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.