By Rev. Anthony A. Johnson
A lot of my Jewish friends are asking me how they can help and what needs to be done regarding the killing and lynching of individuals and families in the black community, most recently George Floyd.
To put yourselves in our shoes for a moment, imagine what the response of the Jewish community would be if George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor were Jewish? No doubt it would reach biblical proportions.
One of the main challenges to interfaith collaboration is that since every group prioritizes its own challenges, we put less work into reciprocity and interfaith collaboration. But those of us who seek to once again reestablish black-Jewish relations, we simply must learn to prioritize one another’s efforts as we do our own.
In order for our respective cultures to understand one another’s needs, there must first be “real” dialogue in order to understand and discover the priorities of each.
Each and every day, each and every one of your black friends — including me — lives with the real fear of being killed by police officers. We’d like for Jews to help us end the killing of innocent blacks with the exact same fervor, dedication and commitment that you show toward preserving and defending your own families and communities.
My doctoral research shows that in America, while white Jews were once forced to assimilate to survive, the Jewish community has become one of the most financially successful religious groups in the country. I believe that the main reason white racists are killing blacks right now is because by and large, the black community doesn’t pose a credible threat to their economic security and personal freedoms.
I’m asking the Jewish community to use your political and economic power to help us dismantle institutionalized racism and end white supremacy, particularly in law enforcement, the courts and all of society in general.
I’m also asking you to be proud of who you are. If you wear a kippah, wear it loud and proud — my black is beautiful. And your black is beautiful. Stop trying to pass as white (to those who are white passing) and let yourself experience the “inconvenience” of being people of color (which is what you are) even if you’re a fair-skinned Ashkenazi Jew.
We know that there is power in numbers. The truthful acknowledgment of Jews as people of color will not only allow you to be your authentic selves, a people who protested and subsequently defeated Pharaoh, but it will cause a deep, transformational change in your hearts toward your black brothers and sisters, understanding the plight of blacks in white America. My friends, we may all be a different hue, but we’re all the same color.
It’s also critically important to denounce any racist friends that you may have and speak against the racist Hamans that you personally know. Break any business ties with racist whites and divest from any ventures and capital projects with those individuals or corporations you know who support racist activity and expressions, even if it means risking your own financial interests.
Finally, embrace blacks as absolute equals. In the words of the writer Benjamin Kweskin, “Be mindful that your diversity and inclusion isn’t just a euphemism for tokenism.” White racists view Jews (and all people of color) as the “N-word,” too. But the Jewish community has its own unique power to break the system of white supremacy in America.
When I attend Jewish solidarity rallies, there are only a handful of blacks amid thousands of Jews. When I attend black solidarity rallies, there are only a handful of Jews. If we can have meaningful, robust dialogue, understand one another’s priorities and come together, when Jewish communities are attacked by anti-Semites, then the black community will be there for you. And when injustices occur toward blacks, I believe that Jews will in turn be there to support our communities en masse as well.
We need each other. We can do infinitely more to bring about real justice, true freedom and democracy if we at last come together as one people.
My friends, white supremacy is our common enemy. If we all come together and apply Dr. King’s principles of nonviolent protest, organize mass economic divestiture, rewrite policy, change the rule of law and vote racists out of office, we can destroy white supremacy in America.
It’s going to take exactly this type of radical approach if real change is what we want. If you’ve ever expressed interest in strengthening black-Jewish relations, now is the time.
Rev. Anthony A. Johnson is an ordained minister of 23 years, long-time civil and human rights activist, former Obama Regional Organizer, former Alabama State Representative and current MLK Scholar/Doctoral Student at United Theological Seminary.