I believe it was when a Facebook post minimized the racial aspects of the unprovoked beating of an Ethiopian IDF soldier by saying that those going to the Temple Mount also are harassed. Or possibly the shift happened when someone suggested the Ethiopian protest in Jerusalem was staged to coincide with the unrest in Baltimore. More likely, it was the suggestion that the Jerusalem demonstrators should “go back home” (despite being Israeli citizens) if they didn’t like how they were being treated. For sure, it was already a fait accompli by the time I heard the Ethiopian demonstration referred to as an “intifada”. My switch had flipped from rational observer to full-on angry Black woman.
Of course, the powderkeg had been stocked with the Facebook comments I had heard about the riots in Baltimore. These ranged from the naive “well, violence never solves anything” to the hardcore “well, what can you expect from those people, anyway?!” While some of these thoughts came from public groups where I interact with idiots whom I would otherwise cross the street to avoid in real life, all too many came from people I consider to be friends.
I think it’s important to separate the events in Baltimore into two parts. You can dislike the destruction of property and endangerment of lives without losing sight of the circumstances that brought the rioting and looting about. Black people are just as capable of using social media as the rest of the populace, and it is not going unnoticed that when non-Black folk talk about Baltimore, the order of concern seems to be: priority number one, stomp the rioters; priority number two, look at all the property damage; priority number three, why do you all have to be so angry; priority number four, if that even gets a mention, hey, sorry about the endemic police harassment and poverty.
The problem of perspective is just as bad here in Israel. Someone complained about the Jerusalem protest because her kids were stuck on a bus for two hours. You know what, sometimes you need to balance your short term inconvenience against the long term pain that the Ethiopian community is experiencing. If a member of my community was lying in a hospital bed having been beaten by the police, I imagine that your distress at a bus delay (particularly in Israel, where a two hour delay could very well be just a part of the commute) would be the least of my worries.
I try to be optimistic. Most people are not trying to be racist. That does not mean that people cannot be biased. Most of the comments I’ve come across are in the form of microaggression, defined by Columbia University professor Derald Wing Sue as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” Wait, I know what you’re thinking. Because it’s actually a form of microagression – ‘If challenged by the minority person or an observer, perpetrators will often defend their microaggression as a misunderstanding, a joke, or something small that shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.’
Was I right?
How can we handle events like the unrest in Baltimore and Jerusalem with sensitivity and compassion? Well, the first question is do you honestly want to? When you see imagery of looting following news of someone Black getting shot or beaten (again), is your first thought “that figures’, while shaking your head about property damage? Do you make jokes about which store you want looted in your memory? All of these responses reinforce the impression that the problems facing Black America and Black Israel only matter to you when there is a financial impact. If people cry out and no one listens, eventually something is going to give.
If you care about the discrimination that is a daily reality for people of color, then you need to listen. Tell your local authorities that you care about people who don’t look like you. Go out in the streets in solidarity with your Black neighbors. Get out of your comfort zone and actually listen when someone tells you they feel offended about something you’ve said, even if you didn’t mean to be hurtful. Go out of your way to befriend people that don’t look like you, sound like you, or think like you. But above all, make us feel like we’ve been heard.