Who’s The Enemy? Why This Black Jew Is Tired

Photo Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Christopher Polk/Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Up until a few weeks ago Rodney Muhammed,  Nick Cannon and Ice Cube hadn’t crossed my mind in years. I’d never heard of DeSean JacksonJay Electronica or Wiley. I also never imagined I’d read an article about a Hassidic man in Brooklyn hitting a Black firefighter with a vehicle as he called him the n-word, while promising “to go to war.” Yet somehow I woke up being responsible for the anti-semitic comments these men posted on their socials and a parking dispute between two men I’d never met.

This Black Jew is tired.

I’ve  woken up nearly every day this month to messages and posts from both Black and Jewish friends and followers not wondering how I was feeling about the divisive nature in which Jewish and Black communities have chosen to communicate past each other, but to questions that covertly asked me to choose what side I wanted to be on: if I agreed with or planned to condemn these statements, if the statements changed my opinion on the Movement for Black Lives, or if I was anti-Black.

I’ve been greatly disappointed with the ignorance displayed by Black and Jewish communities about each other in the subsequent days following these statements. I’m so tired of opening Facebook only to find Black and Jewish people antagonizing one another with anti-semitic and anti-Black rhetoric. The infighting, spiraling miscommunication and ignorance coming out of Black and Jewish communities right now is disgusting and it needs to stop.

Black Jews are being caught in the crossfire, and it hurts. It hurts that some of our peoples are demanding that we choose a side — as if there is a side that can be chosen. Being a Black Jew during July 2020 felt like constantly being accused of being an anti-Semite by white people in Jewish communities or of being anti-Black by Black communities.

Black and Jewish communities include incredibly diverse identities. The single narrative stories we tell about Black people being Christians and Jewish people being white are incomplete. When we rely on these single narrative stories we miss the opportunity to acknowledge the beautiful mosaic of identities that these communities hold.

We can’t continue to create single narrative stories of Black and Jewish peoplehood without inevitably erasing parts of people’s identities. It is important that we acknowledge the intersectionality that exists in the space between Black and Jewish identities.

Anti-Semitism and Anti-Blackness are foundational principles on which white supremacy was built. We can’t fight racism without fighting anti-Semitism. We can’t fight anti-Semitism without fighting racism. These two communities are linked by our shared fate under the institution of white supremacy. Until we are able to embrace this complexity of identity, we will continue to talk past each other, endanger one another and further marginalize people in Black and Jewish communities that hold both identities.

What I’ve noticed in the last few weeks is how often both these communities, to which I belong, talk past one another instead of with each other. It seems as if Jewish and Black communities are acutely unaware of each other’s oppression, struggles and historical traumas.

Once again, I’ve been left walking between these communities in a way that makes me feel like an interloper. I’ve become an enemy of my own peoples.

While there is discomfort in this space, it’s also a place of extreme privilege: I’ve been given a unique opportunity to provide the grey nuance that fills the space between the black and white binary fog we currently find ourselves breathing.

Let’s face it, at some point we all have made inaccurate assumptions and generalizations about people based on limited interaction we’ve had with other members of the affinity group we assume — sometimes incorrectly — they belong to. As a diversity trainer, I believe that addressing our inherent biases, and challenging ourselves to notice and change them, yields opportunities to build relationships across differences. Which in turn, gives us skills to become more culturally competent and helps us learn how to value our similarities and celebrate our differences.

I’ve been warmed by the response from Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots, of call-in DeSean Jackson, rather than calling him out, for these opportunities. I’ve also been enlivened by Jackson’s willingness to challenge his assumptions. I commend and admire Edelman not only for preserving Jackson’s humanity, but also holding him accountable to his responsibility to educate himself, and being willing to be a thought partner with him on his journey to better understanding anti-semitism.

Conversely, the response of some Jewish communities to this episode of flagrant  anti-Semitism, with what I’d like to call Farakhanoia — the conflation of the Black Lives Matter Movement with the Nation of Islam, Black Hebrew Israelites and ignorant anti-semitic comments by Black celebrities — has been overt anti-Black. The silence on anti-semitism from Black communities has resulted in the ignorant sharing of anti-semitic conspiracy theories. These behaviors seem to imply a need for calling-in as well.

It’s time that Black and Jewish communities begin to listen to one another compassionately about our histories, our traumas, and our generational pain. It’s time to listen to the experiences of those who navigate both communities. It’s time for healing.

According to Be’chol Lashon, where I work as the program coordinator and diversity trainer, 20% of American Jews identify as either non-white (Asian, Black, Indigenous, Mixed-race, Latinx), Sephardi (of Iberian origin) or Mizrahi (of Middle Eastern/North African origin). The issues that impact Black, Latinx and Asian communities impact Jewish communities as well.

I understand the very real pain, fear and trauma that these words have caused for many Jews, including myself. This still doesn’t mean that we are relinquished of our moral imperative toward justice. This is not a zero sum game. To quote the late “good troublemaker” John Lewis: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

It is not enough to only understand your own oppression. It’s dangerous and can give us tunnel vision that keeps us from seeing  how the very forces that seek to stifle our voices and steal the lives of our children have stolen countless other voices, countless other lives. Their mother’s grieve their losses with us and often, we don’t see them because we fail to look for them.

My very existence, and the existence of others like me, demands that we take this opportunity to shift the narrative around singular identities. Jewish intersectionality includes Black people. Black intersectionality includes Jewish people.

Our communities have more similarities than differences in the fight against white supremacist oppression. White supremacy is the oppressive knee on the neck of Black and Jewish peoplehood. Allowing white supremacy to persist in any form will continue to result in deaths in Jewish communities and in Black communities; creating double jeopardy for Black Jews who already exist in the space between lynchings and gas chambers. We cannot allow ourselves to accept and perpetuate white supremacist ideologies toward each other.

Black Lives Matter. Jewish lives matter. We are not enemies. It’s time we started acting like it.

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