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Off White


Jessica Krug built a career as an academic historian around a phony narrative that she grew up as something other than a white kid — or more precisely a white Jewish kid — in suburban Kansas City. She got caught, apparently by a junior scholar, and then posted what reads like a hastily composed confession on Medium:

To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.

[BTW this Medium post features the only non-ironic and/or non-satiric use of the phrase “cancel culture” that I’ve encountered in the wild.]

Krug’s latest performance of academic blackface had a distinctly Latina flavor, including the cringy detail that she referred to herself as “Jessica [Jessa] Bombalera”:

Krug went by the name Jessica La Bombalera in activist circles and could be seen speaking in a New York City public hearing on police brutality in June.

“I’m Jessa Bombalera. I’m here in El Barrio, East Harlem – you probably have heard about it because you sold my fucking neighborhood to developers and gentrifiers,” she begins as she introduces herself. A few moments later, she adds: “I wanna call out all these white New Yorkers who waited four hours with us to be able to speak and then did not yield their time for Black and Brown indigenous New Yorkers.”

Where are the Gypsy Kings when you really need them?

This seems like it could be a fascinating story on a number of levels, including:

*What Zizek has called or more likely will soon call “the politics of cosmetic self-presentation.” Compare and contrast these two photos from Krug’s faculty page at GW, from 2014 and 2017 respectively.

*The problematic relationship of Jewishness to whiteness in American culture. Jewishness is one of the many social identities in America that could be labeled “off white” — that is, a kind of partial or imperfect or liminal whiteness, that is both inside and outside the category (Not coincidentally, “Latina” is another identity that often falls somewhere towards the middle of the off white spectrum). ETA: Note that I simply assumed “Jewish” in this context meant “of Ashkenazi heritage.” Obviously there are unambiguously non-white Jews in America and elsewhere.

*The long history of white people in America passing as people of color for fun and profit. (Erik wrote about this recently in his graveyard series, in an essay about William Dietz a white man who pretended to be an Indian, and ended up coaching the Washington Ethnic Slurs. Check it out if you haven’t already).

*The political economy of getting hired onto the tenure track in a humanities department at an R-I university in the early 21st century. (I more than suspect that a lot of similar shenanigans have gone on in recent years at a lot of places).

*The complexities involved in questioning the purported social identities of people who may be faking those identities for nefarious reasons.


UPDATE: This statement appears to have been adopted unanimously by the GW History Department faculty:

September 04, 2020

The members of the faculty of The George Washington University Department of History are shocked and appalled by Dr. Jessica Krug’s admission on September 3, 2020 that she has lied about her identity for her entire career. With what she has termed her “audaciously deceptive” appropriation of an Afro-Caribbean identity, she has betrayed the trust of countless current and former students, fellow scholars of Africana Studies, colleagues in our department and throughout the historical discipline, as well as community activists in New York City and beyond. The discipline of history is concerned with truth telling about the past. With her conduct, Dr. Krug has raised questions about the veracity of her own research and teaching. Accordingly, the department calls upon Dr. Krug to resign from her position as associate professor of History at GW. Failing that, the department recommends the rescinding of her tenure and the termination of her appointment.

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