As Whiteness Is to People Of Color, So Christianness Is to Jews and The People of Other Non-Christan Religions: A Provocation to Further Thought

Last night, at the end of a meeting I attended, the presiding officer, a Jewish woman, in the process of wishing attendees happy holidays and happy New Year, included Happy Chanukah among her greetings. This despite the fact that Chanukah has been over for more than a week. It was, I know, a reflex borne of long habit, but let’s be honest, that habit is rooted deeply in the way that Chanukah is all but invisible to non-Jews when it it is not near Christmas on the calendar and, when it is visible, is turned by those same non-Jews into the “Jewish Christmas.” A perfect example of that phenomenon is the Fox News host who declared, after someone allegedly set fire to the network’s Christmas tree, that:

“[The Christmas tree is] a tree that unites us, that brings us together. It is about the Christmas spirit, it is about the holiday season, it is about Jesus, it is about Hanukkah…It is about everything we stand for as a country and being able to worship the way you want to worship. It makes me so mad.”

If that statement doesn’t epitomize cultural appropriation, I don’t know anymore what cultural appropriation is. Not only are Christmas and Chanukah two very different holidays, with very different origins and very different significances, but to say that the Christmas tree is about Chanukah is to erase completely the entire history of the (particulaly European) Christian oppression of the Jews. More even than that, though, what the Fox News host said put me in mind of the central idea explored in David Nirenberg’s book Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, which has to do with the ways in which Christians, and Western thought in general, have made use of the idea of Judaism and the Jews, regardless of whether those ideas are connected to the actual individual and collective lives of Jewish human beings.

The way that Fox News host used the idea of Chanukah seems to me a good example in that it served a distinctly (if secularly and ecumenically expressed) Christian end: to reinforce the idea that the United States is fundamentally a Christian country and that it is in fact Christiantiy that ensures “everything we stand for as a country and being able to worship the way you want to worship.”

All of this crystalized for me this morning into the idea that stands as the title of this post. It needs a lot of unpacking, but it’s an idea whose time may very well have come: As whiteness is to people of color, so Christianness–not Christianity, Christianness–is to Jews and the people of other non-Christian religions.

As I said, that needs a lot of unpacking. For now, I’m just going to leave it here, as a provocation to further thought, if nothing else.