As a community, we must work harder to understand racism

A protester raises her hands as police start to arrest demonstrators refusing to get off the streets during an imposed curfew while marching in a solidarity rally calling for justice over the death of George Floyd, on June 2, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E via Jewish News)
A protester raises her hands as police start to arrest demonstrators refusing to get off the streets during an imposed curfew while marching in a solidarity rally calling for justice over the death of George Floyd, on June 2, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E via Jewish News)

The death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests across the world have thrown up more questions than answers.

How could this happen again? Why is this still happening? What can be done? How can I lend my voice? Is my voice wanted?

It feels jarring to be so certain that something is wrong but so uncertain about what the right thing to do is.

What can those of us in the Jewish community, who are not Black, do to be allies to Black Jews and the wider Black community? We can start by standing up and being counted. We must listen and learn as we asked others to listen and learn about our experiences. This starts with learning about Black history and culture – of Black Jews, of Black Britons, and Black people globally. We know how history carries through to today and anti-Black racism, like anti-Jewish racism, can manifest itself politically, socially, and systematically. We have a duty to call it out when we see it but in order to do that, we must first be able to identify it.

When it comes to racism, Jews are anything but oblivious. Indeed, we have spent the last three years campaigning against institutional antisemitism in the Labour party. Racism we argued was not about one community, but about humanity. Hate is hate. It is why the protests against anti-Black racism are felt so deeply by the Jewish community or anyone who has suffered prejudice and racism.

Perhaps part of the reason I have not known how to channel my sadness and anger is because I do not know enough – and I am acutely aware this is not about me.

Except it is; it is about all of us.

As a Jew, I feel adequately equipped to fight anti-Jewish racism because I understand the nuances as I live and breathe them.

I do not know what it feels like to be discriminated against for being Black. Experiencing and fighting racism is exhausting and having to explain it to people who don’t understand it can feel like a losing battle.

It is our duty to educate ourselves, to question our own assumptions and to challenge our own ignorance on issues we do not have sufficient experience or understanding of.

One of the things we achieved in our campaigning against antisemitism was raising public awareness about the ills of anti-Jewish racism.

We spoke to people, we produced videos, published countless articles and we begged people to listen because we felt it was an existential threat.

The nuances – and there are many – were and are difficult to grapple with if you are not Jewish. Lived experience is not a concept to be mocked. It is indisputable.

Our community has at times felt beleaguered and ignored – Jews are perceived to be privileged, which is why racism against us often punches up.

We are hated for our alleged power but at the same time looked down upon as inferior.

This is but one example of how racism defies logic.

When allies raised their head above the parapet, this brought us much needed comfort.

I worry that hash tag activism – though empowering the powerless – is the equivalent of shouting in the wind, sapping energy from creating real change.

There is however, no doubt that creating noise moves people to a cause they were previously ignorant to.

There comes a time to stand up and seize the moment, not because it is the popular thing to do but because it is the right thing to do.

That moment is long overdue so now we must act.

It is our duty as a people who have suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of unchecked racism to be allies to the Black community.

We start by working harder to understand and promising to stand up and be counted.

 

About the Author
Claudia is the Jewish Leadership Council's director of policy & public affairs
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