What Side Should Jewish-Americans Take On Ferguson?

All throughout the Gaza conflict, there were headlines of a certain kind that bothered me in a certain way.

“Israel or Palestine? Do Black People Have A Stake In The Conflict?”
“Why The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Should Matter To Black People”
“What Side Should Black Americans Take On Israel?”
“Why African-Americans Should Support The State of Israel”

It seemed that not five minutes of the continuing conflict would pass by without yet another appeal for the support, input, or opinion of African-Americans on the situation in the Middle East. The rationale of course being parallels drawn between the plight of the Palestinian people and the African American Civil Rights movement (because remember that time African-Americans had missiles to launch at the Klan?) and a convenient case of apparent amnesia regarding the waves of anti-Black anti-immigrant pogroms which had recently swept through Israel. 

Everywhere I saw heated debates across Black-audience blogs going back and forth about the history of the region, its tensions, expressing empathizing with not wanting people shooting rockets at you every day, commiserating with having people show up and start taking your land and relegating you to third-world status in your own country.

The conflict even gave birth to the embodiment of the pro-Israel African-American voice in the form of Chloe Valdary, catapulting her pro-Zionist efforts into the limelight of the public eye.

This did not happen for Blacks and Ferguson, a few scant weeks later. Nor was Ferguson a blip on the Jewish news cycle after the verdict last night, nor in its aftermath today. There are no debates on Tablet Magazine or Jewish Daily Forward or Jewish Week or CoLLive about what the Jewish response should be or to what extent Jews should be involved in the protests. (Yes, peaceful protests are also happening. Not just the riots you seem to be fixated on).

Yet the most cursory glance across a Facebook newsfeed or Twitterfeed reveals many Jews–unfortunately the most vociferous among them being my Orthodox co-denominationalists–have many troubling opinions in support of the mishandling of justice that occurred in last night’s verdict, with many believing in some disingenuous equalizing force of governmental law, as if the Inquisition were not by royal mandate and as if all of Hitler’s machinations weren’t legal.

Jews got a Chloe Valdary out of Gaza. Blacks didn’t get a Chana Valdarowitz out of Ferguson.

So what should Jewish-Americans think about Ferguson? Many things. Here are three:

1-Jewish-Americans don’t mean White people.

Think about that. When you’re thinking it’s perfectly okay to racially profile because “those people” do “those kinds of things”, when you’re rallying behind stop-and-frisk because “if you’re innocent you should have nothing to hide”, when you are busy rabidly advocating policies and legislation which largely do not affect you, and in your mind, don’t affect Jews at all because you imagine all Jews look like you, then you are the reason that Jews–kippah wearing Jews celebrating Purim–get accused of conspiring to commit an act of terrorism and get surrounded by 10 uniformed officers with guns drawn. Because they’re wearing the same skin color as “those people” who you are convinced are the root of society’s problem. And who, more importantly, obviously can’t ever be Jewish.

You think Trayvon Martins can’t be Jewish. You think Michael Browns can’t be Jewish. They can. If not for the grace of G-d, we would’ve had one in 2008.

2-The Holocaust experience and its aftermath is in no way equal to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade experience and its aftermath.

This isn’t Oppression Olympics. It is fact.

Too often I hear from Jewish voices and in Jewish spaces “Why are Blacks still complaining about slavery? We got over the Holocaust. Why can’t Blacks get themselves together? Jews did after Holocaust. Why do Black blame everything on slavery? Why can’t they just take accountability? If more Blacks abided by the law they’d have less problems.”

Firstly, reject that whole “law-abiding” rhetoric. And when someone Black who you deem to be an upwardly mobile, productive member of society is unjustly gunned down by police, do not contribute to the “he was a good kid” narrative. Because it doesn’t matter and because you should know better.

Did being one of the “good Jews” help during the Crusades? The Inquisition? Kristallnacht? Being one of the “good ones” has no bearing on whether your life is decided to have value or not. You know this.

You remember that don’t you? The feeling of living in a country where your life is constantly devalued? In particular by the institutions that are supposed to protect all equally? What it’s like to be approached by the police always as a suspect, never as a citizen?

That is called “America” for Black people. You left Germany and Poland and Russia and Ukraine. So please remove terms like “normal people” and “normal interactions with police” and victim blaming from your dialogue as if there even is such a thing once a class of people have been deemed by the powers-that-be to be subhuman.

It was Jamal’s fault in Texas because he was wearing a hoodie? Then I guess it was Shmuely’s fault in France because he was wearing a yarmulke.

Secondly, why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?
Black Wall Street.

Why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?

Why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?
Prison industrial complex and justice systems complicit with it.

Why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?

Let’s ask a blogger colleague of mine, Son of Baldwin:
“Who gets to be a victim in American society is HIGHLY political. In a big-picture, collective sense, America allows White-looking Jewish people to be victims and permits them the space to remember. African American people, however, are chastised for complaints about oppression (even by other Black people) and are asked to pretend American history didn’t happen, or rather, that it happened like Texas and Arizona says it did.

We hear, very often, ‘Why can’t African Americans get their shit together like Jewish people did?’ Well, if the whole world banded together, with force and military might, to get America to stop its oppression and murder of African Americans via slavery, Jim Crow, the criminal justice system, and the prison industrial complex; prosecuted, imprisoned, or executed every racist or conspirator it could find; ensured that African Americans received all economic compensation from implicated American corporations and industries; cleared a designated area of land so that African Americans could set up their own, UN-backed, financially supported, and world-defended nation, then perhaps African Americans would ‘get their shit together’ like Jewish people did.”

And if all that fell on deaf ears, then think about this:

#BlackLivesMatter is a hashtag here in America. #JewishLivesMatter isn’t.

3-Jews should think about Ferguson, period.

Ferguson is a Jewish problem. It is a Jewish problem regardless of whether or not there are any Jews involved as victim or aggressor.

We are supposed to be a “light unto the nations”, right? Isn’t that the slogan on our business cards? That and engaging in the work of “repairing the world”? Aren’t those our missions?

And if this can happen in a world that we live in, if this is a verdict that can be construed in any way shape or form as “just”, if the shooting of an unarmed teenager with his hands in the air over 140 feet away can be absolved in good conscience, then we, my Jews, have failed.

That is what Jews should think about Ferguson.