For people who fashion themselves members of a “master race,” white supremacists and neo-Nazis are pretty crappy at basic research, not to mention statistical inference and interpretation.
To wit, the claims so often made by these types — and which I’m getting repeatedly in my e-mail inbox since the Pittsburgh terrorist attack on the Tree of Life synagogue — to the effect that Jews have too much power in America and enjoy massive privileges over others.
We run everything: the banks, the government, the media, everything. And this we know because of the disproportionate representation of Jews at the top of these institutions, and the fact that Jews as a group are the wealthiest ethnic or religious sub-group in America.
For instance, they say, Jews are only about 1.5 percent of the population, but we hold a much larger share of prominent positions in finance, media and government than this number would predict.
Just as a basic point of fact, the actual percentage of Jews, depending on how you count us is as high as 3.3 percent of American adults, so they can’t even get that right, but whatever…
Hold my fucking beer.
Now, before I begin, let me say that of course American Jews typically enjoy the racialized advantages of whiteness in this country. Despite anti-Semitism, our ability to matriculate into the club of whiteness has provided us with certain opportunities that have too often been denied to people of color. Karen Brodkin talks about this in her book, How the Jews Became White Folks, and I fully acknowledge that reality. My argument here is simply that there is no separate privilege system operating in favor of Jews as Jews, apart from our enjoyment of the unearned perks of whiteness. And to suggest otherwise is to ignore the facts.
Let’s start with the Jewish income argument.
First, Jews are not the wealthiest or highest-income ethnic and/or religious group in the United States.
That distinction actually belongs to Hindu Americans.
Though the survey data isn’t always consistent as to the exact numbers, between 53–58 percent of Jewish households have annual incomes above $75,000 per year, while 65–70 percent of Hindu families have incomes this high.
Conversely, only nine percent of Hindu American households bring in less than $30,000 annually, compared to fourteen percent of Jewish households, which is to say that there are more low-income Jews than commonly believed as well.
But as with Jewish well-being, surely there are reasons for relative Hindu prosperity other than the notion that Hindu folk enjoy some kind of favored-person status in America, right?
In fact, the reason is simple: Hindus who migrate to the U.S. are a self-selected group (as with most voluntary migrants who come from lands far away) and have disproportionately high levels of education (85 percent have at least a college degree and 57 percent have post-graduate degrees), so neither Hindu privilege nor Hindu superiority would explain their status. There are plenty of Hindu folk in India for instance who are destitute, but they aren’t the ones who typically come to America.
And as with Hindus, selective migration and pre-existing class advantage largely explain Jewish success in America. Fact is, Jewish migration was far more selective than most realize, compared to the migration of other Europeans.
As Stephen Steinberg documents in his book, The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity and Class in America, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s, unlike many of their non-Jewish European counterparts, were likely to have been skilled labor in their home countries.
Between 1899 and 1910, two-thirds of Jewish immigrants were skilled workers in manufacturing or commerce, or artisans of some sort, compared to only 49 percent of English immigrants, 30 percent of Germans, 15 percent of Southern Italians, 13 percent of Irish immigrants and six percent of Poles.
But not only did they possess that pre-existing class advantage, relative to other immigrants, their professional experience was especially pronounced in the garment-making industry, which was an industry that was growing two to three times faster than the overall economy.
Because fine clothing was a luxury for which affluent WASPs were willing to pay a premium, Jewish tailors, haberdashers, furriers and dressmakers were able to make an excellent living and move up the ladder in their newly adopted country. Yes they had skills and talent, and yes they worked hard. But they also happened to be in the right country at the right time, with precisely the right skills and experience needed to benefit from an economic boom in a particular sector.
In other words, Jews today are in a better position than most others, on average, not because we’ve been unfairly advantaged and not because we’ve worked harder either (sorry to those in the Jewish community who sometimes like to make that claim, because it’s bullshit too), but because we had head starts relative to other European immigrants once they got here. It was largely a matter of timing and luck. This is not tantamount to being unfairly privileged as Jews, and is quite different from the way in which whites as whites (including white Jews) have been preferenced over persons of color: an institutional truth that requires systemic correction.
Second, Jews are actually not that much better off than several Christian sub-groups.
Yes, Jewish Americans have the highest median incomes among various mostly white religious groups, but if this proves privilege then there must also be Episcopalian and Anglican privilege, and even a slightly less impressive but still extant form of mainline Presbyterian privilege, because these groups are not far behind Jews when it comes to income.
Fifty-three to fifty-four percent of Episcopalian households bring in $75,000 or more in annual income, which is not that different from the 58 percent rate for Jews, and 46 percent of mainline Presbyterians earn this much too. So too, these mostly white Christian groups have relatively lower rates of poverty: 16 and 17 percent for the Gentiles, compared to 14 percent for Team Hebrew. Pretty much the same, in other words.
