I understand that because modern Jews are descended from multiple populations that ‘Judaism’ is not technically a race. But the truth is that as a student of history and with a serious soft-spot for little things like social justice, the innate right of all human beings to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness… I really pull the ‘not White but Jewish’ card because I feel tremendous guilt for benefitting from White privilege… because perhaps before Trayvon, and before John Crawford, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, before the 2012 Federal Census told us that in Chicago where 30.1% of the population was Black, a staggering 90% of the people shot by CPD were Black– some naive but probably ignorant, short-sighted mouth breather might have argued that we were living in a post-racial society. Certainly that’s part of the rationale for a co-opting of Black urban American culture by white kids from (here we go again! Privileged backgrounds,) I myself am guilty of this co-opting, and for me, moving to a rural area where it is a rare sight to see a Black face– it forced the realization that I’m much more urban in everything ranging from my fashion choices, to my music, to the fact that I truly appreciate the breadth of the human rainbow (however trite that might sound,) than I ever realized before…but I digress. Perhaps it is because Jewish history is so rife with persecution, enslavement, homicidal anti-Semitism, and absurdities like the ‘Blood Libel’ of Christ that I feel more connected to the struggle of the Black man (and woman) in this country–and that I feel a particularly deep shame for the benefits I have reaped and the relative ease with which I’ve glided through life merely because my skin is white.
Sometimes I wish I could wash it away, and that if I scrub hard enough my soul will come through. And my soul is brown, because it horrifies me to consider my hands even partially soiled with the blood, sweat, tears– that are compounded untold volumes of torture, the deliberate destruction of families, for stealing the joy and the prosperity– of all Brown and Black people everywhere for the greater good of White Western Society. I connect to their legacy of pain, and brutality, and to being subject to the shifting vicissitudes of cruel outside forces. And certainly (despite my one non-Jewish grandparent- my paternal Grandmother’s–descent from actual Georgia slave owners, horrifying) I connect and empathize with it considerably more than I ever could this strangely cold, puritanical, money worshipping legacy that is the one that I feel belongs to White Americans. My parents took me to see Malcolm X when it came out in 1992. Some might have argued that it was too heavy for a nearly ten year old girl, but it wasn’t more than a few years later that I was reading the words of the man himself, along with Kwame Nkrumah the unparralled Patrice Lumumba, poring over the poetry of Brathwaite and learning the story of Togo’s Olympio. My inner autodidact went crazy for the divergence between Malcolm before and after the severing of his ties with NOI and Farrakhan. Naturally, as a woman AND a Jew, I find Farrakhan fairly reprehensible. But even I cannot deny that there is some value to pieces of his message– the empowerment of Black people, to write their OWN history rather than be a sad footnote in the margins of Imperialist history. There is power in declaring that Black is beautiful, and that Black people are not the descendents of slaves but of the royal Ashanti, of Mali, of Nubian kings and queens, Pharohs, of Yorubans and the Ghanians– whose empire marked the beginning of centuries of rich trade along the West African coast. And that there is a power in admitting that White people STOLE that glory. That there is power in refusing to submit, to insisting upon the creation of one’s own tailor-made institutions, to serve specific populations that are largely ignored by even their elected officials and have been abandoned to cave in on their own rotten edifices so the vultures can come and feed on the carcasses.
Again. I hold tight to post-NOI Malcolm because he eases my White guilt. We are so far past 40 acres and mule here the only thing I can do to keep myself from burying my face in my hands and crying about is to laugh. Because even though I react viscerally– and negatively– to the NOI and other Black Nationalist theories about how White people cannot help by joining forces for equality with Black brethren, but instead can best heal the damage done by allowing Black people total self-determination to regenerate what was taken from them– I see the merit. Maybe I don’t agree, but then perhaps it’s one of those things that if it needs to be explained to me I’ll never understand it. I suppose that despite all the guilt– guilt that stems from an explicitly cultivated knowledge of precisely what was stolen from Africa and her people– I still try to live my life from a place of love, not fear and anger, and to that end what brings me much peace is ruminating on a particular quotation of Dr. King’s, that “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” I don’t have answers but I do have love, and for now it if we could all muster that love- while it’s not going to fix things– it certainly couldn’t hurt.