Tablet magazine recently published “Black Jewish Congregations Get Their Own Prayer Book, After Nearly a Century,” a piece about an African American community in New York who self-identify as Jews, but whose religious identity is not rooted in Jewish law, or halacha.

“Prayers in ebonics I guess” wrote one guy on my friend’s Facebook wall. Most tellingly, Black and mixed-race Jews of unquestionable Jewish provenance came out of the woodwork to lambast the Tablet piece, arguing that the featured people are fraudulent and do not represent REAL BLACK JEWS. The whole situation is tragic because it reveals the precarious position of Black people vis-à-vis mainstream Jewry.

News articles on Black communities who profess mythical Jewish origins act like catnip for closeted Jewish bigots who relish an opportunity to express their nasty thoughts about Black people. To “real” Black Jews, I say, stop jockeying for status. Black people rarely win at the politics of respectability. Many years ago at a party in New York, I got pulled into a discussion on the African Hebrew Israelites, a group of Black Americans who decamped for Israel in the 1960s. “Oh, those crazy people,” I quickly quipped. “Actually, they’re pretty nice,” retorted an Ashkenazi guy with serious Boro Park credentials. “They have great vegan restaurants.” My face flushed with embarrassment.

The truth is, prior to that night, I had never met a Hebrew Israelite from the community in Dimona. (I would later discover that after a contentious start, the Hebrew Israelites have acclimated to life in Israel). I was simply parroting what I had heard about a similarly named group who occasionally hold court in Times Square, while preaching their half-baked theories on the racial origins of the Jewish faith. The truth is, as one of the few Black people at a party filled with Ashkenazi Jews, I was jockeying for status. My skin color marked me as different, and I was clutching to my Jewish credentials. I was a “good” Black Jew. I subscribed to normative ideas about Judaism, unlike those militant crazies with a chip on the shoulder.

Most of the Messianic “Jewish” Christians that I meet are White. These people – with their pseudo-Judaic rituals – claim that Jews who don’t accept Jesus have gotten it all wrong, and are living on the wrong side of history. But I have yet to see White Jews display unbridled amounts of social anxiety about this group who may share their phenotype, but not their faith. White Jews can afford to be unbothered. That Black Jews are driven to hysteria anytime pseudo-Judaic Black communities are written about says a lot about race, representation, and Judaism. These fringe communities are not the problem; the problem is that we live in a society that considers Black people to be a monolithic group.

America is the greatest, most prosperous country on Earth. But no one gets to live in this country and enjoy its spoils without absorbing the insidious racism that underpins this nation’s foundation. The Facebook guy who mocked the Harlem community for supposedly praying in Ebonics wasn’t concerned about their halachic status. He was making a disparaging remark about Black people and their cultural quirks. After all, there are many Black American Jews of unquestionable Jewish provenance who code-switch between Standard English and African American Vernacular English.

Mostly everyone, including Black and White Jews, are inconvenienced by pseudo-Judaic Black religious communities. With their wayward ways, and the virtue of their very existence, these fringe groups threaten to expose the sham of racial tolerance that mainstream Jewry promotes, and Black Jews are desperate to buy into. Ultimately, I have realized that it’s not my job to be concerned with how other Black people choose to identify themselves; nor is it my responsibility to inform the ignorant masses that Black people are not a monolithic group.

I have grown to enjoy the subversive nature of the identity that I embody: Sierra Leone-born Jew of Muslim heritage. These days I take great pleasure in ignoring people, who, through their stares and slants, demand that I explain my presence in Jewish spaces. I’m no longer worried about being mistaken for a member of a pseudo-Judaic Black community on the religious fringe. I’m not being paid to care, so I don’t. If y’all want me to care, y’all need to start paying me, cuz a sista got bills. (How’s that for Ebonics?)

People who look like me have existed alongside the Jewish Diaspora for thousands of years. We were there when the Israelites fled Egypt, when the Inquisition reigned supreme in Iberia, and even in Nazi Germany. This is why I find it ridiculous that Black Jews have to jockey for status within the Jewish fold.