The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us


The 7 Jobs Capitalism Asks of All of Us:

1. Measure Self Worth by Work: Don’t believe in the inherent goodness of people. Instead decide that everyone’s worth is only as much as they achieve.

2. Accept that Oppression is the Norm: This starts with adultism the moment we are born and conditions us to accept that all other forms of oppression and privilege are just a fact of life, for the rest of our lives.

3. Believe the Dream: Believe that to be American means that your success is eventual, and that any failing is your own individual fault.

4. Get Numb and Numb-er: Close off your feelings and just suck it up. Find a form of addiction that is either secret enough or socially acceptable enough so that you can get by. Then tsk tsk anyone with a less hidden addiction, blame them for the problem and offer them no support.

5. Isolate: grow increasingly more distant from people and community. Develop a nuclear family from whom you may attempt to get all of your needs met, and lash out at them when it doesn’t work.

6. Disassociate from your Body: Make your mind and body separate entities. Find pieces of yourself to love and pieces of yourself to hate. Attempt to buy things to close the gap. Tell yourself that you only deserve rest, pleasure and play when you’ve worked for it.

7. Assimilate: Strive to look like, act like, and be like the typical white U.S.-er you are supposed to be. Forget your history, forget your religion, forget your ancestors: they are no longer a part of this narrative. Stop trying to pursue the art, community and visions you once had: they no longer matter.

The 7 Forms of Resistance All Around Us:

1. Movements: Collectives, groups, organizations, neighbors and friends can get together and learn about oppression and envision liberation. Organizing has worked over and over again throughout history and will continue to.

2. Self Care and Community Care: We can decide we are worth it and we are vital just because we are alive.

3. Tell Our Stories: We can tell our personal stories and the collective story about the white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy and christian hegemony that founded this country. With our stories we can refuse to be lied to.

4. Healing: We can use therapy, support groups, co-counseling, somatic practices, art therapy and more to get ever bigger, bolder, stronger and more powerful. We can use the wisdom gained from our healing to create better policy and support communal healing through practices like reparations for slavery.

5. Connection: We can dare to cry, laugh and share our real feelings with all of the people in our lives without placing a limit on the number of people our hearts can love.

6. Love: We can refuse to buy into the idea of spreading self-hate. Even in our hardest moments we can remember we are a human with a human body and we deserve the goodness all humans deserve.

7. Art and Culture: Artists can rise up everywhere all the time to say we will not accept this world, we will build a better one. We can choose to learn about our ancestors, their histories and traditions and find ways to reclaim them afresh for ourselves.

I believe that we will win.


Your Feminist Guide to a Body-Positive Holidays

originally posted on Ma’yan’s blog on November 24, 2015
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If you’re a human living in the U.S., you’re probably starting to see a particular variety of advertisements, blogs & headlines at this time of year, all containing one basic message: “How to eat nothing and exercise constantly while you cook the most perfect feast so that this holiday season you can shrink down to a size zero and finally (FINALLY) be the powerful, loveable person you always thought you could be (and if you fail it’s your fault, you disgusting pig)!” Or….something like that anyway.

Sound familiar?

The holidays can be a confusing time for everyone, but especially for us feminist, self-loving, non-Christian, anti-capitalist type folks.

So here are ten tips to help you navigate body-positivity during this holiday season:

1. Remember that YOU are not the problem

Diet-culture is the problem. Diet culture will have you believe that anyone can be skinny if they try hard enough. Meanwhile capitalism will make you think you are never good enough and will encourage diet companies to sell sell sell, even though they know their products don’t work. Write yourself a note, make up a song or mantra, or do whatever you need to do to remember that nothing is wrong with you/your body.


2. Do a little research

Learn about how diets don’t work, how size-diversity is a real thing (and a good thing! Wouldn’t it be boring if everyone looked the same?!), and how our body type is at least somewhat predetermined and out of our control (see: set point weight theory). While you’re at it, check out some thinking about intuitive eating and how it’s okay to trust yourself. Then sit back and bask in the reality that your body is fine and awesome exactly as it is. You don’t need fixing.


