IN THE STORY of 20th century America’s struggle for civil rights, Blacks and Jews have had success combating bigotry when standing together as allies. With the rise of white supremacy, it’s essential that we reinvigorate that alliance.
Historically, the Black and Jewish communities have affirmatively reached out to one another, finding solidarity together when facing hostilities from those who felt it was advantageous to attack us.
In the lead up to World War II, for example, as Jews fled Nazi Germany, many Jewish educators found refuge teaching at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States. And, in the Freedom Summer of 1964, Black and Jewish civil rights activists worked to register Black voters in Mississippi, horrified at the inequality and voter suppression they were witnessing.
But, just as Blacks and Jews have stood together, so have the hateful forces of white supremacy which sought to attack this bond. And those forces are growing stronger in our country right now.
Historically, the figurative and literal closeness of Blacks and Jews was witnessed in fighting against restrictive housing covenants, and employment and higher education discrimination. We watched the Ku Klux Klan murder three voting rights activists during that Freedom Summer: James Chaney, who was Black, and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were Jewish. The same white supremacist hatred that motivated the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church shooter in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, also motivated the Tree of Life Jewish synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018.
We are seeing this yet again, this time in the promotion of book bans around the country. It is no coincidence that bigoted authoritarian actions have removed from circulation in some places literature that illuminates both Black and Jewish experiences, from the “1619 Project” to “The Hate U Give,” from Chik Chak Shabbat to The Purim Superhero. The poetry of Amanda Gorman and an adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary have both endured removal from access.
Blacks and Jews have also found similar methods for navigating around hate, both figuratively and literally. As The Green-Book served as a guide for Black motorists during the Jim Crow era to avoid areas where the perils of racism were most virulent, so too did Jewish motorists have The Jewish Vacation Guide to evade anti-Semitism as much as possible.
In this moment, we must clearly recognize and call out what we see happening. In times when dangerous right-wing extremist elected officials and candidates think it’s acceptable to engage in hateful demagoguery, casually spewing anti-Semitic and anti-Black tropes, how can Jews and Blacks not feel targeted in our country? The Black community has always been on that target list. In a system dominated by racism, both of our communities are constantly reminded of how white supremacists view us. And, if we listen to voices that are trying to keep us apart, that will weaken all of our abilities to fight back. We must seek ways to hold space for one another and amplify each other’s voices, in an equal partnership that lifts up both of our communities.
We must also profoundly collaborate with all allies, and recognize that our destinies are intertwined with one another. The same pernicious violence that harms the Black and Jewish communities, and the same actors that seek to silence Black and Jewish voices, also seek to impose the same existential injury on the LGBTQ+ community, on Muslims, on immigrants and refugees, and on all marginalized components of our nation’s diverse tapestry.
But, platitudes are easy. What does it look like for us to truly support one another? It means that when any of our communities are under attack, we must react with a unified voice. Whether it is education, voting rights, hate crimes, or trying to erase our culture and history, we must view this as a clear-eyed threat to democracy. And, it means that when public policies that support our any of our communities are being dismantled before our eyes, like the US Supreme Court move to eviscerate affirmative action, we must all speak out together in support of creating more equity in our society.
We must go beyond being reactive, however. Our alliance must be a proactive force, a clear marker that together, we are stronger than the forces of hate that would seek to divide us for their own political gain.
First and foremost, the goal of white supremacists at this moment is our fear and our silence. So we must not only speak out, but also speak with one another and lift each other up as we combat white supremacy. By working together, in a meaningful pursuit of justice, and building trust with one another, we will be on the path to realizing a true multiracial democracy in which we all have access to what we need so we can all thrive.
Bithiah Carter is president and chief executive officer of New England Blacks in Philanthropy. Cindy Rowe is executive director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA).