Skip To Content

Let’s Keep the Dialogue Going

I recently wrote an article in the Sisterhood entitled “Why I Check Both White and Jewish,” about white privilege, gentrification and my experience being marginalized as a Jew. My intention was to spark conversation amongst readers about privilege and racial identity in order to work towards dismantling racism both within the Jewish community and beyond, articulated quite succinctly in Sarah Seltzer’s response piece about acknowledging privilege and honoring the Jewish tradition of social justice.

But how my piece epitomized the very privilege I set out to highlight is something about which I was restless before the piece published. Readers’ responses challenged me even further. Through a live Twitter chat Sisterhood blog editor Abigail Jones and I organized using hashtag #MyJewishID, and several of my own private conversations with readers, I began to recognize that the tears I wrote about — the very ones that moved many readers in an empathetic and powerfully positive way— simultaneously left others highly triggered, unsettled and disturbed.

My “white guilt tears” were the result of a series of actions one Saturday morning in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where I live. In short, a local Latino neighbor perceived my actions of deliberately closing my apartment door in our predominantly Latino neighborhood as racist. As I walked down the street, I overheard him talk about my actions to the bodega clerk next door, came back, apologized, clarifying that my intentions were not racist, and ultimately ended up in tears myself — with him comforting me.

The moment and exchange became about my guilt. It returned to my power and privilege.

Many readers pointed out why and how this was problematic. Of the ongoing concerns I had with the piece before it was published, this was not one I had fully recognized. It remains intriguing that other readers interpreted those tears as tender, moving them as readers to tears. I’m left with many questions: Is there privilege in being able to overlook white guilt as problematic? Why, when and how do we have public conversations that highlight privilege and guilt in a way that moves beyond perpetuating other people’s trauma?

Patience and compassion spearheaded the most constructive conversations I had with people both publically and privately; I appreciate the readers who called me out in a manner by which I was able to hear and recognize and ultimately understand their concerns. We must continue to show up to these heavy and important conversations about social identity and oppression from a place of love, not shame; empathy, not guilt; commitment, not anger. The shame, guilt and anger require their own love, patience and support, but we must think hard about where and when we have these conversations, and at whose expense.

As I continue writing for the Sisterhood, I am keeping the reactions to my piece, especially those around what was problematic, close to my heart. While I write personal narrative to spark dialogue and let people know they are not alone in the thoughts and experiences they’re having, I hope to keep recognizing the difference between those catharses that require an audience, and those that do not, something I hope readers will continue engaging with as well.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.