Remarks to Bend the Arc national call
following the attack on Buffalo's Black community
Remarks to Bend the Arc's post-Buffalo call
May 19, 2022
We come together in a space of mourning tonight.
We’re feeling many emotions.
Maybe you’re feeling grief for the Black community in Buffalo; and for all the communities now that are facing heightened political violence.
Maybe you’re feeling fear about how antisemitism is animating these attackers.
Maybe you’re feeling anger and frustration about all the different kinds of daily violence that Black people go through, and how only certain kinds of violence seem to rise to the attention of the non-Black public.
If you’re feeling an emotion I haven’t named, let’s just pause long enough to take a breath or two, and notice what you are feeling tonight.
And as we come back together, I want to talk about another part of why this event in Buffalo hurts.
We know that “Black” & “Jewish” are not two separate terms. We are overlapping communities. But this event hurts even for those of us who don’t share both of these identities. And it’s because Black and Jewish communities have meant something to each other in this country.
I’m not talking about a little window of interaction in the 60s. We have meant something to each other for a long time. More than a hundred years ago, when Black communities in the US and Jewish communities in Russia were both suffering repeated violent attacks, Black American communities organized support for Jewish victims of mob violence in Russia, and Jewish immigrants who arrived here and saw the violence being unleashed against Black communities understood that Black people were suffering pogroms.
We have been seeing each other for a long time. We recognize something in each other, because for centuries, all over the world, our communities have survived because we built cultures of resistance. Our survival has been anchored in cultures that offered us something different than the oppressive systems around us.
And in America, our communities got just a little time to interact, before the forces of racial capitalism - of privilege offered to white people on the condition that Black people remain subjugated - started working to tear us apart from each other. And for those of us who are Black and Jewish maybe there are moments it can feel like being torn apart from within.
Our peoples have been present at the creation of white supremacy. We have known that it has to end. Black Jews, and Black non-Jews, have known that consistently.
But many of us who are non-Black Jews have spent much of the last century hoping that we could survive white supremacy. Could we compromise? Could we figure out a way around it? Could we get by within it?
We’re in a moment now when that illusion - that some of us can achieve a good life while others of us are denied that - is being torn down. With the rise of the Right, those of us who are not Black are facing the answer to our question: White supremacy is going to keep knocking on our door until we dismantle it completely.
And so Jews are at a turning point. More and more of us are coming to understand that the compromise in America that worked for some of us was not actually stable ground for Jewish wellbeing. That our future depends on building a multiracial democracy in the United States. And we don’t know what that’s going to look like, because we’ve never had one. It’s not going to look like going back to the pre-Trump years.
As scary as this moment is, there are ways that we are in a powerful position.
First, because throughout these decades, when most Jews in America felt like the system was good enough for them, there was an inconquerable separation between Black communities and most Jews - even though many non-Black Jews did care, and wished it were different.
Our communities have meant something to each other. On a deep level, all of us want to know what it feels like - for these other people that we care about to really have our back. And now, because conditions around us have become more clear, we are going to get to figure out how to do that. As scary as this is, we are fortunate to be alive in this moment and have this opportunity.
Second, because there are parts of the progressive Jewish community that have meaningful Black leadership now, and that is a key to getting us where we need to go. Because Black organizers have expertise in how to resist white supremacy in America. And those of us who aren’t Black are going to contribute a lot too. All of us as Jews bring a culture of resistance, and some of us bring many cultures of resistance. We have so much going for us right now as a community.
Third, because Jews in Bend The Arc and our partner organizations are well-positioned to reach out to many other Jews in America, and provide strength to other Jews and lead them. And many other Jews in America right now are listening, and are ready to hear how we move forward.
So on that note I want to thank Graie Hagans, whose ideas shaped a lot of what I just shared, and I’m going to pass it to Ben and Ginna who are going to get into what happened and how we do move forward.
Sources: On Black solidarity with Jewish pogrom victims in the Russian empire see Arnold Shankman, “Brothers across the Sea: Afro-Americans on the Persecution of Russian Jews, 1881-1917.” Jewish Social Studies 37, no. 2 (1975): 114–21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4466873. Hasia Diner's book In the Almost Promised Land catalogues Jewish immigrant papers' descriptions of white terror against Black communities as pogroms.