Over a month after Trayon White made the headlines for his infamous video accusing the Rothschilds of controlling the climate, the embattled D.C. City Councilmember is back in the news. After a Washington Post report detailing White’s visit to the United States Holocaust Museum gone wrong (White and others in attendance deny the report), Jews once again took to social media and op-ed pages to opine. Only this time the reaction was markedly different, and sorely misguided.
In The Forward, Rafael Shimunov argued that White’s character was being assassinated by the media and Jewish leaders, and that those “who came out to attack and humiliate him…should be ashamed of themselves.” White, explained Shimunov, serves the poorest ward in Washington D.C., and overcame a childhood that “included actual hunger and actual lack of clean clothing” and inadequate educational opportunities. Instead of being attacked for misspeaking, Shimunov believes, White should be applauded for his service to one of the country’s most vulnerable communities.
At face value, everything Shimunov and others wrote about White is true. He almost certainly didn’t realize the anti-semitic connotations of Rothschild blaming, and his life story is genuinely inspiring. But none of this is even remotely the point. The outpouring of anger expressed by Jews was never about White and was always about the anti-semitic stereotype he perpetuated. When New York State Assemblymember, and Orthodox Jew, Dov Hikind dressed in blackface at a Purim party in 2013 he was rightfully dragged through the mud in the media. Much like White, Hikind’s racism was unintended, and he too never received an Ivy League education and represents a community completely isolated from the privileged ruling class. So where were the handwringing op-eds and Twitter rants defending Hikind?
What people understood then, but seem to be overlooking now, is that the story was never about Hikind. The issue then, as it is now, is about the powerful historical stereotypes perpetuated by blackface, and the real-life impact it has on African-Americans to this day. White’s comments, intended or not, evoked an age-old stereotype about Jews and control with equally real-life impacts to this day.
Just last weekend a Jewish man was assaulted in an unprovoked attack in Brooklyn by a man accusing him of being a “fake Jew” that “stole all my money” and “stole my mortgage.” This story comes on the heels of a report from the ADL that anti-semitic incidents increased by 57% in 2017 coming both from the political right and left. By making this story about one individual (White), instead of about the growing issue of anti-semitism affecting the lives of Jews around the world, Shimunov badly deflects from the most important issue at play.
It is worth noting, that despite the genuine anger and potential damage caused by White’s words, no Jewish groups or leaders called for White to step down or be punished in any way. Instead, the Jewish community reached out to him, inviting him to learn more about our culture and heritage. As a Jew, I believe White’s apology was genuine and he should be forgiven, but I refuse to make this story about him.
Yehudah Rodman is a communications professional from Boca Raton, FL. He holds a Multimedia Journalism degree from Florida Atlantic University. Follow him on Twitter @rebleib15.