As for those Christian groups who are much lower on the economic scale than Jews, there is nothing to suggest they are in that position because of discrimination, let alone favoritism for Jewish folks. Indeed, there are many explanations other than discrimination or Jewish privilege to explain their status.
Conservative evangelical Protestants place a high emphasis on larger families (which makes the accumulation of wealth more challenging than in smaller families with fewer mouths to feed), and are also less likely to support women working outside the home once they are wives and mothers. With one income, household finance tends to lag behind those whose religious beliefs do not place similar limits on female wage earning.
Additionally, these evangelical Christians are disproportionately concentrated in southern and midwestern states, and in smaller towns, where incomes (and costs of living) are generally lower than in the more cosmopolitan and metropolitan areas of the north and west coast.
Notice, in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, where large families are the norm and women also often don’t earn income, poverty is quite common, and great wealth far more rare than for the larger Jewish community, most of whose members are fairly secular. Likewise, only six percent of evangelical Protestants have post-graduate degrees, compared to 34 percent of Jews and 57 percent of Hindus.
Third, Jewish “overrepresentation” in certain sectors like finance and media, though statistically accurate, is not as meaningful as some would like to believe; and it surely does not demonstrate systemic privilege for Jews or exclusion of non-Jews (except insofar as it is part of white privilege, of course).
Back in 2004, I wrote about this, but it’s worth repeating here. Though the specific numbers may have changed, it is doubtful they have changed enough to alter the underlying point I made at that time.
So back then, the founders of an anti-Semitic website called Hoozajew.org said they had developed a computer program that could determine how many Jews were in a given organization by analyzing the names of people in the group.
Putting aside the absurdity of trying to determine religious or ethnic heritage solely from a list of names, when this program was used to analyze key figures at three of the top media companies in the U.S., the number of Jews among top executives, directors and management totaled eight out of eighty-eight, or about nine percent.
Though this was higher than the 2–3 percent of Americans who were Jewish at the time (depending on how Jews were counted), it was certainly not such a disproportion as to indicate Jewish “control” of the media, as is often claimed. What’s more, the apparent disproportion was rooted more in statistical sampling error than anything else.
For example, at AOL/TimeWarner there were twenty-four key executives, so even though only five were Jewish, five as a share of twenty-four was twenty-one percent of the total, giving the impression of a huge disproportion of Jews. Likewise with Gannett, where only three of thirty-four board members or top management were Jewish according to Hoozajew.org, but where this represented a seemingly disproportionate nine percent of the total.
Because of low sample sizes, virtually any Jewish representation will appear disproportionate in a statistical sense. Imagine a company with fifteen executives. If even one of those were Jewish, the Jewish representation would be nearly seven percent, or 2–3 times more than the share of Jews in the population at large. But to think that one out of fifteen individuals could somehow indicate Jewish domination of that company, or systemic Jewish privilege, would be the very definition of lunacy.
Perhaps even more importantly, there are logical reasons for the significant Jewish media presence, having nothing to do with Jewish privilege or favoritism.
Most importantly, media companies (as with financial institutions, more on which below) are largely headquartered in New York City, where a far larger share of the population is Jewish than in the nation as a whole. As such, the proper way to evaluate the extent of Jewish “overrepresentation” in media and finance is not to compare the percentage of Jews in those industries with the overall Jewish population, but rather, to compare the Jewish level of representation with the Jewish share of the population in New York.
According to estimates from 2013 — and even if we only count as Jewish those persons who identify as Jews by religion (which would leave out many who, like myself, had a Jewish parent, don’t claim Judaism as a religion now, but would surely be seen as Jews by white nationalists) — Jews comprise about fourteen percent of adults in Manhattan, eleven percent of adults in Brooklyn and thirteen percent of adults in suburban Nassau County, on Long Island.
In other words, and even with this limited definition of who counts as Jewish, the pool of potential key players in media companies (and finance) who are Jews will far exceed the national average. Thus, the “overrepresentation” of Jews in various companies or industries is no overrepresentation at all, and occasionally an underrepresentation.
As for banking and finance, even based on the analysis of “Jewish names” by Hoozajew.org in 2004, fewer than six percent of directors and officers of seven of the largest banks or brokerage firms in the country were Jewish. Even this number was deceptive and largely the result of sampling size.
With only 255 directors and officers at these seven institutions combined, even a small number of Jews — in this case fifteen — added up to almost six percent, which might have seemed disproportionate to the share of Jews in the U.S., but which can hardly be seen as meaningful given the small number of persons involved. And of course, since the share of the population that is Jewish in New York, where these entities are located, is much larger, this percentage is actually an underrepresentation compared to the numbers of Jews in the area.
At Morgan Stanley, nine percent of directors and officers were identified by Hoozajew.org as Jewish. But nine percent of directors and officers at Morgan Stanley represented a whopping two people, because there were only twenty-three officers at the firm.
