Letter from San Quentin

Some months ago, I posted a piece titled “Are Jews White” that used the case of Stephen Liebb, a Jewish convict in San Quentin who is seeking to have himself racially reclassified from “White” to “Other,” to explore the question of Jews and whiteness – and observe that while terms such as “White” and “Black” are anthropoligically meaningless, they mark political boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. My conclusion: “Let’s just say when Jews try too hard to be ‘white’ they often end up in political spaces where no Jew should feel comfortable.”

Mr. Liebb has no access to the Internet, but a friend of his forwarded him the piece, and he sent me this letter in response:

May 29, 2006
Dear Mr. Karon

I recently received a copy of your article Are Jews White? which referred to my litigation to be reclassified from White to Other. Your article was very insightful. Racial classification is not an exact science. Recent DNA studies show that Jews and Palestinians share a common DNA which confirms our common ancestry as Semites, and makes us susceptible to certain illnesses, like Parkinson’s Disease.

Your article, though, demonstrates that perhaps more significant than any genetic history is our religious and cultural history, which includes a commandment: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. (Exodus :22:21) Whether in prison or in South Africa, I believe a Jew has an obligation to align himself with those who are mistreated and oppressed. It is unfortunate that Jews who feel they have “arrived” feel no empathy with those who have not.

I don’t have access to the Internet, but would like to read about you and read any comments about the article “Are Jews White?” My case is scheduled for trial in Federal court in December.

Thank you for your time and consideration
Stephen Liebb
C-60825 4N 69L
San Quentin, CA 94970

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14 Responses to Letter from San Quentin

  1. Qwerty says:

    I applaud you, Mr Liebb! If only there are more human beings of all groups like you, we won’t be facing the terrible calamnities of these times.

  2. Doug Kellam says:

    Didn’t Mezz Mezzrow do something similar when he was incarcerated back in the 30’s. I believe he demanded to be treated as a “Negro” ie, incarcerated with the Black prisoners reather than Whites.

  3. Tony says:

    Don’t know, but do know that some of my old friends from South Africa like Jeremy Cronin and Raymond Suttner, ANC prisoners kept in a “whites-only” prison in Pretoria for their efforts to end apartheid, did demand to be sent to Robben Island with their black comrades. But the authorities were having none of it

  4. Steven says:

    Claudia Braude has written on Jews and whiteness in South Africa. When Yiddish-speaking working class East European Jews arrived in SA in the early 1900s their whiteness was indeed questioned by the South African authorities. It was only because of the influence of the established, middle class Anglo-German Jews that the East Europeans were ultimately accepted as ‘whites’. A similar story of incorporation can be told about Jewish immigrants to the US.

  5. skip says:

    Like every enthnicity, the American Jews are underdog non-whites when it is to their advantage. Such as when having “their” seat on the Supreme Court, but very white when opposing quotas on Ivy League admissions.

  6. mersin emlak says:

    Thanks for the post, I’ll keep checking back for more stuff, bookmarked!

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