How my Jewish background opened my eyes to racism

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I often wonder what my life would be like if I had been raised in a Christian home. Would I be the same person I am today? Would I still prioritize understanding different viewpoints – even those (or especially those) I disagree with?

It’s easy for me to resent my Jewish background sometimes. It’s the biggest reason I still feel like an outsider around Christians.

But there’s one big reason I’m grateful for growing up a minority: being Jewish in a town of gentiles who frequently misunderstood me taught me radical compassion for those who are also misunderstood, or wrongly categorized.

So when the Black Lives Matter movement was formed, I couldn’t help but pay attention. While my experiences as a marginalized Jew are in no way comparable to the struggle of being black in America, witnessing Christian privilege made it easy for me to understand the concept of white privilege, and the ways I am subconsciously guilty of perpetuating it. It just seemed rather obvious to me.

But for many Christians, systemic racism is not so obvious. A friend of mine shared this article on Facebook, written in response to the black men who had the cops called on them at Starbucks while they waited for a friend to show up. If I had been raised in a Christian bubble, and had little to no exposure to people who are different than me, I wonder if this is the sort of comment I would make:

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I wish this type of response was an anomaly, but it’s not. If you pay attention to the news at all, and dare to wade into comment threads (a habit I really need to stop), these types of comments come from many self-identified Christians. Even well-intentioned comments like “I don’t see color” or “There’s no race but the human race” are problematic. In an ideal world, a person’s race shouldn’t matter, but we live in a world where it does.

I have experienced similar forms of erasure in my struggle to balance Christian faith with Jewish cultural identity, when well-meaning Christians told me that that didn’t matter, because “There is no Jew or gentile in Christ!” Even if that’s true in principle, there are no magic words to make the issue of identity disappear or simply resolve itself. We are not a monolithic species. How can we be, when society treats people differently based on appearance and belief systems?

There is so much I’d like to say to the person who wrote that comment, though I’m trying to avoid getting tangled up in arguments where I can’t see a person’s face. It’s a frustrating comment on multiple levels, but more than anything, it just saddens me. It’s indicative of a faith movement that has strayed far from the teachings of a man who is himself a minority, and whose story has more in common with black men falsely assumed to be dangerous than the white people who sermonize about equal value from the comfort of their suburban neighborhoods and churches.

Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

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6 thoughts on “How my Jewish background opened my eyes to racism

  1. Pingback: Judaism is declining, but Jews are not | Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. Pingback: Why so bitter? | Sarahbeth Caplin

  3. The spectre of racism stalks the lands of every nations, its toxicity takes many forms, some overt and some subtle. Until we are able to judge only by a person’s deeds and character no people, no grouping, no nation will ever be healthy.

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  4. From my perspective as an African-American who grew up during the 1950’s–1970’s, here’s a few observations:

    1. Although the Christian faith is strong among African-Americans and is not diminishing, most evangelical writers and commentators assume that only Euro-Americans are “evangelical.” Our opinions in any of these polls are NEVER sought.

    2. Most Euro-Americans have never been informed that “white privilege” is a reality that exists, whether or not you feel personally “privileged.”

    3. Most Euro-Americans have no understanding of racism as a SYSTEMIC SOCIETAL PROBLEM, versus their own personal feeling of “not feeling racist.” Some Euro-American Christians vehemently deny our experiences of racism and racist behaviors that affect us in the wider society.

    This is one reason I feel that the Exodus story and all that it teaches should NOT be glossed over or truncated in Passover celebrations, in order to “make the connection to Yeshua” as our Passover Lamb. The Exodus narratives contain much that Christians need to fully discuss,
    especially with the young and the next generations. The Exodus account is really the world’s first theologically-based “civil rights document.” It is rich with themes and teaches us what YAHWEH
    Elohim thinks about injustice and oppression–themes that many churches “forget” or “leave out.”

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  5. I was raised in a non-religious household, which I think affected me is a lesser, but similar way by being an outsider of “church culture”. I simply cannot believe those who claim to be “color blind”. It is simply not possible (except for the truly blind) to not notice the color of a person’s skin, their facial features, accent, whether they are wearing a yarmulke or a head scarf or a turban, etc. and consciously or unconsciously respond. They are deceiving themselves.

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