I AM WOKE: WHY I AM FINALLY RAISING MY VOICE AGAINST JEWISH ERASURE IN THE ANTI-RACISM MOVEMENT
I am blessed to live in an incredibly happy home. A home where we fry latkes, make jollof rice, and spend a lot of time laughing. I have a multi-racial Jewish family. I am an Ashkenazi Jew. My husband is a Ghanaian American Jew.
I revere those who created a world where we can live in relative peace and stability. We are claiming Loving v. Virginia Day a family holiday. We are still debating how to celebrate, but the past two years I’ve made pancakes. It’s the kind of simple, family pleasure we are so grateful to enjoy, and thankful that past generations fought for.
I am well aware that the movement for equality is not over, and I try to be an active participant. I have witnessed my husband being racially profiled, and it was deeply frightening for us both. I have realized that while we live in the same home, we also live in different countries that have different requirements of our behavior. White privilege meant that trespassing in a park, smoking marijuana, and sneaking into a private swimming pool were youthful indiscretions, good memories of the freer days of my youth. They were potential death traps for my husband. Sharing a home with a black man teaches you more about your white privilege than any book could. It teaches you all the time.
I am a part of the anti-oppression movement and the anti-racism movement. Although we are not always welcomed there as Jews, I do believe that teaching people to recognize racism and other forms of oppression and actively fight them in our daily lives is lifesaving work. I believe we are seeing a wave of hatred and violence against people of color and against Jews like we have not seen in my lifetime. I have always fought anti-Semitism with one group, my fellow Jews, and then stood against the oppression of every other group in the world with the anti-racism crowd. But the schism is starting to wear me out. The hopping back-and-forth on one foot is exhausting.
In the past when civil rights leaders engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric, many Ashkenazi Jews had the luxury of distance. They could support black civil rights and other anti-racism movements but not be of them. They could feel comfortable rallying, donating, and walking away if they felt uncomfortable, and coming back if they felt morally called upon. They could buy Israeli bonds when Louis Farrakhan blamed Jews for slavery. Many in my generation still behave that way, but it’s a luxury my family doesn’t have. Jews of color have never had it.
I have spent my career working for social justice organizations, and currently work in advocacy and organizing. I attended a small liberal arts college where I protested, organized and talked Paulo Freire and Franz Fanon over fair trade coffee. I also had eggs thrown at my dorm room and was told that my entire family deserved to be murdered by terrorists. After school, I saw similar prejudice against my Jewish self when I interacted with the progressive community. I’ll never forget working at a non-profit where the head of the Anti-Oppression and Inclusivity working group proudly told me that in college he had stolen funds from a Jewish organization that sponsored Shabbat dinners and given them to a Palestinian Solidarity organization. This statement came after I declined an offer for happy hour, saying I was heading home to celebrate Shabbat. His message was clear: you are not welcome here if you talk about Jewish religious practice. I had another coworker tell me Palestinian terrorism didn’t count as real terrorism after I mentioned I had spent the weekend celebrating a Jewish holiday. I never once brought up Israel to these colleagues, but Israel was discussed at me, angrily, many times.
I have come to expect anti-Semitism from many progressive movements, but I simply cannot accept it from the anti-racism movement and anti-oppression movement any longer. The stakes are too high, both personally and nationally.
Last week Black Lives Matter re-tweeted an article about a delegation to Israel. It depicted the conflict in Israel as a struggle between white supremacist (Israeli Jews) and an oppressed dark skinned racial group (Palestinians). It hyped BDS and claimed Israeli Jews are white colonialists. It erased any historical connection of Judaism to the holy land. It completely erased Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian Jews, or any other people of color living in Israel, Jewish or not. It declined to interview a single Israeli or a single Jew.
Here was the perfect example of an anti-racism, anti-oppression movement failing to live up to its basic foundational principles. Erasure, of history and culture, is considered completely unacceptable by anti-racist and anti-oppression movements. Failing to consult those who are affected by policy and failure to include historically marginalized and oppressed groups is also a clear wrong.
