So being a white Jew in the racial justice space is hard and confusing and even painful. I have felt this way for a while but I haven’t been able to put my finger on what is going on. I wrote a blog for Gather the Jews three months ago exploring this and had no answers. But now I’m back.
This past weekend I was fortunate to attend the Facing Race conference with Repair the World which is an organization mobilizing young Jews to give back to their community. I did a lot of listening, exploring, feeling frustrated and saddened, and ultimately leaving empowered and inspired. Here are some observations and reflections I have formulated as a white Jew while operating in the racial justice space:
1. When we think about multiracial, multiethnic racial justice coalitions, many of us with white skin include ourselves. But others might not. Sometimes minority groups don’t want to build coalitions with white people. That is tough because many whites have dedicated their lives to racial justice work. Many whites have died fighting this fight. But we need to face the reality that many don’t want a white voice in these conversations.
2. The racial justice movement includes all minority groups, except Jews. Anti-Semitism is not part of the movement, despite its rise in Europe and America. It was difficult not to hear anything at the Facing Race conference about standing with Jews during this challenging time. Nothing. It was glaring. While we think our Jew “we-were-oppressed-too” card is our entry into the movement, in reality, it’s our exit ticket.
That’s painful because many of us have committed ourselves to racial justice and have in fact seen ourselves within this movement. And during a time when swastikas are showing up in Jewish spaces, and Jews are feeling increasingly less safe on college campuses and walking out of synagogues, it’s important for those fighting for justice to stand with us. But it feels like many of our peers in this fight aren’t standing with us. That sucks and it hurts.
But, my white Jewish friends, despite all of that, we need to stand tall and continue to work, and actually DOUBLE DOWN on our racial justice efforts because the need is great. Here are my thoughts on how I want to move forward and maybe some of these will resonate with you:
- Acknowledge our white privilege (e.g., all the advantages we get because we look like mainstream white America), but also work to reject our sense of superiority as whites (e.g., the myth of whiteness). It feels challenging to do that because it’s as if we are both accepting and rejecting our whiteness. For now, I’m just holding both concepts in my consciousness.
- Find our voice and don’t apologize for being born with white skin. We should be aware of white fragility (e.g., the tendency for white people to freak out when we hear things that make us uncomfortable) but we should always have a thoughtful voice in this fight. Being awkward and self-conscious all the time is inhibiting our ability to do good work.
- Fight against white supremacy and structural racism on two fronts. We need to do our voting rights, affordable housing, educational equity work, etc. But we also need to work every day to root out our own racial biases and reprogram our brain. Because our default brain is racist.
- Forge partnerships with people of color and center their voice in the conversation in ways that uplift their voice but don’t burden them.
- Call each other in. It’s not the responsibility of people of color to tell us when we are being racist. We need to learn to call each other in, and in loving ways.
- Stop trying to be down with black and brown people. It’s not about fist-pumping to show how cool we are. Be down for the CAUSE, do substantive change work, and we will be respected as peers in this fight.
- Draw on our historical narrative and experience of being oppressed. Many of us are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and we can use that painful history to fuel our work in promoting peace and understanding.
- When the going gets tough, talk to each other and engage in self-care. Dig into our Jewish roots which has rituals to rejuvenate, connect, and heal us.
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