Likewise, at Citibank, the presence of five Jews among the company’s directors and officers ended up totaling nine percent of such officers, because there were only fifty-nine such persons in all. But it is laughable to suggest that these five controlled the institution against the wishes of the other fifty-four. If that’s what Jewish privilege and domination look like, it’s pretty thin gruel.
In the section of the Hoozajew website entitled, “Jews on Wall Street,” the site director noted that for the New York Stock Exchange there were thirty-two members of the Board of Directors. Hoozajew.org seemed to think it was important that thirteen percent of these were Jewish. But thirteen percent of thirty-two people is only four people: hardly enough to indicate Jewish domination of the NYSE or Jewish privilege stemming from the institutional mistreatment of non-Jews — the very same non-Jews who were twenty-eight of the thirty-two NYSE Board members. Indeed, with such anti-Christian oppression as that, can the lions be far behind?
. . .
Now, let’s look at political power, the other thing Nazis think Jews have in such abundance.
A few years ago there was an article on a prominent white nationalist website — which I responded to at the time — claiming that Jews have disproportionate political power in Congress. Why? Because although Jews were only about 1.7 percent of the national population, Jews represented (according to the author of the piece) about thirteen percent of the U.S. Senate. To him, this proved “Jewish privilege” in America.
Again, the actual percentage of the population that was Jewish at the time of that article was more like 2.2 to 3.3 percent of adults, rather than 1.7, and the representation of Jews in the Senate at the time was actually eleven percent, rather than thirteen. But true enough, Jewish representation in the Senate was higher than the share of the overall Jewish population. So perhaps the author had a point?
No, not even close.
First off, at the time of the article in question, less than five percent of the House of Representatives was Jewish, meaning that overall only about six percent of U.S. federal lawmakers were Jews. Was that a higher percentage than the Jewish share of the adult population? Yes, though much smaller than the disproportion in the Senate. Does it prove or even rationally suggest Jewish privilege or domination? Of course not.
As with the point above regarding Jewish representation in finance and media, the claim about disproportionate Jewish political power ignores the matter of sample size. When dealing with a population that is very small (as with Jews at roughly three percent of the adult population), virtually any representation is going to produce a disparity.
Think about it: each state only has two U.S. Senators. If any Jew wins, in any state at all, that would mean that so far as that state was concerned, half of their Senators were Jews — a massive overrepresentation by a factor of nearly seventeen! My God! The Jews are taking over! Likewise, if even six Jews were to become U.S. Senators, we would be overrepresented by a factor of two.
Basically, the only way for members of a very small group not to be overrepresented in most anything would be for them to be completely un-represented. Drawing conclusions about under- or overrepresentation when dealing with very small sample sizes likely produces sampling error. This is math problem, not a Jew problem.
Additionally, to the extent candidates for office have to win votes — and in the Senate have to win the majority of votes statewide, not just in certain districts where there might be a concentration of Jewish voters (as in certain House districts in New York and Florida) — how can their success be the result of unfair privilege?
Are Gentiles being cajoled into voting for Jews when they’d rather not? Prevented from running by crafty Jews in the power structures of the major parties? Is there some pernicious prejudice against non-Jews operating that stigmatizes Christians who are running for office? By what mechanism are Gentile candidates being shut out of the process, thereby catapulting Jews to power?
Finally, in nearly all of those cases where Jews were elected, the Jewish winners were Democrats running in strongly Democratic districts or states, where the Democrat was always likely to win. Jews are far more likely to be Democrats than most other sub-groups, so they will likely be statistically over-represented in the pool of Democratic candidates. But this hardly suggests that ideologically similar Gentiles (who otherwise might have stood a chance in those races) were pushed aside due to anti-Christian bias or the unfair privileging of Jewishness.
And if Jewish Democrats beat Gentile Republicans in general elections because the states were blue states, this is among those outcomes that should properly be placed in the “no shit” file. Such outcomes cannot be rationally viewed as evidence of some pernicious systemic discrimination against non-Jews, and the concomitant privileging of Jews.
. . .
Look, I get it: research is hard.
Especially when there are so many other things Nazis like to do, like Viking cos-play, shitposting on 4chan, cultivating their neckbeards, and yelling at their moms for getting the wrong Hot Pockets at the grocery, among the most time-consuming.
And I know that some will think I shouldn’t even bother responding to such absurd racist tripe as folks like that choose to send around the web. But when white supremacist ignorance helps feed the paranoia of deranged bigots like the Pittsburgh shooter, it ceases to be amusing or something we can just ignore.
So until the research team at Nazis R Us hires some professionals, y’all amateurs can pick your teeth up off the floor and try again.
I’m an antiracism educator/author. I Facebook & tweet @timjacobwise, podcast at Speak Out With Tim Wise & post bonus content at patreon.com/speakoutwithtimwise
This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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