3. Know your limit

 Know how much body, diet and exercise talk you can handle before you need to just get up and leave the room (or put sunglasses on and start humming “F*ck You” by Cee Lo Green). Know when you want to engage and when you want to change the subject. If you start feeling anxious, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need. You can engage by using facts, such as: “Hey! Did you know that at least 90% of diets don’t work?” Or with humor, like if someone says, “Oh, maybe I’ll have a piece of pumpkin pie….I’m so bad!” You can respond, “I didn’t realize our virtue was now based in our consumption of squash-based treats.”  Or you can change the subject with a quick, “Water on Mars, eh?” Or, “So what do you think we can do today towards ending white supremacy?”


4. Remember that health and eating are not connected to morality

Do you know about the Christian hegemonic roots of our diet culture?! It’s weird stuff. First of all, what is Christian hegemony? Besides being an excellent topic of dinner conversation, Christian hegemony is the system that privileges Christians and Christianity, and labels all other religions and peoples as not-the-norm, weird, exotic. For more on Christian hegemony, read Paul Kivel’s excellent book on the subject.

But back to our story on the origins of diet culture: Reverend Graham and Doctor Kellogg could be called the first “clean eating” fanatics. Yup, the inventors of the graham crackers and corn flakes. Except back then they may as well have been called “Taste-Free Crackers & Flakes.” Why? Because Reverend Graham believed that food should be purely for fuel, and sex should be purely for reproduction. He believed eating bad foods led to bad things like masturbation. Any enjoyment of either act clearly showed a lack of morals. And it sort of makes sense why he thought this: if Christians believe that the body is the source of sin and is the vehicle through which humans are tempted by the devil, then it follows as true that only through abstinence from all temptation can one be pure. So Reverend Graham thought he was on a Christian mission from God to save humanity with his Blandy McBland diet, which would encourage self-discipline.

A lot of people thought those guys were extreme crocks, but the concept of food being connected to morality remains: we judge people as good when they eat salad and yogurt and chia seeds, and bad when they eat donuts and burgers. We turn this inward on ourselves too. And we don’t have to. Instead we can adopt the belief that we are just inherently good, that we never need to be perfectionisty about anything, and that health and eating are not connected to morality.


5. A few more suggested dinner conversations

With your tablemates, discuss how crappy it is that racist, sexist, European, white beauty standards have dictated that the ultimate female look is thin, white, fair, weak. Talk about how awesome it is to resist this by loving every inch of ourselves and refusing to assimilate. While you’re at it, might as well mention that thanksgiving is originally a racist, Christian hegemonic holiday in and of itself… (see video example).


6. Decide to trust and adore yourself

Eat the food you want to eat, wear the clothes you want to wear, move when you want to move. Don’t count calories. Don’t obsess. Don’t follow rules.  Don’t swear you’ll go on a cleanse when this is all over, as that will make you more food-crazed in the meantime.Trust that your body knows what it wants and knows how to take care of itself. Don’t punish yourself. If you eat a lot of food and feel really full say, “Wow that was really good! Now I’m going to lie around and rub my belly until it feels all better.” Would you punish a child for getting too full? (I HOPE you would NOT!) So don’t blame or shame yourself either.  And if you read this and feel like you’re already “messing up,” don’t use this blog as another way to feel bad. Every minute is another opportunity to show yourself some love.


7. Think about what all babies inherently know how to do 

Babies know how to eat when they want to and stop when they want to. It’s not your fault that society taught you to unlearn these skills via self-hate, but trust that you can re-learn what is an innate and inherent skill: how to listen to your body.


8. Start following a bunch of body-positive bloggers

Un-follow anyone who makes you doubt your inherent awesomeness. Fill up your social media feeds with people who love themselves. A few good places to start are Virgie Tovar,Everyday Feminism, The Body is Not an Apology, Isabel Foxen Duke, Fattitude andRachel Marcus (many of whom were the inspiration for this blog post). Or just quit social media for a while.


9. For an all ages activity, watch Ma’yan’s film

Last year’s interns co-produced Pretty Sexy Sassy, a film about the media’s impact on girls. Watch, discuss, and come up with a family action you could take together (ie writing letters to a company asking them to stop promoting unrealistic and harmful beauty standards).


10. Find buddies you can talk to

Find the kind of buddies who are all about the love, not the kind who will give you the side-eye for a second helping.  

You got this! And let me know if you need any extra support.


Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan in Manhattan, where she leads anti-oppression workshops for educators, parents, and high-schoolers. for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music on Facebook and YouTube.

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Posted in Feminism, Power, Oppression & Privilege

Redefining Religious

originally posted on EJewish Philanthropy on September 4, 2015

I’ve tried out many answers:

“Not really.”

“Kind of.”

“I guess, but it’s not what you’d think.”

“I suppose in my own kind of way, but I’m not strict or anything.”

I can’t remember if I’ve ever just said, “Yes.” But I’ve been thinking about it.

After all, when you tell people your mother is a cantor and your father is a rabbi, it’s probably a good idea to have an answer to the oft asked question: “So, are you religious?”

It would be easier if the question was as neutral as, “Are you an outdoors person?” or “Donuts or cupcakes?” But it’s not, no matter how casually the speaker shapes their tone.

“What are you really asking?” I should reply one day, “Am I a religious freak? Do I believe in a G-d that controls everything? Am I going to judge you and your heathen ways? Do I think I’m better than you? Do I have a superhuman spirit power that can help you with your crisis?” These are the questions I imagine floating behind the lips of my inquisitor.

I don’t really want to explain all the history. That my parents were hippies. That they ran away from orthodoxy. That their Judaism and Jewish leadership has more to do with community-building and political action than pure religion. Sometimes I’ll say, “Yeah, well, my dad’s a rabbi but he doesn’t believe in G-d,” because I’ve noticed that phrase often puts people at ease. On rare occasions I have completed that sentence, adding: “…but I do.”

I’ve always loved Judaism because it meant special things: holidays with singing and dancing, delicious meals with family and friends, celebrations, community protests, youth groups. My parents never shoved a judicious G-d down my throat, but instead let the idea of G-d be something I was free to explore. I asked my mom once why we didn’t eat bread during Passover and she said, “Because then we can have the experience of doing something at the same time as Jews all over the world.” I liked that. So I stuck with it. Even as I felt embarrassed chomping on matzah in middle school or missing events because of Jewish holidays. It felt worth it.

But religion got harder in college. The Hillel on campus was certainly nothing like my leftist synagogue back home. And in my activist circles, religion was decidedly not cool. So my focus shifted for a few years, and then shifted again when I returned home after college and re-engaged with the political Jewish community.

Re-engaging with Judaism felt good. But I noticed there weren’t many other college grads looking to join organized religion. And the ones who were preferred to identify as “spiritual not religious.” I understood where they were coming from. Organized religion has been responsible for lots of terrible things. But organized religion has also produced many movers and shakers and crowds of world-changing activists.

The phrase “spiritual not religious” felt weird to me, as if there was something wrong or shameful with being religious. As if the speaker were clarifying, “I’m the good kind of Jewish person, not the annoying kind.” It felt like another way to create divisions among our people.

But I also understood why it could feel almost off-limits to identify otherwise. I have long felt that the orthodox branches of Judaism have monopolized the term religious. Am I even allowed to call myself religious? After all, I text, drive, write and carry onShabbos. I make up my own rules about kashrut and then only sometimes follow them. I don’t say all the blessings. Sometimes I forget to light Friday candles. I can never remember Torah to quote and don’t particularly enjoy text study. Plus my relationship to G-d has never been crystal clear. Do those things disqualify me for the term religious?

But I don’t feel “spiritual not religious.” I can tell that phrase just doesn’t describe me. I feel “spiritual AND religious.” Because you know what? Whatever I do on Shabbos, it feels holy and different from every other day of the week. My own kashrut rules feel special to me and being able to break them reminds me of my agency in my Jewish life. I often don’t say blessings, but I almost always say the Shehechyanu before doing things for the first time. Plus, a murky relationship to G-d is still a relationship.

It turns out my brother Lev has also struggled to define his Jewish identity. After college he began to say, “I’m religious, not spiritual,” with a hint of sass. When I asked him why he says this, he responded, “I don’t feel a strong sense of spirituality, whatever that means, but I feel a sense of attachment and connection to Jewish traditions and ritual.” We’re both working to figure something out our own way.

