Talking About Race, Identity & Making Noise with Amani Hayes-Messinger

Thanks to Amani Hayes-Messinger, a thoughtful dialogue is taking root around how people approach conversations about race and identity. In her new video, she says that race itself isn’t taboo, but that far too many people reinforce stereotypes when they ask about identity/identities, instead of opening up a meaningful conversation. She’s young, straightforward, and is absolutely worth watching.

Erica Brody: The American Jewish community is finally beginning to grapple with some of its own assumptions about race and identity. Right now, we see the number of multiracial Jews and Jews of color growing. We see so many Jews of all stripes voicing support for #BlackLivesMatter. And we see groups like the Jewish Multiracial Network building momentum and changing conversations. What do you think the most important thing people can do/think/read/question to create a more diverse, inclusive Jewish community?

Amani Hayes-Messinger: The most important thing people can do to create a more diverse, inclusive Jewish community, and to support black lives, is simply to make noise. In a recent email to many of my white, Jewish family members I highlighted the same task. The email went on to say the following: We must make noise and not stop until everyone is saddened and disgusted into action by the current state of our justice system, until America is in agreement that Black Lives Matter. To not put these conversations on the table, to not make them your primary concern, is to perpetuate the problem. If you do not voice what is happening, and the historical roots that have enabled what’s happening now, how will others know to ask? I use the term “make noise” widely. People must engage — do, think, read, and question as much as you can.

If our vision is that it be known that #BlackLivesMatter and that the Jewish community fully embrace racial diversity, we must also remember that these conversations cannot be kept within our inner circles. We must bring them with us everywhere we go. My commitment to conversations about race, identity, Judaism, and their intersections helped to prompt a group of students, including myself, and the rabbi of the Brown-Rhode Island School of Design Hillel to form the Hillel Initiative of Racial Awareness and Justice on Brown’s campus this semester. This group is responsible for opening conversations within Hillel and hopefully furthering dialogue across campus. Additionally, the group prompted the formation of the school’s first Jews of Color group.

When you make noise, things happen, people notice, conversations go further. Don’t stay silent.

Erica Brody: You’re clearly a change maker. Many of ZEEK’s readers are familiar with your grandmother Ruth Messinger and her work for social change. If and how does a family legacy of activism inform your own activism?

Amani Hayes-Messinger: I come from a nuclear and extended family where activism — in politics, education, or elsewhere — has always been expected as a part of daily life. Because of that, there are a lot of activists in my family, my grandmother included. Everyone is passionate about different things, so our activism manifests differently, but I’ve always been surrounded by people eager to make change. In terms of family legacy, I think the way I was raised to absorb and question the world around me — with the constant question “What can I do?” — certainly informed my own activism.

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