a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

#BlackLivesMatter and Yes, it’s Important to Say

Posted on: December 10, 2014

I can't breatheLast Tuesday was a hard one for me.

When the Grand Jury in Staten Island returned a non-indictment verdict in the choking death of Eric Garner, another black man in a long line of black men who have died at the hands of police, was enraged. My responsibilities for the day were pushed aside and a vacillated between extreme anger and extreme sadness. And disbelief that we lived in a society not much different from that of the Jim Crow south.

It sounds strange, but could “see” how the Grand Jury in the Michael Brown case could have reached their decision. This is not to say that I agree with it, at all, the decision not to indict was injustice at it’s finest. I was livid that Michael Brown’s life wasn’t worth a trial, but I could see how a Grand Jury, faced with conflicting evidence and persuasive attorneys could have come up with their decision. I was furious, I felt defeated, but for some reason I didn’t feel moved, and in fact felt quite removed from the entire thing.

I reposted prayers from friends who were on the front lines in Missouri and like everyone else I noticed the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter start to trend on social media, come out of the mouths of news casters and protesters alike.

Perhaps about a week later a new hashtag started popping up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds; #alllivesmatter. I had lots of feelings about it, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it until the decision about Eric Garner came down. The feeling I pin pointed was anger.

I found this infographic on the Facebook site of comedienne and advocate, Franchesca Ramsey. One of the most popular replies had this to say:

black lives matter
1. I have Black friends who agree with me that the police are justified/protesting is wrong.

I hear: Use my imaginary Black friend as the example of how Black people should think and feel about important issues because I don’t like what you expressed.

2. Hey, #alllivesmatter

I hear: I’m going to ignore the current topic and insert a whole other topic because real dialogue on this issue makes me extremely uncomfortable.

3. Please look up what Morgan Freeman has to say about racial issues.

I hear: I found an excerpt of a Black celebrity speaking about racial issues that you should apply to your consciousness. Please don’t watch past 2:11, because you’ll realize that I took his statement out of context. Didn’t you people vote in Morgan Freeman as your moral compass last year?


Yes, all lives matter. But when we live in a society that perpetuates racial divide and racial injustice it’s important to say #blacklivesmatter. When our country believes that racism is behind us, and yet we continue to watch as black men, women and children being targeted simply for being black, it’s important to say #blacklivesmatter. When black parents and parents of color have to teach their children to be better, smarter, more polite, more “on” than their white counter parts, just to assure that their children are prepared for the world to see them as black first and everything else (a Harvard Law Professor, a college educated business man, a doctor, a lawyer, a kid stealing cigarettes or a man breaking up a fight) second, it’s important to say #blacklivesmatter. When the parents of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and countless others have been told by the society with which they live that they’re loved one’s lives aren’t worth justice, it’s important to say #blacklivesmatter. When police forces around the country continually and systematically target communities of colors, it’s important to say  #blacklivesmatter.

To change it to #alllivesmatter is to look the racial injustice of this country in the eye and then to proclaim that you don’t see it. And perhaps you don’t. And if you don’t, psst … That’s White Privilege.

I’ve watched my Facebook wall flood with marches, protests, actions, words, pictures and yes, praying feet since the start of this whole balagan that is, unfortunately nothing new. I also watched the silence of some of my white friends. Perhaps in fear of saying the “wrong” thing, perhaps because they don’t feel like an injustice is done, perhaps because posting pictures of cats is more important than using the platform that is social media for a good cause. And while I am so proud and happy to say that for the large number of my white friends this is not true, there have been a handful of my “friends” who have said things like:

But, Erika, not all white people are racist, I’m not.

How would you feel if people starting saying #Whitelivesmatter?

I feel like if this was reversed and white people were saying what you are saying that we’d get a lot of heat.

It feels like a double standard.

racismHere’s the thing, and I hope all of those white friends can hear me: Racism is real, and to deny it is to allow it to continue, not just now but for your children and their children.

If we, as adults in our twenties and thirties don’t do something to stop it, it will only get worse. It is sickening and it should sicken and anger all of us that we still have to “protest this shit” as the infamous protest sign reads. We have become a generation of apathetic, lazy delusions. We have come to believe that simply because there is a black man in the white house that we, as a country, are progressive. That we’ve moved beyond the color line. But I ask my white counterparts to put themselves in my shoes. Do you know what it feels like to walk around in black skin? Of course not, and it’s not something you will ever experience. And while it’s not something I would ever trade for the world, I sometimes wish that I could give it away, if only for a day.

Recently, two terrible things have come out of the Jewish community; A Jewish man asked “What about Jewish lives” (see above, see also; Jews are thought of as white folks. See also; some of us Jews are happy to be seen as white first and Jewish second) and there was a stabbing at the Chabad head quarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. B”H the victim has made progress and I pray for a speedy recovery. I also am very aware that because the assailant was a black man,it may  wreak havoc in a community and neighborhood where race relations and tensions have always been on edge. We, as Jews, are not immune to racism. And, it is our duty not to just talk about justice, but to work towards it.

Not just by quoting Heshel Frederick Douglass and talking about it, but to actual pray with our feet, our votes, and our voices. We have a history of persecution, it’s true,but thank G-d, for most Jews that history is behind us and we’ve made it pretty well in America.

But for Jews of Color and black Jews we can never be seen as simply Jews, when we’re always seen first as black people. We have an opportunity, here, to continue to turn the course of direction in terms of race and racism in our country, or we can chose to remain quiet and keep believing in the lie of progressiveness. Just as we can never forget the horrors of the Shoah, we can never forget that our country was founded on lands we stole and built on the backs of an enslaved people.





2 Responses to "#BlackLivesMatter and Yes, it’s Important to Say"

Thank you. I am in complete agreement. Black lives matter. If white people were treated the way Black people are treated, by the police, the courts, employers, the schools, etc. Then #whitelivesmatter would mean something. It doesn’t mean anything and is a way of simply rejecting an emerging civil rights movement, which is about the current state of our country.

Amen and Amen
I hope to G-d the country wakes up. It’s insane that this is still happening!

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