I am spiritual. AND I am religious. I dare anyone to tell me I’m not. It’s time for me to take back the word. The religious right no longer gets sole ownership. I love that I have chosen my own Jewish life, that it feels flexible and connected to community. I believe everyone has a right to define their own Jewish path, be that religious, spiritual, both or neither. We must embrace a more open understanding of what it means to be religious in our Jewish communities and institutions.

Maybe “religious” no longer has to mean following all the right rules, but rather a sense of commitment to one’s own religious exploration. If so, count me in.

For more on my Jewish experience, check out my piece in the just-released book “Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay.” Join us in Manhattan on September 9th for a book release event.

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan in Manhattan, where she leads anti-oppression workshops for educators, parents, and high-schoolers. Contact for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music on Facebook and YouTube.

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You Can’t Fight Racism with Sexism: A Response to Adam Mansbach

Versions of this blog originally appeared on The Good Men Project and Ma’yan, July, 2015

Dear Adam,

I appreciated reading your recent article in Salon, because I too am a justice-loving Jewish white person working to fight racism.

But I’m also totally bumming about what you wrote. I mean, I think you know you come off sounding like an asshole. To quote you explaining a fight with your girlfriend: “Eventually I felt good enough about where we’d gotten…to go upstairs and sleep with her.” I am down with writers exposing their full humanity. But you know that’s not cute.

An extra helping of discussing sexism would pair nicely with your on-point knowledge of racial dynamics. In fact, they have to go together. Your failure to acknowledge male privilege undermines the question that the title of your article elicits: how do we convince other white people that racism is real?

Based on your article, I’m unconvinced that you actually liked Jessie. Maybe she just wasn’t your type, or maybe a sexist society got you all confused about who you are supposed to like. Baring your real self is admirable, but because so many men regularly showboat their sexual abuse of women in the media, your confessions are nothing really that new or liberatory, unless coupled with an understanding of sexism and male domination. Your conversations with Jessie could have been a whole lot more productive if you’d also brought up sexism and admitted to all the complexity.

I feel sad that Jessie’s exposure to anti-racism was through such misogyny. I’m with you: racism is destroying lives and we have to get everyone on board with ending it. Right now. You ask what it will take? It will take recognizing that you can’t teach someone about oppression while exposing them to other kinds. That’s why the term intersectionality continues to be relevant—if we are not aware of other kinds of privilege, power and oppression as we do anti-racist work, we won’t be affective in bringing in more allies.

If women got a published article every time we radicalized someone via dating, we’d all be fucking famous by now. Almost every guy I have dated has become more radical, more feminist, and clearer about racism by being in a relationship with me. And most political women I know are in the same damn boat. My straight female friends often feel frustrated looking for a male partner who is both kind and loving and also understands systemic oppression. It’s a tall order. Many have opted for “kind and loving” with the hope that radicalization comes later. Sometimes it does. And then eventually these men get more credit for their work in the movement than we do because they are seen as a novelty. And because of, you know, sexism.

I’m sure there was at least one woman who brought you in, who helped you through the initial stages of unlearning racism and becoming an anti-racist activist.  I would love to see her get credit. Was it a girlfriend? A friend? A teacher? Your mother?

Maybe the next time you find yourself dating a Jessie, or wondering how you can talk about racism with white people, you can remember the women who have supported you through your political mistrials, and then come to the relationship and the task of anti-racist education from a place of love.

Honestly, it sounded like you cared more about looking cool and anti-racist in front of your friends than actually getting someone else to join in the fight (or having a nice, caring relationship with another human). And you back this point up at the end, by saying that you’re not interested in the “go work in your own communities” approach.

I know you have done work with white people in the past, and you hint that you’re done with it: “I wasn’t interested in chopping it up with any hunkered-down white racists, that I’d had my fill of that ten years earlier when I published Angry Black White Boy.” It’s okay to take a break from doing the professional work of educating fellow white people about racism. Everyone gets to take care of themselves. But you can’t take a break from doing the work on a personal level. Because no matter how finely you have tuned your social circles, there will always be the Jessies. And to try to avoid them completely will not only render you ineffective, but will also make your life smaller.

We all have to do anti-oppression work from a place of loving our own people. And sometimes that will feel hard and terrible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t keep going. Because when we do it with love, we are that much more effective at explaining why ending racism matters so much to us, and why we need more help.



Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan in Manhattan, where she leads anti-oppression workshops for educators, parents, and high-schoolers. Contact for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music on Facebook and YouTube.

Letter to my Teen Self

The usual genre of this list is “Advice I’d like to give my teen self” or “15 things I wish I knew when I was younger.” But we’re changing the assumption that our teen selves weren’t already strong and cool. In fact, we think they maybe even knew more about some things than we do now. Here is our three part series, Letters to my Teen Self, imagining a back and forth exchange between our past and present selves. 

To: 15 year old Talia, Oakland, CA

From: 29 year old Talia, Brooklyn, NY
1. You are not naïve for believing in a better world. The adults who say so are confused. I try to learn from your commitment to justice every day.

2. High School is the real world. The friends you make are real, the emotions you have are real, the beliefs you fight for are real, the legs that carry you are real. The purpose of childhood is not solely to prep you for the real world because you are already in it. I know adults say scary things like “You think this is hard, just wait ‘til you’re older!” But they’re just having their own feelings. It’s true, life changes, and change is hard sometimes. But I’m now realizing that you actually work harder than I currently do. The greater task is to learn to stop working, to draw boundaries, to be flexible when appropriate and take care of yourself.

3. You don’t have to please everyone all the time. It’s okay to turn homework in late sometimes, it’s fine if someone doesn’t adore you. For a young Jewish girl, getting people to like you can feel like a matter of survival. But this is misinformation. Getting sleep matters more than straight A’s. Prioritizing the A above all else starts to make you believe your own body is second to (someone else’s definition of) success. You don’t have to believe it.

4. You are not alone. You never have to suffer alone. You can build a whole crew to call on whenever things get hard. You can cry your eyes out and then laugh ‘til your sides split. You can be pissed off and tell people about it. You don’t have to look nice or happy all the time. You can say “Help!” and expect people to come running. You can say “I’m scared!” and expect an embrace. You can say “I’m so proud!” and expect a huge celebration.

5. Things are less scary than you were taught. The adults around you love you and don’t want bad things to happen to you. They may have exaggerated some of the dangers around you, or forgotten to present them with a rational perspective. They said things like, “never talk to strangers” when what they meant was, “I really care about you.” It was the best they could do. There’s a lot of ick, but there’s also a whole lot of good people wanting good things for you. You’re smart enough to suss out what’s safe and what’s not. Trust your gut.

6. I can’t thank you enough for the friendships you are forming. They continue to save my life again and again. I so appreciate how you make time for your friends everyday. I am trying to be more like you.

7. I am re-learning to meet people different from me, like you used to do when you were little.  It used to be easier to make friends with kids who were from different backgrounds. It’s gotten harder. It’s not our fault. Systems of oppression, like racism and classism, are designed to keep people apart. Let’s refuse to collude. Let’s go after friends of all kinds, learn how to be each other’s best allies and how to hold on.

8. You’re a damn good listener, and that’s a powerful tool. But here’s the secret: you don’t actually have to listen to everyone. It’s not your job as a female.

9. Your body is awesome. It will fluctuate in shape and size and that’s just what it is.

10. Don’t worry so much about eating health food. Try to just listen to your body and eat things that taste delicious. The rest will fall into place.

11. You might never stop questioning your sexuality. It’s not a question you are ever obligated to answer.

12. Being messy or disorganized means nothing bad about you. You’re good. End of story.

13. I love that you write poetry and stories whenever you want to.

14. Whatever happens dude, you’ll figure it out.

15. And again- thanks for all you’ve taught me.

For more “Letters to my Teen Self” see here.

Happy Earth Day! How Climate Change, Feminism and Shmita are all Connected

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on April 22, 2015

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In the mainstream, feminism is often defined as equal rights for women. Here at Ma’yan we like to take an expanded view. My co-worker Pippi Kessler says, “At its core, feminism is about yearning for a world where every person gets to be a full human being.” To me, that means that as feminists we must actively fight to ensure that people of all backgrounds not only get to survive, but actually thrive. And the truth is that we can’t thrive without a healthy planet. And that is why, in honor of Earth Day, we are talking about climate justice as a feminist issue.

