I’m Black and Jewish. Stop telling me Black Lives Matter is ‘political’
Can we talk about race? I am a Black, queer, Jewish woman. Over the course of my life, I have encountered the same racial problem with the leaders of organizations that I have worked or volunteered for, and communities that I am engaged in. That problem is passive complicity, and its sting is especially sharp in Jewish spaces.
Earlier this week, an event of mine was flagged and removed from an online Jewish group for being political. The rules of this group specify that there shall be no posts about politics. My event was an allyship workshop that I shared, discussing how the experiences of being a white or white-passing Jew influences the way one perceives, discusses, and acts on racial issues while giving some 101 knowledge about how to support and advocate for Black/Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) during these tumultuous times.
On the flyer, there was a picture of a black fist in a circle with the words “Black Lives Matter” beneath. Those three words caused my post to be removed.
But those words are not inherently political. My existence as a Black, Jewish woman is not inherently political. It is not inherently political to discuss being anti-racist. It is not inherently political to acknowledge the harm Black people have suffered in this country for four hundred years and counting.
It is not inherently political to teach non-BIPOC individuals how to educate themselves and one another so as to not put the burden of educating onto POC, who are dealing with fear and trauma on a daily basis.
Racial justice does not belong to any political party or politician. Rather, it is a civil rights issue; it is a social justice issue; and above all it is Tikkun Olam.
Even more painful was the response from the leadership regarding this grievance. They first explained how all events were allowed to be shared on the page, to which someone responded with misinformation about the BLM movement. When I said something about it, they told me this behavior was benign and not threatening and suggested I “take the high road.” They said they were loathe to remove anyone from the group.
But these interactions are not benign. They are microagressions, and microagressions inflict real damage.
So on one side, I’ve got someone politicizing my existence. On the other, I have those in a position of power asking me to turn the other cheek and not make too much noise.
This is passive complicity: when those with the resources and capacity to act do nothing because they either don’t believe, or don’t perceive, that harm has already been done, or they don’t want to get involved, or they don’t want to upset the status quo, or a little of all of the above.
This happens to BIPOC individuals every day: We are told we need to control our reactions so as to not be disruptive to the larger group or force leadership to make decisions that are uncomfortable for them. We are shown again and again that our pain is not as important as keeping the community shielded from the discomfort of addressing the rotten, racist nooks and crannies within.
I see it all the time. I experience it all the time. And I no longer have the luxury of minimizing these experiences on a daily basis.
Read the room. Why does your comfort take priority over my humanity?
My soul yearns for a space my where my Blackness more than matters; it is wholly seen, wholly embraced, and wholly beloved in the Jewish community.
And I’m not alone. As Black JOC, we find this only when we find each other — little pockets of sisterhood and brotherhood that are so necessary, because it brings a sense of communal Jewishness that we rarely, if ever, feel from the wider Jewish spaces that bring us together.
I’m tired. My Jewish BIPOC sisters and brothers are tired. Too many times have I thrown my heart into a community only to feel the sting of otherness. Too many times have I felt my acceptance in Jewish spaces was in spite of my skin. Too many times have I felt tokenization and questioned whether my presence was there to check a box.
I have never, not once, entered a Jewish space — or any space — where my melanin was celebrated, where I didn’t have to educate and carry myself as an ambassador for all JOC, where I could be joyful about my Blackness, queerness, and Jewishness all at once.
Never have I entered a Jewish space where I felt I was simply allowed to exist. Mattering is the bare minimum. It’s not my job to make the non-BIPOC people around me comfortable around issues of racism and a system of white supremacy that they benefit from. It’s not my job to ensure that racism is dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
My job is to make it home from runs in my own neighborhood when I am tailed by a white supremacist with a gun and am nearly run over by a giant, lifted truck with a confederate flag on the bumper in broad daylight.
My job is to make it home when I am pulled over for driving-while-black and am given a ticket for my bike rack obscuring my license plate.
My job is to assure my weeping father, my superhero, that if given the choice, I would choose my Blackness and him as my father one million times out of one million.
My job is to search the news every day for my father’s face, to assure myself that he has not become the most recent victim of lethal police brutality.
My job right now is to stay alive.
Anti-racism work is your job.
No space is automatically an anti-racist space, an inclusive space, or a diverse space; it must be carefully and intentionally grown in those directions, which includes sometimes needing to intervene, to call out, and to call in.
This is hardest to do amongst colleagues and friends. But this is the work. Jewish values demand action.
The first question God asks man in Torah is the shortest question. I believe it also to be the biggest question. Adam and Eve hid themselves in the Garden after eating the apple. God asks them one word: Ayecha? Where are you? Adam and Eve did not respond, Hineni, I am Here, and thus forfeited the opportunity to come forward to admit their shortcomings and wrongs.
The High Holy days are fast approaching, and are a time of ayecha. Will you respond Hineni, I am Here? Will you be proud of where you are standing?
While being a Jew in America is not always easy, our Jewish ancestors and relatives came here for the same reason as the Irish, the Italians, the Turkish, and countless others: to escape persecution and death, and to seek a better life for themselves and their children.
My ancestors came to this country in chains, and their children are still bound by them. I am still bound by them.
My Jewish brothers and sisters, acheya?
Tiziana Friedman is a 23 year old Black, queer, Jew from Albuquerque NM. When she’s not working in an ER as an Advanced EMT, she can be found building her local young adult Jewish community, or in the New Mexico wilderness rock climbing with her dog Padfoot and husband Eli.