Which Lives Matter Most?

DeSean Jackson, Courtesy of The Times of Israel

In the midst of all the animosity, violence, and global pandemic that plagues us, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts and angst for our future. I do the one thing that every doctor and therapist would advise against: Spiral down the rabbit hole of social media. While perusing Facebook, I landed on a Jewish friend’s post, pleading with people to stand against all forms of racism and intolerance or none at all. A black friend responded that while Anti-Semitism is problematic, racism and Anti-Semitism are not the same thing, and that fighting Anti-Semitism should not come at the expense of blacks.

“Don’t All Lives Matter?”

I hear people repeat this sentiment again and again, often in ignorant bewilderment, but most times with earnest indignation.

I want to scream, “you’re missing the point,” but then DeSean Jackson goes and spews his hate and makes it so hard to explain what seems simple, but is highly nuanced territory.

Jackson is the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver who posted several apparently fake Hitler quotes drawing backlash and resulting in an apology. After Jackson explained that his statement was misinterpreted, he posted another statement quoting Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, who has been identified as a known Anti-Semite by both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti Defamation League. In his apology, Jackson explained that his “intention was to uplift, unite and encourage our culture with positivity and light.” It is truly baffling how quoting Hitler and Farrakhan, and spreading hatred, in general, is meant to uplift.

As a result of his Anti-Semitic outbursts, the following statement began circulating on social media:

It’s telling how no-non-Jewish activists are posting about DeSean Jackson’s anti-Semitic behavior (he quoted Hitler to show that he believes that Jews are inferior). 

The voices that are silent right now are the same voices that are normally so loud when it’s time to condemn racism.

And the only time these people are vocal about the Holocaust is when they use Jewish trauma as a basis of comparison for other marginalized people’s issues.

They use our intergenerational trauma as a tool for their own politics. And often, they minimize the Holocaust when they do.

Either you condemn all racism, or you do not condemn it at all. You cannot pick and choose which marginalized groups to support; that picking and choosing always leaves the Jews out.

Your silence is much louder than DeSean’s words. Include Jews in your activism. Otherwise, it’s not activism.

Asking whether all lives matter misses the point. Supporting “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that only black lives matter, or that no other lives matter. It simply focuses on once and for all eradicating the hideous, cruel, and very real issue of systemic racism in the United States.

By the same token it is fair to point out that when all people (not specifically blacks, Jews, or any other group) fail to speak out against all forms of hatred, we fail as a society.

The idea that standing against all forms of hatred and intolerance comes at the expense of Black Lives Matter is problematic. I am not suggesting, nor do I think it is helpful to include other causes in this movement; that surely would dilute the message and prevent progress. But not standing up to other forms of hate as they arise and speaking out, is dangerous. To be clear: I am not suggesting grouping Anti-Semitism into the Black Lives Matter cause. I am simply asking that people of all religions, races, and backgrounds unite and stand together when they witness displays of hatred.

Stating that all lives matter in answer to “Black Lives Matter,” dilutes the cause because it is meant to deflect attention, marginalize the real issue of systemic racism, and makes a mockery of an opportunity to finally make a long-overdue change in this country. But when Anti-Semitism is on the rise and blatantly publicly echoed, asking that we all stand together when we encounter it, only strengthens us all.

The Anti Defamation League defines racism as “the belief that a particular race is superior or inferior to another, that a person’s social and moral traits are predetermined by his or her inborn biological characteristics. Racial separatism is the belief, most of the time based on racism, that different races should remain segregated and apart from one another.”

The Anti Defamation League defines Anti-Semitism as “the belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish. It may take the form of religious teachings that proclaim the inferiority of Jews, for instance, or political efforts to isolate, oppress or otherwise injure them. It may also include prejudiced or stereotyped views about Jews.”

Do we, as a society, really want to get into a semantics pissing contest, which begs the ridiculous question, which lives matter most? Isn’t there a bigger issue at hand?

Pastor Martin Niemoller was a Nazi sympathizer until he met with Hitler in 1934. He is best remembered for his quote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

Immediately following the DeSean Jackson controversy, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman invited Jackson to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Jackson accepted and the two plan to educate, grow, and share together. Jackson also accepted the invitation of Edward Mosberg, a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor to speak with him. Mosberg often wears his Auschwitz prisoner uniform in his public appearances

Fighting Anti-Semitism should not come at the expense of fighting racism, and fighting racism should not come at the expense of fighting Anti-Semitism. We should not look to hijack each other’s causes; we should look for the opportunities to bolster each other and speak out against hatred every single time it rears its ugly head. This does not dilute our causes. It shows that we just won’t tolerate hatred anymore.

About the Author
Erris is an attorney, wife and mom. She is a blogger for Times of Israel, and her articles have been featured in various publications including Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, Town & Country, Elle Decor, Country Living, Woman's Day, Redbook, Esquire, Yahoo News, Beyond Your Blog, YourTango, The Jewish Chronicle, Algemeiner, SheSavvy, Kveller, Parent Co, The Mighty, Grown and Flown, Mogul, Beliefnet, All4Women, the Journal of Educational Gerontology, Her View From Home and The Good Men Project. Please follow the links to her social media accounts.
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