People hate collectively to feel a sense of belonging. (Photo via Canva)
By Shira Goodman and Andrea Custis
We became friends when we each were leading Philadelphia affiliates of legacy civil rights groups – the National Urban League and ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).
We’ve worked together to advance voting rights, combat disinformation, push for equality and fight hate. We’ve engaged in tough conversations about racism and antisemitism, and we’ve stood together in solidarity when our communities were threatened. We’ve shared moments of success and worked alongside each other as our communities were suffering.
Given the recent controversies sparked by Ye’s (Kanye West) antisemitic rants and Kyrie’s posts about a Holocaust-denial film, we’ve been thinking about what it means to be committed to fighting hate. We’ve been considering the lessons we’ve taught each other about calling out hate regardless of its source and the ongoing process of becoming strong allies and partners.
We often get asked the awkward questions: why are Jews alone in the fight against antisemitism? Why don’t white people speak out against anti-Black racism on a consistent basis? We’ve witnessed members of our communities turning inwards, under the rationale that we have to take care of our own. We’ve been questioned about when the relationship between Jews and Blacks turned from a shared struggle to something fractured.
The problem with all of these queries is the premise itself – the “us or them” mentality built into the questions. That, coupled with the assumption that there is one way to define relationships between the Jewish and Black communities, effectively shuts down dialogue and blocks progress.
Our communities are not monolithic; to talk about the Jewish community or the Black community is to miss the fact that our communities are diverse and multi-faceted. It also fails to recognize that there are many who are part of both communities, but who are often forgotten or ignored in discussions about them. Moreover, none of these relationships can be captured or defined by a single moment in time. Instead, the relationships are evolving, and it is up to us to create the present and future we want to see.
What does it mean to be in the fight together? What can we expect of our organizational partners, our colleagues, our friends in those dark moments? And what should we offer in return?
The most important thing is to be present. Don’t let confusion, misunderstanding or fear of saying or doing the wrong thing overtake the instinct to reach out and offer help and support.
Ask questions if you’re confused or don’t understand why something has become a big issue in the news or on social media. If you’re being asked those questions, take the opportunity to explain and educate. Our conversations often include one of us saying “I didn’t know that” or “I didn’t realize.”
When someone – whether an organizational partner, or a friend or colleague, doesn’t react as we might have hoped, it’s a moment for honesty and education not accusations, judgment and retreat into isolation. If you’re hurt by someone’s silence in the face of an act of racism or antisemitism affecting your community, explain why. If the relationship is important enough to be impacted by that silence, it’s important enough to try to do the repair work and to ask for what you need.
The fight against hate has to be all-encompassing, and it must be a team sport. No one and no community can go it alone. In fact, the whole point of hate is to isolate and to other, to make the target feel alone. When we react to hate by retreating further into silos and emphasizing our divisions, we hand the haters a victory.
The forces that power antisemitism and racism are the same. Ignorance, grievances and their imagined sources, fear of the other, stereotypes and conspiracy theories can all morph into dangerous rhetoric that can transform into violence. Manufacturing a narrative that amplifies our differences or divides our communities only benefits those who hate all of us.
The needs and issues that unite the Jewish and Black communities should far outweigh the things that separate us. Our faith traditions, our commitment to justice and equality, our need for safety – these are all common bonds to build on. But communities can only have relationships if members of those communities interact, educate each other and work together. That takes time, work and commitment. It requires humility, being willing to make mistakes, and showing grace. It means being open to learning and to maybe being told of times you’ve gotten it wrong.
Community building is not easy work, nor is bridge building. But it is infinitely rewarding, and the benefits ripple out beyond those directly engaged. With the Martin Luther King Day of Service approaching, let’s all commit to this work.
Shira Goodman is the Director of Campaigns and Outreach of the Anti-Defamation League. Andrea Custis is the immediate past president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia. Their work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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