Tal Fortgang And White Privilege

May 9, 2014
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Tal Fortgang and I have so very much in common. As I was reading his piece from the Princeton Tory I felt like he was talking about me. Let me impart my family and my story to you. I’m a white Jewish man from Brooklyn, New York. I also went to one of the oldest universities in the country that is very well regarded and respected. It happens to be in the same state as Princeton. Only a few towns over. I’m sure you can guess which one.

My grandparents were both born in Poland. During the war, they were both put into camps and most of their families were murdered. My grandfather and his brother survived because a German solider gave them extra food rations. My grandmother and a friend survived because at one point they hid under a pile of dead bodies. Both grandparents were liberated from Bergen-Belsen. They met after their liberation, fell in love and got married. After living in a Displaced Persons camp, they moved to New York, became American citizens, and learned English. My grandfather became a humble plumber to earn enough money to support his wife and his family (they had three sons). He sent them to Hebrew school and had bar mitzvahs for all of them.

Tal Fortgang And White Privilege

My father eventually went to City College and then transferred to Brooklyn College. He worked hard and after college he got a job working in IT for a large company in Manhattan. He left the house early in the morning and came home late. He sacrificed time with his kids so he could provide for his family. After working in IT positions for large companies for years he started his own IT consulting firm. He is a well-liked man who is very active in his synagogue. He’s an extremely hard worker who has told me that he will probably work until he dies. He’s a real American. He’s the American dream; the son of poor immigrants who made something of himself. See that, he built that.

My family also instilled the importance of education and the family’s role in helping to educate children. My mother is a teacher and a pretty brilliant one at that. That’s my story. How eerily similar it is to Tal’s. But our similarities end there. Our vision of America couldn’t be more different. He doesn’t see a racial or sexist bias in America. I do. I see that every Republican senator voted against the Equal Pay Bill last month. Apparently, they don’t think women should earn as much as men. Don’t tell my mother that, she’s pretty much for fair and equal treatment of women. She’s no one’s “honey” or “sweetie”, she built herself. I see a Supreme Court that gutted the Voting Rights Act and in response Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina and Virginia have started to take steps in restricting voting opportunities that disproportionately affect minorities.


Tal, as my yiddisha grandmother used to say, “You’re too stupid I should talk to you.” The very fact that you can’t see past your own privilege is sad. I’m not asking you to apologize for being white and male. You couldn’t help that (nor could I help my whiteness or maleness) but don’t blind yourself to the fact that there are forces in this country that seek to keep a patriarchal and Caucasian hierarchy in America.

The American dream is alive and well and living in both of us, but for our fellow citizens who do not share our skin color or our genitalia, there are very different opportunities. Tal, I hope that everyone can have the same equal chance as you and I have had. That’s the America that I want to be a part of, but in reality we’re still working towards that. We have a long way to go. Don’t deny the fact that our skin color made things a little easier for us.

Oh by the way, I assume our fathers are about the same age, too. You failed to mention that City College had free tuition until 1976 and even after that they offered a needs-based Tuition Assistance Program. I would imagine that with your grandfather’s humble wicker business and my grandfather’s equally humble plumbing business, their families probably were eligible for that.

Shalom Aleikhem to you, Tal.

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