Giving Up Invisibility as a Gentile

I have recently been able to discharge to some clarity about the privilege of being able to choose whether or not to take on* a Gentile identity. My lack of clarity has been connected to my white Protestant owning-class heritage.

I understand now that privilege gains power from invisibility. For example, when people talk about racism, our attention is pointed by the oppressive society to people experiencing racism; for sexism, to women’s experience; for anti-Jewish oppression, to Jews. This leaves the source of the oppression (the patterns of racism, sexism, anti-Jewish oppression installed on the agents of oppression) conveniently out of the picture. We oppressors keep our power and privileges through invisibility.

Logically, to move toward ending oppression is to give up unearned privileges that flow to me as an agent of oppression. So I ask myself, “What unearned privileges do I gain from having a choice about whether or not to be a Gentile?” One of them is the false idea that I can be innocent of the oppression of Jews. It goes something like “I can ignore anti-Jewish oppression, because Jews have nothing to do with me.” Then if I choose to act as an ally to Jews, it is out of goodwill and reflects well upon me. My status as one who can choose to act (or not) is reinforced and my structural position shored up. My privileges are secure.

It seems to me that dismantling oppression requires that those of us in oppressor positions fully claim our irrevocable connection to those we are set up to oppress and, no matter how uncomfortable, find ways to leave our inhuman and destructive positions of invisible power. I suspect this means claiming that I am always a Gentile, in every cell, in every moment. The oppression of Jews is then something I am always connected to, and ending Jewish oppression is a very personal undertaking.

Anne Barton
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Reprinted from the newsletter of the Melbourne,
Victoria, Australia, RC Community

 * “Take on” means assume, adopt.


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07