Anti Semitism is not about the Jews Alone
When official forms ask for my racial identity, I’m always a little bit flummoxed.
I know I’m not Asian or Pacific Islander, nor am I Black or Hispanic, but I’m not White, exactly, except when I am.
Which is to say, I don’t really see myself as White, but I know that in the eyes of most people who see me, I appear as white and get to enjoy the privileges and benefits of white skin in our society.
Like many white skinned Jews in America, I’m white - sometimes, sort-of - except when I’m not.
I occupy a position like ancient Queen Esther, who we celebrate this week at Purim. Queen Esther had access to the corridors of power, as long as she kept her Jewish identity quiet and “passed” in the palace. She only sometimes saw herself as Jewish, which is to say, other and vulnerable. At a particularly precarious moment in the tale, Mordechai reminded Esther not to “imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace.”
Her position in the hierarchy of the palace was provisional - it could be revoked as easily as my position as a white person in the racial hierarchy of America can be revoked.
Eric Ward is an African-American anti-racist activist who wrote Skin in the Game: How AntiSemitism Animates White Nationalism, one of the most important recent articles exploring the central role that anti-Semitism plays in the White Nationalist movement. Ward writes, “American White nationalism... is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.”
He goes on to elaborate,
The successes of the civil rights movement created a terrible problem for White supremacist ideology. White supremacism—inscribed de jure by the Jim Crow regime and upheld de facto outside the South—had been the law of the land, and a Black-led social movement had toppled the political regime that supported it. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone?... Some secret cabal, some mythological power, must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes. This diabolical evil must control television, banking, entertainment, education, and even Washington, D.C. It must be brainwashing White people, rendering them racially unconscious. What is this arch-nemesis of the White race, whose machinations have prevented the natural and inevitable imposition of white supremacy? It is, of course, the Jews. Jews function for today’s White nationalists as they often have for antisemites through the centuries: as the demons stirring an otherwise changing and heterogeneous pot of lesser evils.
It is well worth the time it takes to read the whole article and see how the nationalist and anti-semitic moment we find ourselves in is not about us alone.
Tonight, we can celebrate that Esther defeated the forces of Jew hatred long ago. We can celebrate also that to this very day, people fighting to defeat the forces of Jew hatred that appear on the streets of Beacon. We can celebrate the coalitions this community has built with other targeted communities in this area.
More than anything though, we can refuse to be defined by the stories that white supremacists tell about us and our supposed power, but rather hold tight to what is asked of us - to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with the Holy One.