Today is Juneteenth, an African-American holiday commemorating the day, in 1865, that news of the abolishment of slavery reached the state of Texas. You can read more about it here: https://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm
As Jews, we know all too well what it means to be persecuted, to have our motives and actions questioned, to be treated as “the other.” However, those of us whose skin is light enough to pass for “white” have a privilege denied to persons of color, and we need to be well aware of that. I can take off my kippah and people won’t necessarily peg me as Jewish, but a black person cannot take his or her skin color off like a piece of clothing.
When I began, a couple of weeks ago, to reach out to Black clergy and friends, I was appalled to hear their stories of being pulled over and arrested for out-of-date paperwork, having their check refused after the white person’s one in front of them was accepted, and worse, in the Jewish community, of questioning that person’s Jewish identity because of skin color. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve probably asked that question, although hopefully not out loud.
We white people have a lot to learn about what it means to be black in the US so we can learn how to be allies and to be supportive. We need to learn to acknowledge the unconscious biases we all have, whether it’s with respect to race, gender, religion and ethnicity.
This past week, I had a socially distant cup of coffee with Rev. Tristan Salley of the St. Paul AME Church. I joked about the fact that he takes his “light and sweet” and I take mine “strong and black,” but we both love coffee. That, and a desire to help make the world a better place for all, is how we create relationships and learn from each other.
Eventually, the protests will end, but racism won’t go away so fast, if ever. As Jews, we have a moral imperative to see the face of the Divine in every person we meet. May we be blessed with the strength and fortitude to be a large part of the solution.