I will never, say, that I understand what someone of colour experiences. Similarly, only a muppet will make my “white privilege” crucial to my “place” in life. If I have any privilege it will be because I, like Arabs, Asians and unfortunately, anyone not born black, am usually not subject to the arbitrary prejudice experienced by people of colour. I know, impeccably dressed friends of mine who experienced stop and search in Central London simply because their skin colour was black. I cannot imagine the hurt that creates. I have not, to my knowledge, gone to view a room to rent and been informed, once the door opened, that the room was gone. But I know from a black friend, who spoke with beautiful diction and was greeted with enthusiasm, when he telephoned, that the room was taken as soon as the homeowner opened the door and saw the colour of his skin. And it happened too often to be a coincidence. So, saying I sympathise would just be insulting and, wholly meaningless. If I had black skin, I would be four times more likely to be sent to prison for the exact same infraction of the law as someone who is anything but Black skinned.
But here in Britain today, if I am white and poor, I am likely to be at the very bottom of the education ladder when I leave school. And that will have an impact on the rest of my life and the lives of future generations of my family.
For some of us, persecution or even the memes of our upbringing can create a genetic imprint that scars us. Historical memory, what we read and even what garbage we view on our screens will impact our attitude towards Society.
A few years after I arrived in the UK I wrote to the BBC to complain about the stereotyping of Black people because all the programmes that had bad people in them inevitably had a person of colour committing the crime. But here in Europe we love to show bad Jews too, and keep any good Jew stories firmly hidden away. And when I complained about that I was honestly informed that Jews sold news, but no one was interested in good news stories (particularly when it came to hearing or seeing news items on Jews).
So, Jews and Black people sell. It may be less politically correct just now to laugh at or denigrate people of colour so perhaps all that negative attention will focus more on us. We have already seen a resurgence in prejudice that purports to take aim at “our white privilege”.
In my previous comments on Black Lives Matter I referred to society being unable to evolve. If we cater to society’s lowest expectations, we can all look forward to a bleak future. Television is all about profits margins and only a fool ignores the reality that political prejudice sells. As does Reality TV and what can be best described as “Shock and Awe.” If TV pounds us relentlessly with a constant flow of nonsense and lies, then our perceptions are dulled to the point of numbing. Our malleability is assured. And schools, all the way from nursery up to and including post graduate courses at university no longer teach to enlighten and expand the perimeters of our knowledge and experience. It is all about hauling in the punters to pay lots of money to receive a second-rate education online so that the lecturer does not have to interact, too much, with said consumer.
On any occasion that I complained to the BBC I was either given the run around, dismissed without any consideration, or subjected to a painfully long process that would always find some loophole to justify prejudice.
We cannot solve anything if life is reduced to fashion statements, either of a political or other means.
There are many people and groups out there who believe we must exploit “our white privilege” to assist our African American brothers and sisters in their battle against oppression but, it is the idea that we own this white privilege that has been used by our enemies to damn us and to marginalise our voice, our narrative and our freedoms. And if it is not about “me”, right now, then as Hillel asks, when? “If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14) If action is required, that sentence adds more than urgency to the task. There is also self-reflection and the demand that we confront evil. All evil.
My by-line has always been: “Tolerance cannot be measured in terms of degrees of intolerance. I am essentially opposed to burning books even when they incite others to violence. But freedom is either an absolute or it is conditioned on not inciting others to violence. Anything else is rationalized bigotry.”
Equality is also an absolute, even when it is theoretical.
Since these riots began it has been pointed out that to the Radical Right, we Jews will never be “White”. But to radical racists on the Left and to militant Muslims groups (who exploit every cause in order to both dominate and to control the narrative) we are all white skinned even when we, Jews, are people of colour or black skinned.
That is assault. It is a form of cultural ethnic cleansing while exploitation is a tool of imperialism and colonialism.
This label of racial “Whiteness” is something that I cannot accept. There are far too many cases in history of revolutionaries consuming with glee and exquisite malice, their atypical supporters, once that is, they have achieved their aims. We must fight injustice as if there is no bigotry on our side of the conflict, but also, we must fight bigotry as if there is no conflict. (With apologies to David Ben Gurion). The “alliance” between Jews and Black people must be renewed and that can only happen if we marginalise the racists and the propagators of hate trying to use us once again as scapegoats. If we listen, it is too easy to hear their prejudice, and ignore it. We must never ignore it and never give a bigot the chance to walk back, something they should never have said in the first place.
