A few days ago, as I was leaving to go to a doctor’s appointment and head over to my mother’s home, my wife called and told me: “Be safe.”
And honestly? I was a little annoyed at what I perceived to be nagging. After all, it wasn’t like I was going back to Israel. Or traveling to a different state. Or even coming back home from a late night out with friends.
Then I saw her Facebook status:
I thought I was numb. I was wrong. I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m confused. I’m frustrated. I’m frazzled. And I feel like I’m in a hamster wheel.
I want to scream, “It’s not your choice! I will not be a victim! I refuse!” But the thing about victimhood is that you usually don’t get to choose it. You can choose to remain there or leave the victimizing circumstance. And I suppose I could try to choose to leave. I could leave America. But that’s even more complicated than leaving a relationship, or a town, or a small space.
So I’m choosing to live with the notion that I could be a victim. My family could be victims. And yes, that’s a chance every human takes every day; being victimized by a bad, unscrupulous person or even just a bad circumstance is possible for all people at all times. But my family’s odds are higher. And it would be stupid of me to pretend like it’s smart to just “live my life” normally as though these things are as unlikely to interrupt my day, week, life as they are my mother’s.
I was triggered this morning by my daughter being given a police car as one of the three transportation devices for her to match at her mommy and me class. Every kid is given three. Why, out of the eight or nine kids there, do you give the Black child a police car today of all days? Obviously, it wasn’t malicious. I’m sure it wasn’t even a second thought. Or a first one. Because you have the privilege not to even consider that as a negative association for anyone. Especially not anyone educated and involved enough to be bringing their two-year-old to a mommy and me at the library. Maybe in a different circumstance, you would’ve realized it. In a different context, it might make sense. I need to be aware in all contexts, though. I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m confused. Where do we go from here?
Later today, after a nap, I will be taking Gadiella down to the Clarkstown Police Department. She will be a familiar face in a positive way to these officers, and they will know she’s one of their own. It’s a small step and I hope it will make a difference that to them, hopefully, she’ll be a person, not just a face or a number or “another one of *them*”. PALs exist for a reason. Be a familiar face in a good way. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to educate and take the action, but it is. That’s a way, for me, of trying to not be a victim. I hope it works.
And then I remembered the news.
And I realized that she was afraid that, God forbid, I wouldn’t come home that night. Afraid that I would just be legally minding my own business and that I’d come home dead.
And then I realized that, as an African-American male, how desensitized I was to the probability of my own premature demise. When I was heading out to Israel just last week, and people were telling me to “be safe,” I realized how indifferent I was to an untimely unfair death, seeing no difference if it came on the shores of Tel Aviv by the “bad guys” or at a gas station in Brooklyn by the “good guys.”
And in all this, I realized that—as much as “mainstream” Jews want to say that they don’t see color when it comes to Jews of Color, or as much as they want to say that they don’t have white privilege, or as much as they want to say that race doesn’t matter and that Jews of Color should be “just Jewish”—all of this matters, especially given the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in America, and overseas.
To Jews of Color, this all matters very, very, very much.
Despite BDS, Donald Trump, ISIS, and any other organization or manner of anti-Jewish sentiment, the “looks Jewish” demographic of Jew doesn’t face anything near this magnitude of threat merely by dint of being themselves.
#blacklivesmatter very much to us and is under threat FAR more than our #jewishlivesmatter.
And I realize that if Jewish lives were threatened in America, or anywhere else, on the same scale as the Spanish Inquisition or Holocaust, that unlike “mainstream” Judaism, #myjewish wouldn’t be shocked or surprised at all.
#myjewish wouldn’t be saying, “How could this happen here? Today? Now?” Because here, now, today, #myJewish wonders if we’re going home that day when a patrol car rolls up to us.
#myjewish wonders if we’ll be safe on the street at night going to services.
#myjewish hopes that a traffic stop isn’t our final stop.
#myjewish has #otherjewish telling us we are not in danger.
#myjewish has #otherjewish justifying circumstances.
#myjewish tells us that only our #jewishlifematters and our #otherselfslives don’t concern or affect us anymore.
#myjewish watches atrocities being committed “legally” by “sanctioned” entities.
#myjewish watches #otherjewish support said narratives, as if everything comparable Hitler did wasn’t “legal” and “sanctioned.”
#myjewish watches #otherjewish say “Never Again” yet support and be complicit in the narratives, propaganda, and dehumanization that remind me of Nazi Germany.
#myjewish sees #otherjewish decry those who “followed orders,” yet heralds those “following orders,” and says that our #otherselves should’ve “followed orders” as if “following orders” saved any of the Jewish citizens under the Third Reich.
#myjewish watches #otherjewish get tied up in knots about any comparison of the African-American experience to Jewish life in Nazi Germany, as if the entire existence of Nazi Germany was solely the Holocaust—and not the government system that painted Jews as the villains of society over the course of nearly a decade before the Final Solution was implemented.
#myjewish sees #otherjewish decrying their erasure from the #blacklivesmatter activism landscape, as well as their opinion on Israel being devoid of a Jewish voice thereby inherently erasing not only the African-American Jewish voices involved in the #blacklivesmatter movement, but also that of its co-founder, Alicia Garza (nee’ Schwartz), who is, in fact, Jewish.
#myjewish sees #otherjewish refusing to stand with #blacklivesmatter because of its few strains of anti-Semitism, yet expects #myjewish to be present for #otherjewish as we are simultaneously called “schvartze.”
#myjewish sees #otherjewish defensively cry out #notalljews, totally missing the point that it’s not about their hurt feelings but about our lost lives.
#mashiachnow? Most of you have no idea.
MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.