In most countries, climate change is no longer a debate. Scientists understand that we have been playing fast and loose with fossil fuels and we are already starting to pay the price. If we go much longer, we’ll pay an even bigger price. And because of systems of oppression, people of color and the poor and working class pay the greatest price. Those who own fossil fuel companies along with the wealthy elite (whose money is invested in fossil fuels) are not currently feeling the devastation at all. (For more information, I highly recommend the movie, Disruption, a concise and well-made documentary released in preparation for last year’s national climate march in NYC.)

For those of us not affected by the immediate impacts, climate change is hard to regularly pay attention to. Our minds are pulled into emails, bills, advertisements, work, friends and day-to-day realities. That’s one of the reasons why attending last year’s climate march was so powerful for me. I watched all kinds of people walk, chant, sing, and display beautiful creations of art. I was reminded that we all want to survive and we all want to thrive. I was reminded that humans are totally brilliant. I believe that we will figure out elegant, creative solutions to climate change. We just have to put our minds there.

So what’s a Jewish feminist to do?

Draw from traditional practices:

Interesting that the climate action occurred during the Shmita year, the Jewish traditional seventh year in which we are commanded to release all debts owed to us and to let the land rest. I’m guessing the Shmita year would probably not be a good time to, for example, dig up new earth, lay in more pipelines, blast through more mountains, or drill deeper into the ground. It’s probably not the year to scrounge up every last bit of fossil fuel just to keep feeding our oil addiction. And if we are letting go of debt, then it’s for sure not the best time to find new enemies and start new wars. On the other hand, harnessing the power of the wind and sun seems like an excellent Shmita year activity, as does taking time off to rest and plan exciting visions for the “post-carbon economy” (as Naomi Klein calls it).

The Shmita year is also about the concept of “letting go.” So what can we let go of to end climate change?

  • Addiction to fossil fuels: including oil, plastics, and more
  • Investments in non-renewable energy
  • Greed: In this Shmita year I want to examine the places where I feel greedy. Is it with time? Food? Clothes? Travel? I don’t know what the next step is exactly, except to reflect on what my actual human needs are and how best to fulfill them
  • Isolation: the more I seclude myself from others, the less I see what is really happening in the world
  • Numbness: I want to combat numbness and face reality by doing things like going to marches and protests, sharing my feelings with friends, reading about climate change, and writing and making art about justice

Make personal changes:

I am aware that the biggest polluters and wasters are not individuals, but big corporations and industries. These are the places we need to target to effect change. But I’m still opting to make personal changes as well, and here’s why: I’m training to minimize the voice in my head that says: “You don’t matter.” Every time I reuse gray water or recycle, that voice rages loudly saying, “You’re insignificant! It won’t make a difference what you do!” But I am learning to persist. Because the quieter that voice gets, the more my thoughts and actions will be able to align, which will increase my capacity to think and do on a bigger scale. Here are just a few personal changes I’ve tried that you could consider as well:

Ultimately we know the path is about organizing to fight the institutions that perpetuate our systemic greed and over-consumption. The above lists the little steps that help prepare me for this work.

So feminists unite! We still have about five more months of the Shmita year. What can you commit to doing towards climate justice?

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan. Contact for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music.

A Call to My Beloved Jews: We Gotta Talk About Privilege

Originally posted on the Ma’yan blog on April 21st, 2015.
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Over the past year we’ve seen an increase in articles by Jews that seek to disprove the concept of privilege due to experiences of anti-Semitism. These writings upset me because they in no way represent my own beliefs as a white, female, Ashkenazi educator and activist. The articles do not acknowledge the complexity of identity that I believe is necessary for the Jewish community to embrace. Here is my response to a compilation of articles:

Dear Taffy, James, John, Seth & Tal

You have all joined the deluge of Jews venting frustration with the concept of “privilege.” I admit my temptation to pick apart your arguments line by line. The number of offensive statements makes my heart race.

But for the time being, what I’ll say is:

You’re right.

Anti-Semitism is real. It has and continues to negatively impact our Jewish people.

The leftist activist community doesn’t always do a good job acknowledging or understanding anti-Semitism.

And this is a problem.

It’s a problem because it means the left won’t have a full picture of society, which is necessary in order to build power and win. And it’s a problem because it perpetuates anti-Semitism itself.

And also: you’re wrong.

