When I was a little kid, I overheard my grandmother making dinner reservations. Although her last name was Cohen, she made the reservation under “Johnson” and when I asked her why, she told me that sometimes restaurants gave the worst tables to Jews or didn’t hold tables for them at all. This was in the mid-80s and I remember thinking that her paranoia was unfounded. I could certainly understand from where it came and could even see how it might have been true earlier, but not then. That would never happen in 1984.
Years later, on my first job interview, I tucked the Star of David pendant I always wore into the collar of my shirt. I had never been ashamed of being a Jew — or afraid of being treated differently because of it. (What a lucky life I had lived.) But as I walked into the office for the interview, my grandmother’s words echoed in my ears and I thought, “why risk it?”
While this might sound like two stories of persecution, it’s really two stories of privilege. How fortunate my grandmother was in 1984 to be able to simply give another name and pass as a non-Jew. How lucky I was in 1990 to be able to tuck a necklace in and pass as a non-Jew. And how lucky I still am today with my diamond wedding band and mascara to pass as a straight woman.
I don’t have any big revelation to make. Simply noting and checking my privilege so that I don’t get complacent.