ARP Tuesday Links

The meritocracy and race: Michelle Obama’s much-discussed thesis laid bare the experiences that many young, black adults–many people of color period–have at predominantly white universities. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Theola Labbé-DeBose explored how her later experience in college in many ways mirrored Michelle Obama’s, and how education may not be “the great American equalizer.”

I last visited my alma mater, Princeton University, two years ago to speak on an alumni panel about the future of Iraq. Inside stately McCosh Hall, where I’d taken Constitutional Law more than a decade earlier, I spoke to a mostly white crowd about my experiences as a special Iraq correspondent in 2003, sharing the stage with an impressive bunch of alums, including a soldier who had served several tours in the Middle East and a former CIA station chief.

At the end, one of my fellow panelists turned to me and complimented me on my remarks. “What school did you go to?” he asked.

I was wearing a black shirt and orange linen pants, a dutiful nod to our school colors. It was an alumni panel, I thought. What school did he think I attended?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this sort of failure to be truly accepted as I’ve watched Michelle and Barack Obama recently. After all, a white couple with their accomplishments would be another one of those gilded couples that appear on the New York Times‘s society pages or in Town & Country magazine. Instead, these two earnest meritocrats wound up on the cover of the New Yorker last week in a now notorious fist-bumping caricature, complete with a Black Panther-era ‘fro for her and traditional Muslim garb for him. Read more…

On being Jewish and white: I spend a lot of time discussing race here. And I’m a regular at other blogs that deal with race-related issues. But I have never read a post that explored what it means to identify as Jewish and white. The Girl Detective has tackled this issue over on Feministe. I’m a black woman and reading Girl Detective’s post touched a few nerves that I really can’t articulate. (Something like “Why the determination to be accepted as white?” The definition of “whiteness” has always been more about power, class and social structure than genetics. As the writer acknowleges, there was a time when, say, Italians were viewed as “not white,” today, they are white. Or is it jealousy? Black people, even though many of us (including me) have white Northern European ancestors, will never be able to opt in to the white power structure.) But this really is an insightful post. Check it out:

I’ve written before on how angry I was when fellow progressives began to inform me that while some Jews consider themselves white, it’s only because they’ve assimilated into white culture. They never explained what white-looking Jews actually are, if not white, but the message was always clear: if we Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews think we’re white, well, it’s just because we wanted some of that tasty privilege so badly that we suppressed our real identity to get it. I’d known, of course, that many white extremists still considered Jewishness a race, but hearing such comments come from leftists surprised and upset me for a couple of reasons: 1) they were presuming to know more about a Jew’s identity than a Jew would, and 2) those who were people of color were surely familiar with the frustration at having others dictate how they should define themselves. Read more…

 

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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