Sisterhood Blog

Sh— Jews Say to (Non-White) Jews

By Erika Davis

  • Print
  • Share Share
franchesca.net
Franchesca Ramsey, in a still from “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls”

The “Shit Girls Say” videos, which The Sisterhood’s Elissa Strauss weighed in on here, have been an online phenomenon with spin-offs including “Shit Guys Say” and the most spot-on, “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls. “ (Nuggets include: “Jews were slaves, too; you don’t hear us complaining about it all the time” and “you guys can do so much with your hair” and “not to sound racist, but…”)

As I watched this video for the fourth time, I realized that someone should make a video called “Shit White Jews Say To Black Jews.” It would include statements like:

You’re Jewish?”

“Where should I put my dirty dish?”

“Are you someone’s nanny?”

I thought it was just me, but when I asked other Jews of Color, they told me they’ve heard things such as:

“Oh don’t worry, shvartze is just Yiddish for black.”

“Wait, so you’re not Ethiopian?”

“I so want to come to your house for Shabbat. I live for soul food.”

“Do you know X? She converted, but she used to be Korean.”

“Racism isn’t a problem in the Jewish community.”

I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt. I usually assume they’re not used to seeing a black person at their synagogue who wasn’t security, that they’re genuinely curious or that they simply don’t know better. I’d like to think that when the person walks away from me they have a better idea of who Jews are and what Jews look like.

Jews have been a multi-ethnic people since biblical times. Both Torah history and anthropology trace human beings from the land mass now known as Africa to the farthest reaches of the earth. And the environments we adapted to determined everything from the color of our skin to the texture of our hair to the shape of our eyes.

Recently CNN published on its website a piece about the increasing diversity within the Jewish community. I was excited to see the piece — and even more excited to see the Jewish diversity organization Be’chol Lashon, (literally, “in every tongue”) featured in it.

The problem with the CNN article is that it assumes that Jews who are non-white are Jews because they’ve been adopted or converted, or they’ve married white Jews. It doesn’t acknowledge that many non-white Jews are born into Judaism.

According to numbers compiled in 2004 by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, Jews who are African–American, black, Latino, Hispanic, Native American, mixed race, African, South American, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Asian and Mizrahi make up 20% of Jews in the United States alone.

Jews who speak about justice often quote Heschel’s famous “praying with my feet,” line, but how many actually walk the walk? From where I stand as a new convert to Judaism, as a black, gay woman, Jews are skeptical of anyone who is not like them and often cannot see their own prejudices.

Shabbat dinner in the home of African–American Jews will taste different than Shabbat dinner in a Mexican–American Jewish home and different than Shabbat dinner in an Indian Jewish home, but they’re all celebrating Shabbat. We’ve been a diverse people since the mixed multitude went with the Israelites out of Egypt. And our institutions need to be places that represent — and celebrate — this diversity, in their liturgy, curricula and programming.

One of the best things has come out of Franchesca Ramsey’s “Shit Black Girls Say…” video is that it opened the conversation about race, ignorance and insensitivity. These conversations are easily adaptable to the Jewish community. It’s okay to ask questions, as long as the questions are sincere, genuine and neutral:

“Did you enjoy the service?”

“Is this your first time to Congregation XYZ?”

“Will you be joining us tomorrow morning for services?”

All are acceptable and normal questions a newcomer to a Jewish community expects to hear.

Not welcome are questions that ask how one is Jewish or if they are Jewish. Random comments about Ethiopian Jewry also fall into that category.

I’ve been the only person sitting in a pew at busy congregations. Even when the pews start to fill up and there’s nowhere else to sit, I notice that people will not sit next to me. If someone does sit next to me, they’ll often ignore my presence.

Luckily, I’ve found a congregation in Brooklyn that is open and vibrant. I walk into shul every Friday evening and am greeted warmly by members of the congregation and by the rabbi. This is what Shabbat services should be like — for all Jews.

Erika Davis blogs at Black, Gay and Jewish


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shit Girls Say, Racism, Jews of Color, Erika Davis

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.