I am a white, Jewish woman who has faced some anti-Semitism.
I’ve been spat on, pelted with tomatoes, insulted, and asked if I really do have a tail. I’ve been told I’m not really white because I am a Jew—that I’m a fake white person. The vitriol with which these things happened scared me and temporarily caused me to shrink away and cower. I always felt I understood what racism was because I have felt the sting of anti-Semitism.
My friend, Bony, is Black and faces racism every single day of his life. He has gotten pulled over, harassed, and questioned by the police in his own Long Island, New York neighborhood four times in the last couple of weeks. In his lifetime, he has been stopped, questioned, harassed, pulled over, nearly arrested, roughed up, ridiculed, suspected, and accused for no other reason than the color of his skin.
He is an educated man who makes a good living caring for patients as a registered nurse. Despite his education, financial comfort, and caregiving, service profession, he still feels that as a Black man he is singled out as dangerous, threatening, and inferior. He shared with me that he finds all this dehumanizing and depressing, which makes him more emotionally vulnerable to the continued racist actions of others. It’s wearing him down and making it harder and harder to pull himself back up.
Through talking with him about his experiences as a Black man in the United States and how it all makes him feel. All my life, I’ve had the luxury of hiding behind my pale skin and not dealing with anti-Semitism head-on. I had my pale skin—my white privilege—to hide behind. I had the luxury of hiding in plain sight. In doing so, I now realize, I helped perpetuate the problem. I realized that anti-Semitism can’t be equated with racism. I was wrong to equate racism against Blacks with anti-Semitism against Jews. Sure, both are awful, but no one can tell I’m Jewish by looking at me. Everyone can see Bony is Black.
As a mom, I started to think about all the millions of mothers of Black boys and men who live in constant fear of the health, safety, and welfare of their amazing sons. For them, a simple walk to the corner store or to school, a simple drive to visit grandma, or a routine commute home from work could be deadly. I do those things unscathed every day.
Now my eyes are open to the white privilege I took for granted. I see the myriad of ways I have benefitted from it throughout my life and strive now to educate my children and students so they, too, can learn what I learned from Bony, not perpetuate the ignorance and discrimination, and hopefully look at Black men more compassionately. For too long, people have turned a blind eye or expressed their thoughts and prayers and then moved on. For too long this has continued.
I’ve learned there are actionable things we can do to support anti-racism. We can educate ourselves and stand up publicly in support of Black sisters, brothers, friends, students, and neighbors. Through Bony, I learned that my experience with anti-Semitism doesn’t equate with his experiences with racism. It isn’t enough to be against racism, I must be actively anti-racist to be part of the change that is long overdue in the world.