Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
I am a white Jew and a woman. The white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend with torches and guns expressed their hate toward me, toward all Jews, toward people of color, toward immigrants, toward anyone they perceive as different from themselves. They believe, among other things, that their culture is being threatened by those who are different than they are. One participant, Peter Cvjetanovic, has said, “As a white nationalist, I care for all people. We all deserve a future for our children and for our culture. White nationalists aren’t all hateful; we just want to preserve what we have.”
Those of us who understand that white supremacy has been baked into our nation from its beginning; who know that our justice system was set up unjustly, to benefit white people and disadvantage black people; who recognize the appalling difference in police response to a rally of white people carrying guns in Charlottesville versus police response to protests in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown, who was unarmed; we know that we are trying to take away what the white supremacists have. We really are, because we want to change the injustices that have allowed white supremacy to be dominant in our country, and the white supremacists want to keep those injustices in place.
Cvjetanovic may believe he cares for all people, but clearly he cares about them only so long as they stay in their place. If we were all truly equal, white heterosexual Christians would not be born with a leg up on others. Certainly many white men have hard lives. Being a white, heterosexual, Christian man doesn’t mean you have no problems. But it does mean that you’re better off than a person of color would likely be with those same problems.
I’ve heard it said that giving more rights to others doesn’t take rights away from those who already have them—it’s not a pie. Sometimes that is true, and sometimes it isn’t. Giving LGBT people the right to marry doesn’t take away anyone else’s right to do so (though some people seem to think it does)—that’s not a pie. College admissions or hiring for jobs is more like a pie, though. There is a limit to how many students get accepted to a given university, and there is a limit to how many desirable jobs there are. And if more people of color, Jews, immigrants get more of those spots, then yes, the white men will get fewer of them.
I understand that when you’re used to having the advantage, equality feels like discrimination. I can have compassion for that feeling. But doing the right thing sometimes makes things a little harder on ourselves. If “white culture” means “white superiority,” then yes, that culture should be threatened. I don’t believe it is under any serious threat, unfortunately, given how entrenched racism is in our society.
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was horrible and frightening. Even more frightening is that our president’s condemnation of it came too late and too weakly. The white supremacists believe he supports them, and he has given them no reason to think otherwise. I am committed to standing up not only for Jews—some of whom are white, others of whom are LGBTQ, people of color, immigrants, and of any and every ethnicity—and for non-Jewish people who are threatened by white supremacists. This is what we must do. If we can one day achieve full equality, this is how we will make America great—not again, but finally.
Photo by Mark Dixon from Pittsburgh, PA (Charlottesville-1520323) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons