My father is black. My mother is white. I am biracial. We’re all Jewish. In my mind, it’s as simple as that. The reality, however, is far more complicated.
I find my biracial blood and multicultural family tree to be a source of strength and uniqueness, but I am frequently reminded how fragile of a tree it truly is. If my parents’ union occurred two decades earlier, it would have been illegal in many states. White lawmakers had long sought out to prevent racial mixing. A last ditch emotional appeal was made to prevent racial mixing by claiming the irresponsibility of bringing biracial children into the world. It would simply be unfair to the kids, lawmakers assumed. “Too white to play with black kids, too black to play with white kids.”
That is often the reality of many biracial individuals. My experience is different. My other half is erased depending on who I associate with. If I am with my white friends, I am no longer black. If I am with my black friends, I am no longer white. If I am with my Jewish friends, I am only seen as a white Jew. This compartmentalization of my identity is not a pleasant circumstance. It’s uncomfortable, degrading and disrespectful. It’s not the existence of biracial individuals that’s the problem, the problem is society’s inability to confront its own prejudice. This issue always comes to a boiling point during times of racial tension. During BlackLivesMatter protests following a death of another brother or sister at the hands of police or vigilantes, I find it nearly impossible to safely speak out against the violence, to share my thoughts, or confide in others.
Why? Because I am Jewish.
I went to a small Jewish school growing up. I went to a small synagogue in Kansas my whole life. Most of my friends are Jewish. The majority of my social sphere is Jewish which means it’s overwhelmingly white. Normally, I wouldn’t care because I am white** and half of my family is white, but I do care when issues regarding race are brought to the surface.
Only a small portion of my white Jewish sphere are supportive of BlackLivesMatter. In fact, the majority of my white Jewish sphere actively speaks out against it. I’ve seen post spouting the following:
– Respectability politics (“if they only would have politely followed instructions”, “if only they would have had both their hands on the wheel”, “if only they would have properly signaled/not been at that location/committed that petty crime/played in that park, etc…”, “if only they would have been dressed differently”).
– Victim blaming (“well they shouldn’t have had a gun”, “they shouldn’t have reached for their wallet”, “they shouldn’t have been listening to loud music”).
– Apologist sympathies (“police put their lives on the line everyday”, “police never know when a situation can turn deadly and must always respond to any perceived threat with force”).
– Racist narratives (“blacks commit more crimes, so they should be profiled more”, “blacks kill each other more than police kill them”, “whites are killed by police more than blacks”, “all lives matter”).
– Pseudo intellectual approaches (“we need to wait until we have all of the facts”, “the video only started after he was shot so it’s hard to judge what happened”, “body cameras do not tell the whole story”, “witness testimony contradicts the police officer so they are illegitimate”, “statistics can always be spun”).
There’s always a critique of BlackLivesMatter. There’s always a way to discredit the victim and witnesses. There’s always support for the officers and vigilantes. There is never support for the victim nor any lament for the loss of their life. There is never any talk of the Constitution. This was demonstrated clearly to me when Trayvon Martin was gunned down. He was only a kid holding iced tea and Skittles walking home. It seemed so entirely obvious to me that a tragic crime had been committed. Trayvon was not committing a crime nor was he conspiring to commit a crime. He was an innocent kid walking home from a convenience store, just like I had done throughout my youth, but an armed man saw him, stalked him, and lethally shot him. Trayvon must have been absolutely terrified. I walk with my hands balled into fists when I walk alone. I am constantly scanning my surroundings and checking my six. If Trayvon did fight, I would have done the same if a dangerous man approached me. I saw myself in Trayvon, but few people in my Jewish circle did. Instead of support during a time of heartbreak and fear, I saw overwhelming support for George Zimmerman, a man now known for his violence, severe prejudices and disgusting behavior. My Jewish friends needed to wait for all the facts to come in, regardless of the fact a kid with candy and tea was gunned down without committing a crime. My Jewish friends said the situation was “complicated” when it was not at all. Many Jews of Color already feel isolated in the Jewish community, regardless of how “open” and “accepting” it claims to be. Jews of Color occupy the margins of the Jewish community not because we want to, but because we are made to feel that way by other Jews. This is demonstrated any time BlackLivesMatter is trending.
When Jews cannot empathize and support Jews in their own communities, there is a problem. Since my identity is compartmentalized, my Jewish friends often don’t see me as black. They do not realize that every single thing they post regarding any racial issue will affect me personally. They do not realize that every time they side with a criminal or criminal action they are personally telling me my life doesn’t matter, that my family’s lives do not matter. They don’t realize their posts and comments make me feel inferior, isolate me, and break my heart. I’ve engaged in countless conversations with my white Jewish friends and acquaintances, and I’m simply tired of them all. I’m tired because Constitutional rights are disregarded. I’m tired because the burden of proper behavior is only bestowed on blacks and people of color. I’m tired because they refuse to acknowledge that racism is something we all live with every single day. I’m tired because they don’t see themselves as racist no matter how racist their comments are. I’m tired of explaining the long history of racism in this country and how it manifests itself in our institutions. I’m tired of data and evidence being thrown out and treated as “unreliable”. I’m tired facing down cognitive dissonance. I’m tired facing down passive racism. I’m tired justifying that my life, along with all my brothers and sisters lives, have value. I’m tired that after years of conversations, no one and nothing has changed. I’m just plain tired.
I know that we all like to have opinions. We form them naturally. It’s only human. However, at some point we need to ask ourselves: (1) why do I feel this way? (2) do I have any evidence to support my opinion? (3) is my opinion destructive or constructive? That is to say (4) does my opinion provide any benefit to the solution? **Note: if you only seek evidence to support your argument while disregarding the rest, you’re not doing it right. Ignorance is not bliss. In fact, it is quite destructive. We cannot know all that goes on in this world, but at the very least we must be willing to acknowledge our own intellectual limitations and actively seek to educate ourselves on the experiences of others.
**Note: I see myself as white. I see myself as black. I do not believe I am partially white or partially black because it compartmentalizes my identity and socially isolates me. The politics of race and identity are complicated and vary by individual.