Thursday, August 17, 2017

Fighting White Supremacy with a Heavy But Focused Heart

So already, I am planning to participate in Saturday's Fight Supremacy! Boston Counter-Protest & Resistance Rally, but I'm doing so with a fearful heart. And a heavy heart, too. What I can stand against fiercely and nonviolently is white supremacy and the hateful inequalities it has created and seeks to strengthen and perpetuate. What--or whom--I can't stand in full support of, much as I understand their impatience with nonviolent change, are those who believe violence is the way to combat white supremacy. And what's making my heart heavy are my suspicions that "a little" antisemitism is acceptable to some of the people with whom I will be seemingly marching in full solidarity

The "we" who is marching and rallying on Saturday is angry about a lot of injustices, some of which are more important to some of us than to others. But I'm still planning to march. I wish all those who will be marching were deeply disturbed by antisemitism. But first things first. And the first thing that needs to be addressed and undone is racism--especially systemic racism, whether it has been intentionally or unintentionally established, recognized, acknowledged, perpetuated, or ignored. If we can make significant strides against white supremacy and for racial equality--which means moving from protesting to working together to create and implement plans for dismantling local and national systems that perpetuate racial inequality--I think we stand a real chance of tackling other divisions that set us against one another in this nation.

I thank Talia Cooper for helping me think my way through this. Her blog post on the May'an web site, "A Call to My Beloved Jews: We Gotta Talk About Privilege,"* enabled me to think clearly not just about these issues, but about this moment--that is, the week after the events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia the weekend of August 12, 2017 and before The Second Boston Free Speech Rally planned for Saturday, August 19.

In her blog-letter to four fellow Jews who've challenged the idea that they have "privilege," given their personal encounters with antisemitism, Cooper explains autobiographically
"Sometimes it seems so simple: of course it’s possible for me as a white Jewish woman to experience sexism, white privilege and anti-Semitism all at the same time. It’s 'simple' because I’ve lived it my whole life.

"But sometimes breaking it down feels complex and painful. Do I really want to dive deep into my family history and investigate that the fact that we have money comes from this weird stew of running from anti-Semitism and also gaining white privilege?"
Cooper's "weird stew" image** really hit home with me: the situation is so layered and uncomfortable, and baby boomer American Jews like myself, who could choose the degrees to which we wanted to assimilate, have become as privileged as many of the white people who, in the 1930s and 1940s, often succeeded in "keeping us out."

Yes, American Jews are privileged. But Cooper puts this reality in context.
"It’s particularly scary for Jews to think about the idea of holding privilege because of the history of anti-Semitic tropes that say that Jews control the world and therefore their takedown is justified. But I’m not saying Jews are the most privileged.  Actually, we know that the majority of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the U.S are white Christian men. But that doesn’t mean that white Jews don’t still experience privilege. I know I do. Even at the same time as anti-Semitism."
It's good to be reminded about who's most privileged, given the rhetoric of conspiracy and control that Jews are often subjected to--in part because when people can't tell that we're Jews and therefore assume that we're not, they sometimes share finessed, euphemistic versions of these same stereotypes.

Cooper nails it for me in her final paragraph--the one before she signs her letter "Love, Talia":
So: Anti-Semitism is real. White privilege is real. Racism is real. These things are linked, but they are not all the same and cannot be compared. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one while not abandoning the other, and at this moment in U.S history, I see way too many murders of black people to stand idly by. When I say Black Lives Matter, this in no way negates my commitment to ending anti-Semitism. It is not about oppression hierarchies, though we do need to examine the fact that this country was economically built on racism. Ultimately, I believe our liberation is connected. So let’s get to work. 
Cooper's statement that  "Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one while not abandoning the other" so thoroughly resonates with me that I can be guided by it. I can focus, keep my eye on that first crucial prize. I can afford to be the person and the member of a group whose feelings are less important and less understood for right now. I can handle feeling like it's not most important for it to be about me and "my people" right now. 

Which doesn't mean handling that feeling feels good. It's the same feeling I had earlier this week when I received an invitation to attend an event for charter members of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which will be celebrating its first birthday in late September. The Members' Open House is scheduled to take place on September 30--Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for many Jews. I can understand the museum's desire to commemorate its opening in a timely way, but I suspect few if any Jewish charter members will be in attendance. I write this with both sadness and the intention of continuing to support this museum, which I believe is hugely important to America, let alone to the individuals, families, and groups who visit it.

So I will march--no doubt warily and uncomfortably at times. I will be wearing my One Drop of Love t-shirt, which will not only suggest what I'm hoping to contribute to our collective march effort, but--with its bright green background--keep me from being identified as someone who could become violent to eradicate hate.***
Like Cooper, "I believe our liberation is connected." But we have to start somewhere, so racism now, antisemitism later. Funny: the motto that sits at the upper left-hand corner of the Ma'yan web site is "Listen for a change." I am hoping that if our march and rally makes all of us more nonviolently, constructively visible, then perhaps sometime in the near future, those who think differently might be sitting together, not just explaining their own viewpoints, but listening for a change--and listening to make change. Maybe then we'll be able to plan for a world based on equality and get busy becoming it.

* Cooper, T. (2017). A call to my beloved Jews: We gotta talk about privilege [Web log post]. Retrieved August 17, 2017, from 

** Actually, a weird photo of a not weird stew: screen shot of
*** The antifa protesters against white supremacy where black t-shirts. 


  1. Yes, I think all these evils are connected. I'm teaching about colonization, I refer my students to papal bulls of the 15th century, in which various popes decreed that European explorers could (and should) take the lands, wealth, and lives of non-Christians. Collectively, this body of text is called the Doctrine of Discovery. (Various 21st-century Christian orgs have moved officially to repudiate the DofD.) And in this ugly picture, the practices of anti Semitism and crusades against Islam fit with awful logic.

    1. Thanks, Margo, for reading and responding. So often it's about taking things from other people, or making sure they don't have the chance to have anything at all, even the most basic things like a place to call home. I'm going to remember your phrase "awful logic."