Fighting Racism and Anti-Blackness Starts in Our Own Jewish Communities by Gwen Tucker
We are experiencing a moment of extreme turmoil. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color based on pre-existing social inequities, Pride Month is beginning for the first time ever in a national pandemic, and most notably, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are leading to a national Black Lives Matter movement. Jewish communities across the country are springing into action, releasing statements and showing up in solidarity with Black communities in the streets. While Jewish people have a moral obligation to fight for justice, specifically racial justice, it is important that our work first begins in our youth groups, synagogues, and Jewish programs or organizations.
For a while, I didn’t have many relationships with Jews of color and wasn’t cognizant of their contributions to the wider Jewish community. I grew up at a synagogue that was mostly white and mostly Ashkenazi, where most congregants fit into the Americanized norms of what Jewishness looks like. As I began to come into contact with Jews of various backgrounds from across the Chicagoland area and country at large, I realized my own perceptions were drastically skewed. When given the chance to create an individual project through RTI and 18 Under 18, I created a website, tinyurl.com/jewishdiversity, that focuses on diversity in the Jewish community. I chose to do this project because I have found that so much discrimination, both within and targeted at the Jewish community, comes from a false idea that all Jewish people look and experience life in one way. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview more than twenty people about their stories and experiences with Jewish identity and spaces. My long-term goal is to create more conversation about different forms of intra-community oppression and continue to uplift the voices of Jews of color, queer Jews, and Jews of other unique or marginalized identities.
Many of the people I spoke to had both positive and negative experiences in Jewish spaces. While some had found places where their whole identity was accepted and affirmed, others had experienced intense instances of racism or other forms of discrimination. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to prioritize the well-being of Jews of color and Jews of other marginalized identities.
So, how can we combat intra-community racism and discrimination? First, it starts with visibility. We can’t fight discrimination in our community if we don’t know that Jews of color exist in the first place. We must uplift their voices and stories because that is what really breaks down barriers. That is the focus of my work. It’s important to actively listen to their stories, uplift them, and educate ourselves. I would encourage everyone to visit my website and not only read as many of the interviews as possible, but to watch some of the movies and TV shows, read some of the books and articles, and follow some of the social media accounts from the Resources page on my website.
As Rebecca Pierce, a Black Jewish writer perfectly articulated in an article on jewishcurrents.org, “Racism in the American Jewish community cannot be separated from American racism more broadly; they have to be fought together.” As Jews, specifically white Jews, it’s time to check our biases and show up for other marginalized people. Most importantly, our anti-racist work must begin in our own communities, because we can’t change the world until we change ourselves
Gwen writes for her school's newspaper and is a board member of SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism). Through her work with RTI (Research Training Internship) and JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs), her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for social justice. For her 18 Under 18 Impact Project, she has been working on a website showcasing the diversity of the Jewish community's looks and experiences in the Chicagoland area.