This week Yityish Aynaw, the first black Miss Israel will sit down with Barack Obama, the first black U.S. President. The former may be a beauty pageant winner and the latter the leader of the free world, but beyond the different job descriptions they have a lot in common. Their respective victories made them “firsts,” and by making the strides they have, they’ve also been subject to unfair and unwarranted vitriol, much of it downright racist.
Both Aynaw and President Obama have found success in nations that were founded on noble ideals about freedom from persecution, and proven that individuals can overcome discrimination. As Aynaw herself noted, “For me, [President Obama] is a role model who broke down barriers, a source of inspiration that proves that every person really can reach any height, regardless of their religion, race or gender.”
But unfortunately while success for minorities is possible in both countries, it remains far from probable due to entrenched oppression. In fact, both nations have won new measures of freedom for their own people too often and too intrinsically on the backs of the oppressed, whether second-class citizens at home or victims of occupation and foreign wars.
A few week ago I had two very different experiences having to do with my necklace. At a party a friend of a friend asked about the Chai around my neck and then asserted that there weren’t any black Jews. On the ride home another person, a stranger, noticed the Chai and then pulled out his gold Magen David. He shook my hand and, with a genuine smile, called me sister.
They were both white male thirty-something Jews, but the experiences were very different.
If I asked my Jewish friends – a mix of black Orthodox Jews by birth, black Jews by Choice, Hispanic Jews, and liberal-lefty Ashkenazi Jews – if Jews are racist, they would all answer yes. They would site the treatment of Arabs in Israel, and the current situation with undocumented Sudanese immigrants in the country. They would tell me personal stories of hearing nasty words said around them in synagogue, or they might share their experiences being the only black child in yeshiva. My Ashkenazi friends have told me about discussions around Shabbat tables, where, among friends, hateful comments about Arabs or blacks littered the conversation.
And then there are also the more subtle moments of racism in our community, when it’s not so black and white.
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:
“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:
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