While members of the anti-racism movement may feel that Jews in America are not targets of violence, (falsely, since the ADL reports assaults on Jews in the United States rose in 2015 and in 2014) Jews around the world, particularly in Europe, are regularly targets of violence. I decided I should push back and join the conversation. So I tweeted:
Naively, I assumed no one would respond. I got a few hundred responses. Here is a small sampling:
@CarlyPildis Your history is filed right next to the history of the germans in poland under “fuck off you genocidal cunts.”
@CarlyPildis @Blklivesmatter you want me to feel bad for white rhodesians too?
@CarlyPildis You can’t be “balanced” when one colonial state is oppressing an ethnic group stfu.
The most amazing thing to me was how quickly members of the movement throw away the rulebook when a Jew dared to speak about an issue that undeniably affects her community and her family. I would never tell a person from a marginalized community how they were allowed to feel about an issue that affected their family or their community’s physical safety. Yet telling a Jew that she was racist for talking about her own community’s issues was considered safe and even virtuous. Israel encompasses our families, our history, our holy places. It is a country filled with refugees who have found safe harbor. We should be approached in conversations about it with sensitivity. If any Black Lives Matter leadership want to go to Israel on a delegation and learn about our community’s various views on the conflict or meet with Jewish leadership, I will certainly work to make that happen.
It’s worth noting one Black Lives Matter staff member and I had a great conversation. It started off with some trepidation on both sides. By the end however, I felt like we had each gained a new understanding of each other. She encouraged me to take agency and write about the issue, and about Israel, Judaism, and the Black Lives Matter movement. So I am.
I am not asking the anti-racism movement to join AIPAC. I am asking that it apply the same values to Jews as it does other marginalized or oppressed groups. I am asking that the movement put a parenthesis around its twitter handles and stand in solidarity with me and my family. I am saying that if the rule of this community is that those with lived experience should be heard the loudest, then hear the Jews among you. If those who have experienced oppression should never be doubted in their experience, then stop saying I am a not a real minority, or that anti-Semitism isn’t real. If anti-oppression work must be intersectional, then that intersectionality can no longer end when the word Jewish is uttered. If communities that are affected by policy must always be consulted and in the forefront of policy discussions, stop telling Jewish Americans we have no right to be included in your conversations about Israel, or that our views on the physical safety of our families are not welcome to be discussed, struggled with or even acknowledged.
The anti-racism movement can no longer talk about Israel around us or at us, but must talk about it with us. If we believe that marginalized people are the experts on their community’s issues, we must include Jews in conversations about Israel. If we are going to fight erasure, please stop erasing Jewish history, our history as an oppressed people, our historic connection to the land of Israel, our history as a minority in America and in the world. Stop erasing Jews who are not white, who are not rich, who are not characters on an episode of Seinfeld. In short, live the values of anti-oppression and anti-racism always, and don’t stop applying those values when my family walks into the room.
My family is black and Jewish. We are affected by violence, disenfranchisement and the overwhelming history of racism towards black men. We are Jews who walk through metal detectors to go to shul, who have had violence threatened against our institutions, who sat with our cousins on Kibbutzim where rockets come closer every year. A truly intersectional movement can no longer ask us to leave our Judaism at the door.
I can’t jump on one foot between the sides of my family I am fighting for anymore. I can’t hear the anti-Semitism and silently seethe, but let it go because I do believe we are facing a wave of anger and violence against people of color not seen in my lifetime. The Jewish people are facing that too, the anger, the violent rhetoric, the Trump supporters demanding Jewish reporters’ heads, the terrified stories from our relatives in Europe, the Shabbos table stories of anger and silence on campus. Joy Karega and Ferguson both demand I stand on two feet. I need those feet for marching, not hopping around. I owe any children we have the chance to stand on two feet, firmly rooted in their heritage. I want to be a part of the fight for my family to be able to live free from police brutality, to vote without facing suppression, to buy Skittles without being murdered, and to do it as a Jew, with a full, vocal Jewish identity. I am woke. I am here. Hineni.