Obama’s white men

I had thought that the media buzz had died down over the fact that the first four persons to be nominated by Obama for major government positions were all white men. But Stephen Colbert brought it up just the other night, so I though that I might as well add my little buzz to it.

I have two personal issues with the story.

One of them is my disappointment over the fact that none of the four is going to replace a black man. I don’t mean just any black man, but one in particular, and I wouldn’t really care if he were replaced by a white man or a purple hermaphrodite. I am referring to the abominable Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, who has done (I don’t know if through malice or incompetence, nor whether on his own initiative or at the President’s behest) more to pervert the administration of justice in this country than anyone else I can think of. Examples: the disproportionate prosecution of Aaron Swartz which led to his suicide; the dropped investigation of Lance Armstrong despite a mountain of evidence worthy of a polka-dot jersey; the heavy-handed attacks on legal marijuana clubs in California, Obama’s campaign promises to the contrary notwithstanding; Operation Fast and Furious; and the abject failure to prosecute the financial finaglers whose fraudulent flimflam has caused so much grief. It seems to me that the word “justice” had no meaning in Holder’s vocabulary other than the name of the department that he heads.

My other issue is even more personal. The listing of Jacob Lew (the nominee for Secretary of the Treasury) as a “white man” makes me queasy. Lew is, by descent, a Polish Jew like me, and for us actual Polish Jews whiteness as a marker of race is meaningless. We were marked for extermination by Hitler as Jews by race. I am still amazed when I read, in books dealing with the “Holocaust”, references to the religious practices (or non-practices) of the victims. They are irrelevant. Hitler’s anti-Semitism was racial, not religious, and if a Lutheran bishop met the Nuremberg criteria as a Jew, he would be persecuted like any other.

Personally, I experienced being white just once in my life. It was on my first day in America, in 1950, when I boarded (with my mother) a streetcar in New Orleans and went to the back in search of an empty seat, only to be told by the conductor that I was not allowed to sit there – it was the place for colored people. In the 1950s it was not at all uncommon for Jews to experience various kinds of discrimination in the United States, nor was it a coincidence that Jews were so prominent in the civil rights movement at the time (and earlier, going back to the Spingarns and the Leo Frank lynching). While I do not support Noel Ignatiev‘s theories of whiteness, or critical race theory, I feel that characterizing an American Jew as simply a “white man” is a historical inaccuracy.

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