Dismantling Whiteness

It matters for white-passing Jews to dismantle white supremacy in bodies, communities & institutions.

My relationship to this has been deeply informed by my grandparents, all in the U.S. because of fled pograms, persecution & violence or the threat of it. Two worked hard to pass, and two couldn't have if they tried, and never considered trying. Those two rocked the hustle - my grandfather ran numbers from the White House photo galleys, along with a ferris wheel business, and flew into hurricanes as a disaster photographer for Red Cross. They encouraged my dad to beat the shit out of the kids who taunted him - "You should have been gassed with the other Jews" and they bent the hell out of every system - I'm not gonna write the incriminating details here - to get their family whatever was needed to make it. My other grandparents took a different route - one called suburban assimilation, built on a distinct flavor of tenacity that my grandfather - who was raised attending a one room school house - wove through his immense book smarts and his farmboy perserverence - he could do anything he wanted, be it grow acres of vegetables, or send humans to the moon. He worked high up in NASA and wove his version of justice by inviting all manner of folks in need to sit around their dining room table, even as he whitewashed Jewish holidays out of the sacred calendar of his kids, til one of them married a Christian woman - then Easter got replaced by Passover at the family table in a heartbeat and forever.

I don't consider myself a person of color, or a Jew of color. Even having the privilege of choice around that is a clear sign to lean out from identification and lean in to deep allying and all that that means.

The stories of my family in and before Eastern Europe - like so many - have been obscured by forced diaspora & fracture from land and community of people & place. While I have clear understanding in other ways - including way too many DNA tests and a strongly honed practice of ancestral knowing & tending - of where they are from, it matters to me to not publicly claim what I can't trace from the few stories that have been passed down.

While no part of me has ever understood myself to be white, I am highly accustomed to passing. I have passed in all the directions. People tend to think I am almost like them, but not quite. In South America, Northern Africa, the Middle East and on the Iberian Peninsula, it is assumed I am from right nearby wherever I currently am - I'm consistently read as from the next country over. Never precisely of them, yet never from far. In the U.S. many white people think I am white-ish and many POC read me as one.

A large strand of my self-esteem and lack of body shame is strong because I grew up with way more POC than white folk. The white boys I went to school mostly ridiculed and ran from me, because of my curves, my smarts, and my being way too vocal. That white folks made up only 30 percent of my schools was a saving grace. The appreciation I received in the web of goodness, complexity and community I wove in is thankfully what settled in my cells, creating ample room in me to expect to be desired, well-met & received.

I am not sure if you reading this perceive me as white, as of color or "just Jewish". Even among my friends, I generally have no clue who thinks what unless I ask. Recently I sent in a head shot for inclusion on a website - my good friend creating it asked me submit a different one, one in which my eyes weren't closed. I understood what he wanted, but I didn't know how to explain to him that my eyes aren't closed in that photo. When I smile, and often when I don't, my eyes just slant like that. Baby pictures of us both suggest that is my grandfather in me, and the great great grandparent rumored to be from Mongolia in him. My "slanty" eyes are just one reason question after question from folks wondering if I am "indigenous" or "native" make some kind of sense to me, even amidst all of what is problematic in their asking and their assumptions.

My first partner, and still best friend, became ostracized from his family a few months after we got together. Turned out the first few months they thought I was Puerto Rican, based on their own made up stories, not on anything he or I ever said. All was fine until he corrected them, explaining that I was Jewish, which meant to them white, and then things were no longer anywhere close to fine.

These stories I'm telling are not unusual or dramatic, I know - I appreciate your patience with them. Among my Jew crew, I am one of so many who have no idea how to identify themselves, so they awkwardly pick white - some because they can, but most because they "should." Ashkenazi Jews tend to root in whiteness because they (we) have been trained to, not because it's true. From where I sit, we have the responsibility to unentrain this, in ways that nuance awareness of and dismantle white supremacy, racism and anti-semitism from our bodies, our actions, our minds and our creations, as well as the structures we live inside of.

In recent days, multiple students, clients and friends have come to me wanting to train up as practitioners at the intersection of body-awareness based trauma healing and ancestral lineage repair through an explicitly Jewish counter-oppressive lens. I hear the call, and am honing focus. This Shabbat, I'm weaving a vision that has spent decades dreaming through me and in conversations with dear ones - a training program weaving Somatic Experiencing, Embodied Presence, Ancestral Lineage Repair & transformative ritual craft for Jews who are committed to collective liberation.

This is a tool-kit for alchemizers & vintners of the sacred, training emergent practitioners in trauma awareness & ancestral healing - spiced with exquisite skill in rituals art, rooted in effervescent embodied presence, cultivating deep pleasure as prayer and deepening counter-oppressive devotion. The curriculum & team I am calling together to meet the first cohort of students asking for this is awesome already. (And it's still shaping in my minds eye - none of you have heard from me yet - actual phone calls, emails and door-knocks coming soon). My eyes are wide, my ancestors are ululating, my notebooks are fast-filling with maps of this territory & my bones are singing yes. Wanna play?

Taya Shere