Being a Black Jewish Woman in America on January 6

I was witnessing the underbelly of this country become exposed to the entire world.
January 11, 2021
A group of pro-Trump protesters wave flags while standing on an armored police vehicle on the grounds of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

The first day I moved back to my college campus, I, a Black Jewish woman, watched the news as the U.S. Capitol building was overtaken by white supremacists and Nazis. For a brief moment that day, my heart had fluttered with excitement about the news of a Black man and an Ashkenazi Jewish man representing Georgia in the Senate for the first time in history.

Even though I was born and raised in California, I come from Southern folks who fled the pervasive racism of the Confederacy. Senators Warnock and Ossoff represent the legacy, pain and triumph of hardworking, multiracial coalitions in the South demanding equality. I hoped, even if just imagined, that my ancestors would let out a sigh of relief, twinkles of pride would glisten in their eyes, and we would sense that we finally made them proud.

Yet, the news coverage quickly shifted to another unbelievable picture, one filled with no cheers of progress and long-deserved representation. The Capitol was captured, and all I could do was continue to unpack my suitcase. I saw images of white men wearing gigantic animal horns upon their heads, paint smeared on their faces as if they viewed themselves as warriors. A noose hung, and a Confederate flag waved in the air. My social media feed became plastered with individuals wearing shirts printed with anti-Semitic phrases.

I got up to stick my little mezuzah on the doorpost of my new room, adding to my magen david necklace around my neck, impressive afro and skirt that goes past my knees. I recited the traveler’s prayer before the plane took me to the side of the country where individuals — claiming to be patriots — invoked violence and terror onto my nation.

I thought that if any minority committed even a fraction of these acts, they would have not even made it to the steps — security would have taken them down. But I wasn’t surprised or shocked. America was watching America being shown who it truly is. I was simply witnessing the underbelly of this country become exposed to the entire world.

I was witnessing the underbelly of this country become exposed to the entire world.

I spent the rest of the day and the following scrolling through social media to distract and occupy my mind during a numbing quarantine. I eventually came across fellow friends and accounts posting about the importance of language when describing what occurred on January 6, how this insurrection threatened marginalized Americans and how to donate to various social advocacy organizations and individuals in need.

As a Jewish woman, I wondered why the only people acknowledging the blatant anti-Semitism demonstrated on the steps of our Capitol were other Jewish people. Jewish content creators, activists and everyday individuals were posting about the traumatizing experience of seeing Nazis parading in the revered halls of our Capitol. I became deeply upset that the Jewish community was being ignored, disregarded or, at the very least, not considered during these acts of terror.

As I watch the aftermath, I am still angry that individuals and accounts on social media speak about violence and discrimination in America without mentioning the real harm days like January 6 represent for Jewish people. I understand that Jewish people in this country do not neatly fit into the People of Color versus white binary or any one political affiliation. We are an incredibly diverse community with many different skin colors, cultures and stories.

Yet Americans tend to reduce us to being white and having experienced one traumatic event in Europe, which is taught in schools here and there. These perceptions contribute to the erasure of our identities as Jewish people and the discrimination we have experienced for thousands of years.

To speak plainly, everyone is an activist for equal rights until they have to support Jewish people. Nazis attack us and have always attacked us first and foremost. Jewish stories deserve to be taken seriously by social advocacy movements, and we deserve to live in peace.

I sit in a Black, observant, Jewish, female body that loves Israel, and I prepare for the world to attack me every day. I want the Jewish community to be listened to, I want Jews of color to be heard, and I want to not fear for my life each waking moment.

I say Am Yisrael Chai with the greatest pride, Black skin and a honey voice.

Tova Ricardo is a senior at Columbia University studying English and Sociology. She is also the Communications Intern at the Jews of Color Initiative.

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