Repost from Open Salon. My second post ever. I'm putting the stuff I like best up over here in case the other site disappears.
I started high school in suburban New York. One day there was an assembly run by students, ostensibly about the Vietnam War but, given the volatility of the time, it soon moved on to other topics, particularly race. My school was probably about 60% Jewish and 12% black with the color line and money line overlapping almost completely.
Anyway, a young Jewish girl got up and asked something like: “My grandparents came from Europe with nothing and made something of themselves. Why can’t black people?”
The question bothered me for years. One day I decided to try to answer it and I learned a whole lot more from that process than I expected.
I started by asking the following question: What made immigrant Jews successful in the United States? I identified the following factors:
Religion. This gave us a community when we got here and gave us a population that watched our backs more than the general population would have.
Family. One person would come over then sponsor a family member. Some would put up their relatives when they first arrived, like my grandfather did for his younger brother, until they got established.
Education. Jews were perhaps Europe’s only literate peasant population. Education translates to money, particularly over here.
Networking. When you’re a minority population wherever you live and the majority population isn’t always friendly, you develop this skill for survival.
Keeping a low profile. New immigrant populations that make too much of a fuss get in trouble. Again, a survival skill honed after millenia as a minority.
So, how does the black immigrant experience compare to this? I’m talking about enslaved blacks, not recent immigrants - their experience is radically different. Let’s look at the factors:
Religion. Forcibly eradicated.
Family. Forcibly broken up.
Education. Unlike Jews, they started as an agrarian population. Once they got here, teaching blacks to read and write was illegal in some states.
Networking. Impeded, starting on the slave ships, where slaves were deliberately grouped with others who spoke different languages. Once here, mobility was obviously difficult.
Keeping a low profile. Pretty difficult when you have the functional equivalent of a yellow star sewn to your forehead.
Basically, every leg we Jews built our success on, blacks had sawn off. It’s a miracle they got anywhere. They’d be a lot further along by now (in terms of demographics like median income) if they hadn’t had so many extra obstacles put in their path ever since. They still face a lot of extra obstacles, our black President notwithstanding. Some will argue this point; if you’re inclined to, please google Tim Wise and read almost anything he’s written or watch a video. He’s the best author on white privilege I know. Start by looking at comparative racial data on prison sentencing.