June 19, 2020

FOX | The Progressive Jew’s Role in the New Civil Rights Movement

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This article is partially adapted from a Facebook post made by the author at the onset of the summer’s surge in BLM protests

It becomes difficult to devise new ledes for articles in the age of Covid-19. Coronavirus has swept the globe, turning our lives upside down, I might say. Or maybe, Now three months since our spring semesters were cut short, the future remains frustratingly uncertain. These statements are true, and those among us not fully consumed by fatigue might even read the 700 words bound to follow them. But of this uncertainty was born a potential for change. The world after the invention and distribution of the vaccine will not mirror the one that seemed so unshakable so recently. As change hurdles toward us, we can either work to define it or wait patiently to see what tomorrow holds. Whether indoors on lockdown or out in the streets, let’s commit to meaningful action, strategically place our time and resources, and wield the untapped power of this generation to ensure the grass really is greener when we get to the other side.

There is nothing new about racism in America. The country is, in fact, newer than its own racism. But a perfect storm of contemporary events and historical patterns have fostered a moment of extreme pain and bold potential that we students have an obligation to understand and act upon.

The most visible way people are getting involved is taking to the streets in acts of protest. Across the country, protests surged in a manner unseen in a long time. While we are used to the actions in big cities, the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement today is on display in protests sweeping rural America. But our potential to create change can be understood in three parts: local, governmental and cultural. We should participate in all three. Already, public support for the movement has skyrocketed. This time can be different.

People from all different backgrounds have different roles and responsibilities in this movement, from ally to advocate to leader. I write from my own Jewish background to my fellow Jews witnessing this racism with horror and this movement with hope.

There is a necessary role for the progressive Jew. 100 years ago, and even 50, our allyship with Black people was born as much of empathy and duty as of shared struggle. But over the years, our race (for white Jews) has surpassed our ethnicity in our relationship with American power. To the politician, the prison warden and the police officer, we are white.

I am reminded of the Book of Exodus. In the second book of the Bible, Moses is sent to free the Hebrew people from subjugation under the Pharaoh of Egypt. However, he has a severe stutter. He cannot, at first, be an effective communicator for his people. So he is accompanied by his brother, Aaron, to stand alongside him and relay the message of Moses to the Pharaoh: “Let my people go.”

With each passing year, we white Jews join more closely with the lived experience of other white Americans. Though anti-Semitism persists, the days of widespread direct and oppressive racism against us fall further into collective memory. And yet we maintain those memories, which give us a particular strength and a particular obligation.

To be clear, Black America has no stutter. Their demands for equality and justice and safety ring loud and clear. The issue is that these calls fall on deaf ears.

We can recall the pain of our past while wielding the privilege whiteness holds in our present to play the role of Aaron. Black America demands justice and liberation. We Jews, remembering both our own history and Aaron who once lifted Moses, have the strength and obligation amplify that call.

In a unique position at a unique time with a unique power, we have no choice but to step up.

I’ll see you all out there.

 

Elijah Fox is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at efox@cornellsun.com. What Does the Fox Say? runs biweekly this summer.