The Christian Science Monitor has an article out this week by Patrik Jonsson discussing how “Conversions to Judaism among African-Americans are growing in a way that could affect the presidential election.”

Jonsson writes of a “black conversion movement,” portrayed as a recent trend of African-Americans becoming Jews by choice that reflects a particular moment in Black-Jewish relations. Of course, the author refers to his subjects as “converts,” but we’ll leave that aside for now.

Way to go, buddy: Jonsson figured out that not all Jews are white. The only thing is, I’m not sure he did, actually, figure that out.

When interviewee Elisheva Chaim reports strange looks about being Jewish, Jonsson naturalizes those reactions. Of course it’s weird that a black person would be Jewish! Everybody knows Jews are white. And, as a corollary, an African-American walking into a synagogue is an anomaly, a convert, and probably the only person of color there.

Well, that’s the thing – everybody may know Jews are white, but many Jews aren’t white. I don’t have to tell the JVoices readership that – this blog has covered the particular issues faced by Jews of color more than most of the Jewish press and blogosphere.

First off, and this has been well documented in print and online, even those American Jews who live with white privilege on a regular basis and don’t feel like they are passing for white are only able to do so as a function of the time (and often class) in which they (ok, honestly, we) live. These days, light-skinned, accent-free, usually-Ashkenazi Jews are grouped in with “white” on a regular basis, but that’s more a function of the changing boundaries of whiteness in the United States, which in the 21st century seems to have room for a number of groups previously excluded – Irish folks, Eastern Europeans, Southern European – if they are sufficiently assimilated linguistically and culturally.

Secondly, the CSM article makes it sound like African-American Jews have joined a community where they are the only brown faces. In doing so, it perpetuates a widely-held, but incorrect assumption, that the American Jewish Community, if there is such a thing, is white.

In doing so, they erase the histories and present-day lives of Jews who don’t identify as white and, probably more importantly, of Jews who others don’t identify as white. These include Jews from long-standing communities around the world – Ethiopian Jews, Ugandan Jews (subject of a recent piece in the LA Times), Indian Jews, and Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, to name a few.

Jonsson hints at a history of Jews with one non-Jewish parent of color, though he ignores the growing numbers of Jews born into non-Jewish communities of color – some in the U.S., more in Latin America and Southeast Asia, and some adopted into U.S. Jewish families. (Full disclosure: my synagogue was the subject of a NY Times article on this “phenomenon.”)

Reading this, I realize it sounds like a hatchet job. In all fairness to Jonsson, he’s obviously trying to find an angle (the Obama candidacy) through which to point out to his readers the existence of Jews of color, something he may have just found out about for himself – who knows?

But his argument contradicts itself. He attempts to use as evidence – for this recent phenomenon of African American Jews – a statement by Lewis Gordon, of the Center for Afro-Jewish Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia that “there are as many as 1 million Blacks with Jewish blood in the US.” This is hardly evidence for a brand new trend.

I for one wish he had used it as a jumping-off point for a more complex analysis of, say, the way Jewish communities that think of themselves as white treat Jews of color, or the ways in which the whitening of American Jews in both the public perception, and many communities’ identities, has affected the ability and desire of Jews to fight racism in the US.