But we also need to re-educate our own community who too often have fallen prey to casual superstition and racism. We must reach out to show we care.
Reading James Baldwin, I learned that many African Americans wanted to assimilate and were jealous of “us” because some of “us” could, if we wished to, assimilate completely, and not only, to integrate into the whole. To disappear, become Joe Public, with no identity other than what Football Team I support and which soap opera I love or loathe.
Some Jews enjoy privilege as “White” people because they may be part of the 30% of Jews in Israel who may pass themselves off as “White” and maybe 50% of American Jews who similarly are able to pass themselves off as “White.” Privilege exists but it is not universal and when someone declares it to be universal it is because they want to demonise the whole.
That is bigotry and that is race hate.
Our experiences are not and can never be the same but there are plenty of Jews in America (and not just in America) who do experience prejudice and violence and a restriction on the their rights, in spite of what the Constitution may say. Therefore, to blanket us all as having “white privilege” is wrong. What happened in LA during the latest riots was a pogrom and the “only” thing missing was a massacre. Five Jewish places of worship and many more Jewish cultural institutions were deliberately targeted and damaged in this latest rioting, in Los Angeles alone. This is proof, if it were needed, that our “White Privilege” is a smokescreen for those people who are only interested in harming us. Labels are the first step: Identify, isolate then neutralise. This is what Communism did when it labelled all Jews, “Cosmopolitans.” And it is what the Nazis did to Jews. They needed no label to disguise their intent although it is a label, if needed that is used to disguise that intent.
I will not walk in a BLM demo when some anti-Semitic fascist (of Left or Right) is carrying a Palestinian flag – cos that is not meant to support BLM – it is meant to hurt me. If, we are all “in it” together then that must include our narrative and our history as well, not just some bigots selectively prejudiced narrative.
Anyone who supports the Imam Louis Farrakhan supports killing Jews. Now, microaggressions are applied to only a very select group of people who seem to have cart blanche in what they say and to whom they say it. Therefore, I will not enter into a debate about what he has said and whether my interpretation of any offence he has caused is somehow unimportant now, as if I, as someone of Jewish religious faith, have no opinion of any importance. Since this latest tragedy began, I have read and seen a lot of ugliness and bigotry expressed against us as a “race” and us as a religion and us as a nation. So much of it was based on lies and fake news. It is for that reason that memes proclaiming my “white privilege” frighten me. And if you are an anti-racist, they should frighten you too. They are not meant to solve anything. They are a label, like a yellow star.
Our strategy must be to reject all labels that deny the essential equality of all of us. The label of “White privilege” is a weapon that is essential to denying us equality.
We must take sides; of that we all agree. But how? Not by rioting and not by supporting an organisation that advocates for our destruction. I don’t care if it is only a handful of lines in a forty-page founding document. BLM is not our friend. Its leadership has too easily been infiltrated by racists and religious bigots.
Elie Wiesel said the following: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
― Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident
Then the question is how?
Protest without change is meaningless except that it lances a boil until the next painful one erupts. To change the current situation there is more than one aim here. First, to stop the killing. But that is only a symptom of the wider contagion. Second is to end division.
Division is the most severe of all the problems. Identity politics is defined as inhering a permanent and inseparable socio-political alliance to further an exclusive agenda for a narrow-based collective. This runs counter to the modern political process which is based around the concept of inclusion. Democracy is meant to open the possibility of inclusion to everyone, irrespective of colour. Not everyone will want to join “the club” but everyone should be able to. In our post-Modern world democracy is not working to achieve positive goals for everyone who wants “in.”
We must ask why? And without the political posturing and identity politics that seeks to push to the front, personal or group grievances over principles.
It was put to me that ‘“White” voices mean us Jewish folks who present as white and enjoy white privilege even if we don’t identify as “White.”’ OK. Then how do we effect permanent and meaningful change that is not just about us but is also about us all?
The National Congress of American Indians wrote, on the 16th June 2020 that “America’s greatness has always risen and fallen on the degree to which this nation embraces its incredible diversity and provides equal footing to all Americans to seize opportunities, enabling them to realize their full potential.”
How is this to be finally, honestly achieved without the painful sacrifices that create rancour across society? The only way ahead is for a public, apolitical, open ended discussion across all possible forums including parliament and television. Censor it, to keep out the bigots whose seeking of publicity is meant only to raise their own prejudiced agenda. Focus on understanding why education has failed to resist prejudice and foster equality of opportunity. Only then can we start to heal society.