The Story Behind My Viral TikTok Video
My response to American Jews disassociating themselves from their whiteness struck a chord.
Last month, I recorded a 1-minute video on TikTok, the social media platform popular with Generation Z that I’ve been using since September. Wearing a durag and sitting on my bed in Oakland, I shared some thoughts about “Jewish conditional whiteness” from my perspective as a Black Jew. I didn’t think it would get more than a few hundred views. But in the last few days, the video has gone viral, with more than 17,000 views and 300 comments on TikTok, and more than 10,000 views on other platforms.
@shekhiynah##jewidh ##racism ##antisemitism ##jewsofcolor ##bipoc♬ original sound – Biynah Shekhiynah La
I was inspired to record the video in response to statements I had seen on social media in which some white and white-passing American Jews were disassociating themselves from their whiteness. (Someone who is “white-passing” may not identify as white, but they are perceived to be so by others.) While I believe that is a valid choice, I felt there was some nuance missing from the conversation with respect to what race means in America. For example, I believe that being able to choose to not identify with a race reflects a great deal of privilege. I also wanted to point out that while white and white-passing Jews do experience oppression for being Jewish, they are also capable of perpetuating the oppression of other people, especially ethnically and racially diverse Jews.
I wanted to ask white and white-passing Jews to take a personal inventory of the ways they may utilize parts of their privileged identity to knowingly or unknowingly cause pain to Jews of color like me. In my work at Be’chol Lashon, I’ve found that this is a continual process. No one is perfect, and we all have to make an effort to strive to be kind, understanding, curious, and respectful of our differences, myself included.
The video struck a chord with many, many people—not necessarily because I said anything new, but because I led with compassion and understanding. The response on TikTok was overwhelmingly supportive, with commenters writing that they will strive to do better and making commitments to racial justice work. These responses were heartening to me because I believe that if we really want to eliminate systems of oppression, it has to be a collective effort. Without white and white-passing people cooperating with people of color to end racism, it won’t end.
Moving forward, I plan to continue to make videos that expand the conversation around race and identity in the Jewish community, especially in regards to Black Jews and Black-Jewish relations. I will also continue to highlight other diverse Jewish TikTok creators who are sharing powerful messages—including Rabbi Sandra Lawson, Matthew Nouriel aka the Empress, Y-Love, and Levi Maxwell—and to collaborate with members of the group account @tiktokcabal, founded by Rachel Sj.
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Shekhiynah Larks is the program coordinator and a diversity trainer at Be’chol Lashon. She holds a BA in politics from the University of San Francisco. She is a native of Oakland and is very involved in Jewish life in the Bay Area.