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Competing narratives: The interplay between racial and ethno -religious identity among Ashkenazi Jewish undergraduate anti -racist peer educators

Christopher MacDonald-Dennis, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study examined the various ways in which Ashkenazi Jewish undergraduate anti-racism peer educators understood and used their Jewish identity in their work with non-Jewish people of color and white Christians. Ashkenazi Jews, who are Jews of Central European heritage, often find themselves questioning the racial space they occupy. The ways in which students of Ashkenazi Jewish identification compare or contrast their historical and current social position with that of communities of color can either facilitate or disrupt their efforts to be effective anti-racist educators. Fifteen Ashkenazi Jews who are peer facilitators in a nationally-recognized social justice program at a university in the Midwest were interviewed. Three data gathering techniques were utilized: demographic intake form, individual interview, and focus group interview. Participants articulated a complex understanding of the position of Ashkenazi Jews in U.S.-based systems of ethnicity, religion, race and class. Based on these systems, the students claimed that Jews are both insiders and outsiders in American society, targeted and privileged simultaneously in their ethno-religious and class identities. Findings reveal that being Jewish is salient and a distinct identity for this generation of college students; the history of Jewish oppression continues to inform Jewish identity; Jewish students continues to describe a connection with Blacks; and distinctive processes of ethnic and ethno-religious identity development take place for Jewish undergraduates. Findings suggest the need for a new social identity model that addresses the unique racial, ethnic and ethno-religious positionality of Ashkenazi Jewish undergraduates. The author presents a Jewish ethno-religious target development model, along with implications for anti-racism and social justice education and suggestions for further research.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

MacDonald-Dennis, Christopher, "Competing narratives: The interplay between racial and ethno -religious identity among Ashkenazi Jewish undergraduate anti -racist peer educators" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3193920.