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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

My Black and Jewish Identity Cannot – And Will Not – Be Separated

Nothing that has occurred in the past several weeks is new, nor are my feelings regarding current events. My disdain for killers who lynch Black women and men has not softened, and my disappointment in the way our lives are commodified is not novel. 

The haste with which I witnessed conversations affirming the fact that Black lives matter devolving into distracted and divisive debates came as no surprise. I was raised knowing the history of how my ancestors were kidnapped and forced to build this nation in chains, freed only to enter a new stage of oppression that consisted of pogroms, lynchings and mass incarceration. Anyone who can’t see that the current system of oppression is an extension of the centuries-old racist tendencies of this nation is intentionally ignorant or a conscious accomplice. 

However, the unique experience of Black people in this country is being minimized by so-called allies as well. Allies who claim to support us but were silent until they realized they could use our lives as a disguise to further their political agenda of dividing and conquering minorities in this nation. Blaming Jews and Israel for police brutality is a ridiculous and anti-Semitic claim independently, but what it truly indicates is the low level of value placed on my life experience living as a Black man. 

“Black lives matter is not a conditional political movement, but a principle that my people, Black and Jewish, have stood for, for generations.”

Black lives matter unconditionally, not only when lumped together with “all lives,” and not only when they can be conveniently commodified and misrepresented to attack Jews. This appropriation is nothing new to us. I am sick and tired of seeing my entire community reduced to a political conversation when we deserve to be mourned, celebrated and recognized as the holistic community we are. When people misconstrue violence against Black people to push Jews out of social justice spaces, it is the first step in delegitimizing Black history and the independent value of Black lives. 

The second step is when true allies capitulate to this fake ally-ship by using it as an excuse to distance themselves from a justice movement. It is not time to be silent about anti-Semitism pushed by individuals who are exploiting Black lives. It is time to fight it and refocus the movement on what it is actually about: the inherent value of Black lives, independent of unrelated political causes tacked on after the fact. 

If someone chooses to use claims of anti-Semitism to excuse themselves for fighting for justice, s/he is abandoning the responsibility we all have to fight bigotry when we see it, no matter how it is disguised. The same way that my identity as Black and Jewish cannot be separated, my firm belief in Black liberation and Jewish liberation cannot be separated. This means calling out anti-Semitism without playing into the oppressors’ hands and allowing my Black identity to be politicized. 

That is what Black lives matter means. Not a conditional political movement, but a principle that my people, Black and Jewish, have stood for, for generations, whether in the Jewish leadership that stood alongside Black leaders in creating the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the historically black colleges and universities that boldly accepted Jewish academics fleeing Nazi Europe.


Noah Shufutinsky is a senior at George Washington University majoring in Judaic Studies. He also is a hip-hop recording artist and producer who goes by the name Westside Gravy.

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