academic was financially comfortable. Not so.) I often repost this piece written by him about his experiences in Montgomery during the bus boycott when I was young. It makes me confident that he would scoff at the idea that his personal background allowed him to claim a lack of white privilege. As a young adult I used to find it enormously frustrating when I complained about something in my life and my father simply pointed out how fortunate and lucky I was. I now see how right he was.

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