Social Issues

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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