Mansplainer #8: My Relationship With Race – “It’s Complicated”

Tal Fortgang’s uninformed screed “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege” has been making the rounds on social media this past week and apparently causing quite the furore. There already have been several well informed take-downs that articulately dissect and refute his arguments much more clearly and directly than I ever could. But there’s one aspect of Tal’s piece that I’d like to address that I think has been largely glossed over or just not delved into.

You see, Tal isn’t white.


Now before I clarify, let me just assure you that I’m in no way trying to claim that Tal doesn’t benefit from white privilege. Or male privilege. Or any privileges. He does. So do I. He’s just clearly very confused about the concept of “whiteness” and how he fits in to it.

Tal, I hear you bro. I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there. Well, not Princeton. But I’ve been in a place where I didn’t understand what “whiteness” was and how that affected me. I didn’t understand the concept of race and had trouble navigating the conflicting messages I was bombarded with in culture, media, and academia. You see, Tal, just like you, I’m also Jewish. And just like you, my skin is pretty white looking. In the summer it gets a little more olive, but stick me in a room full of white people, and I’ll blend right in (more on that later).

Being Jewish can be confusing. We’re told it’s a race. It’s also a religion. “White” is also a race. And we’re also told that we’re white. Until we’re not. We’re told a lot of conflicting things. We’re caught between our understanding of identity and our historical and present oppression.
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Mansplainer #1: Sheryl Sandberg vs. The Last Psychiatrist

It’s been over a decade since I finished high school, and my teachers from that time are still handing me reading assignments. Such was the case when this rambling diatribe was sent my way. It’s a piece discussing media coverage of Sheryl Sandberg‘s new book and what we can interpret from it.

One point that I agree with the writer on is the inherent consumerist nature of magazines. I'll take it one step further and say that magazines are mostly advertising and their content is driven by the needs of the advertisers and not vis versa. So I think it would be a fair assessment to see who's being plugged in Cosmo Careers or Time to see what their target demographic is, and how Sandberg's narrative fits in to that. I'm not so sure that covering her ring is really telling of anything, but her posture in both pics indicates a genuine discomfort with having her picture taken (which is pretty normal, mind you).

From what I understand of Sandberg's book, she is really advocating that women take a more assertive role in the advancement of their careers. Simple for some, but it's reliant on a certain amount of privilege. And it's advice that certainly would not be successful if applied universally. It's still a strong message, though, and has merit.

I think the narrative surrounding how her success is being presented in other media is likely far more damaging than her book (which, per the NPR review, apart from being boring, has some very positive messages). It is often spun as "well, Sandberg did it, so can you" which is tantamount to victim blaming, or "the poor are poor because they don't work hard enough" logic, and does little to underline the structural problems that ensure there are not more Sandberg's in the world.

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