If I live and work, as I do, in the kind of daily, intimate Black-Jewish coalitions that were a mainstay of the civil rights movement but are now supposed to be fraught with mutual suspicion, I must have experienced a historically uncanny revelation or been drawn to the Jewish community through some mysterious pull of identification. It’s true that back in Long Beach, on days I opted out of middle school, the man at the corner deli would call me over and give me blueberry blintzes. He was the first person I knew was Jewish. I didn’t know what that meant, but the blintzes were good, and when you don’t have a lot of food, they are even better. But I also remember the delicious sushi a local Japanese restaurant gave me. I still love sushi, and blintzes, but neither helped me to understand racism or social change. There was no kumbaya experience, no light bulb, no moment where I became Paul on the road to Damascus. It was just common sense to study my enemy, White nationalism. And like any worthwhile research project, it has taken time.
A central insistence of antiracist thought over the past several decades is that, as with any social category produced by regimes of power, you don’t choose race, power chooses it for you; it names you. This is why all the well-meaning identification in the world does not make a White person Black. Likewise, as much as I draw inspiration from the Jewish community, and as much as I adore my Jewish partner and friends, it was my organizing against antisemitism as a Black antiracist that first pulled me to the Jewish community, not the other way around. I developed an analysis of antisemitism because I wanted to smash White supremacy; because I wanted to be free. If we acknowledge that White nationalism clearly and forcefully names Jews as non-white, and did so in the very fiber of its emergence as a post-civil rights right-wing revolutionary movement, then we are forced to recognize our own ignorance about the country we thought we lived in. It is time to have that conversation.
Eric K. Ward, “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism”, Political Research Associates (29 June 2017) [http://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/06/29/skin-in-the-game-how-antisemitism-animates-white-nationalism/]