There is a difference between unsafe and uncomfortable. Humans are most comfortable among like-minded humans. Social media has been built with algorithms to ensure we are surrounded by familiar opinions and we have options to dismiss perspectives we don’t wish to hear. Minneapolis was built so a white person never has to see a non-white person if they don’t want to. Interstates were purposefully built to segregate neighborhoods. Ninety-four percent of the Minneapolis Police Department doesn’t live in the cities they patrol. Jews too are uncomfortable with our own hidden racism.
When Ethiopian Jews made Aliyah to Israel. they were told they had to be re-circumcised and go through a conversion ritual. By 1985, many Ethiopian Jews opposed this. There has been much discrimination against Ethiopian Jews – politically, socially and economically. They are less likely to hold a degree, they are less likely to hold a higher-income job.
Judaism used to march alongside of African Americans during Martin Luther King, with the Holocaust fresh on our minds, we were strong advocates of ending segregation in the U.S. Many African Americans were shocked at how Jews were treated in Europe and many Holocaust survivors were amazed by segregation upon arriving in the U.S. Yet, as time passed by and Jews became more “accepted”, we have forgotten our otherness. We have forgotten that we too had to do illegal things to survive during the Holocaust.
What do you expect African-Americans to do when they have tried peacefully protesting, bowing on their knee? When they are dying in larger margins in a pandemic that is disproportionally affecting their community? When just leaving their house or an encounter with law enforcement can cause their death? There are hundreds of videos of people calling the police on African-Americans for simply walking in their neighborhood, for simply existing. It wasn’t that long ago that Jews were wearing a star to mark us as others. How have we forgotten our past?
We educate people to talk about the Holocaust, encourage them to face their biases but where are we in our own biases against African Americans in our own community? I watched a large Jewish Facebook group I am in ban any discussion of the current protests happening in my backyard because of inciting people.
Releasing statements isn’t enough. What are we doing to face our own discrimination among our own people? I’ve seen discrimination in Hasidic books when describing African-Americans, and when people comment about how “illegal” the protests are. It was illegal to save a Jew during the Holocaust, it was illegal for us to be alive. How can you not see their fate is the same as ours was? They are being shot by people meant to protect them, interstates are built so white people don’t have to see “other.”
When do we wake up and see that we, too, are part of the problem? We have to have these conversations, online and in-person, within our communities. It is uncomfortable but that is what facing our biases is about. We are comfortable in our white privilege and yes, we do face unique prejudices but those of us are white don’t have to worry about being shot at by the police for simply being a different race. At one point, we used to walk side by side in hands and crying out for their rights, now we sit by and comment on how horrifying their actions are.
How can we promote the Holocaust yet turn our back on our own people? How can we not see that we have racism within our own community? We can’t have safe places; we have to talk about this. We have to say something. We have to do something. What are we saying if we ignore African-Americans in our community?
We need to start the conversations – online, in person, and they will be uncomfortable and hard. They will challenge our views but it is the only way to dismantle systematic racism. If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.