Experiencing anti-Semitism does not preclude other truths: white privilege (for Jews who are also white), class privilege (for Jews who also have wealth), male privilege, able-bodied privilege, straight and cis-gender privilege. None of these experiences of oppression trumps any other; all oppression is painful and unjust.

Sometimes it seems so simple: of course it’s possible for me as a white Jewish woman to experience sexism, white privilege and anti-Semitism all at the same time. It’s “simple” because I’ve lived it my whole life.

But sometimes breaking it down feels complex and painful. Do I really want to dive deep into my family history and investigate that the fact that we have money comes from this weird stew of running from anti-Semitism and also gaining white privilege?

In my work with Ma’yan’s Research Training Internship, a big theme we teach isintersectionality: the concept that one person can experience both oppression and privilege simultaneously. It’s complex. But it’s important.

“Privilege” is a word that sometimes scares people. But it doesn’t have to. Privilege doesn’t mean I’m bad or that my people are bad. It also doesn’t mean I’m extra good. One definition we use at Ma’yan is that privilege is a system of unearned advantages that benefits one group at the expense of others. I have to remember this or else I fall into the trap of believing I have “earned” things because I am somehow “better than” others. But that’s a lie that only further isolates me, and leads me to remain complicit in oppression.

I don’t frame this conversation as “Jewish privilege” because Jewish identity is multi-faceted and complex. When working with white Jews, I talk about the white privilege that we experience as Jews. It’s a subtle but important difference. The experience of being Jewish includes oppression—past and present. And even still some Jews have certain privileges.

It’s particularly scary for Jews to think about the idea of holding privilege because of the history of anti-Semitic tropes that say that Jews control the world and therefore their takedown is justified. But I’m not saying Jews are the most privileged.  Actually, we know that the majority of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the U.S are white Christian men. But that doesn’t mean that white Jews don’t still experience privilege. I know I do. Even at the same time as anti-Semitism.

When as Jews we don’t understand intersectionality, it’s a problem for everyone. Not understanding intersectionality means white Jews are more likely to assume a uniform Jewish experience, which keeps us from appreciating the richness of our diversity and perpetuates racism not only to non-Jews but also to Jews of color within our community (not to mention classism, homophobia, ableism and more). Not understanding intersectionality also leads us to believe the myth of exceptionalism: seeing ourselves as the most oppressed, which only serves to further isolate us from the people and movements we could actually be working with. Anti-Semitism is not our fault and it is not our (sole) responsibility to end. But by staying in our narrative of victimhood, we essentially leave ourselves alone and stuck, and we damage other communities along with our own.(For a fuller list of why Jews MUST understand privilege and intersectionality, click here).

“When my Jewishness comes into conflict with my whiteness, I’m not effective in challenging racism,” said educator Randy Clancy in a recent workshop for a group of social justice educators that Ma’yan convenes. We have to embrace all parts of our identity to do the work.

Talking about privilege is just a start. The point isn’t just to recognize it, but to understand our place in fighting for racial justice and ending oppression for all people.

The left also has some responsibility. If lefties don’t understand that anti-Semitism is real, it leaves Jews feeling like they have to prove it over and over again, as we have seen in the articles I linked in the salutation. And wouldn’t it be nice if the right-wing didn’t have a monopoly on defining anti-Semitism for once?

So: Anti-Semitism is real. White privilege is real. Racism is real. These things are linked, but they are not all the same and cannot be compared. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one while not abandoning the other, and at this moment in U.S history, I see way too many murders of black people to stand idly by. When I say Black Lives Matter, this in no way negates my commitment to ending anti-Semitism. It is not about oppression hierarchies, though we do need to examine the fact that this country was economically built on racism. Ultimately, I believe our liberation is connected. So let’s get to work.

With love,


P.S. There are lots of great resources put out by leftist people and communities. April Rosenblum wrote a great pamphlet about anti-Semitism and the left. Ngoc Loan TranAsam Ahmad, and others have written beautifully about ending in-fighting among the left.Paul Kivel has also written about being both white and Jewish and showing up in the fight for racial justice. There’s a lot of good thinking out there. Let’s stay in it together.

Talia Cooper is the program director at Ma’yan. Contact for more information on writings and trainings. She can also be found playing music.