I Helped Coin the Term ‘Jews of Color.’ It’s Time for a History Lesson.
Last week, eJewish Philanthropy, an independent publication serving the professional Jewish community, published an op-ed titled “How Many Jews of Color Are There?” The article argued that current estimates of the number of Jews of Color in the United States, which have been recently estimated at 12-15% of the larger Jewish community, are too high. It also criticized the use of the term “Jews of Color,” arguing that it doesn’t accurately describe the people to whom it refers.
I am one of the originators of the term Jews of Color, and I think it’s time for a history lesson. We haven’t done enough to tell the story of what the term meant to its early adopters, and why it is in continuous use today.
In 2001, Bridges: A Journal for Jewish Feminists and Our Friends published an issue titled “Writing and Art by and for Jewish Women of Color.” The issue’s international team of contributors and editors were Jewish women of diverse heritages and identities, including Indigenous, African American, Chinese American, Ethiopian, Puerto Rican, Arab, Indian, Peruvian, Yemenite, Mizrahi, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, Mixed Heritage, and Jews by choice.
I wrote the introduction for that Bridges issue. “This collection of writings and artwork by Jewish women of color — Jewish women of African, Asian, Latin, and Native American heritages — offers readers a chance to think about racism within the Jewish community,” I began.
“How we name ourselves and our experiences is a place to begin,” I continued, arguing for use of a new term: “Jews of Color.” It was the first time, to our knowledge, that the term had been used in print in a national publication.