Blacks and Jews as Minority People Who Were Once Enslaved

Rabbi Abraham Heschel presents the Judaism and World Peace award to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., December 7, 1965. The two marched side-by-side for civil rights.

By Michael Brown Published on July 13, 2020

Although relations between American Blacks and Jews have been strained in recent years, during the Civil Rights era, Jewish leaders marched side by side with men like Dr. King. There was a sense of commonality, of shared heritage, of being two peoples who had been oppressed, two peoples who both knew slavery. Now, in the aftermath of the DeSean Jackson Hitler tweets, the theme of shared suffering has emerged again.

Distinguishing Jews from Whites?

As expressed by the outspoken sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, himself Black, “even though you might have a lighter hue, a lighter pigmentation, the Jewish community, not the white community, the Jewish community is the one that had to endure the Holocaust. We talk about 6 million Jews that were murdered by that devil, Adolf Hitler, that wasn’t white people that were murdered, those were Jewish folks.”

Not White people but Jewish folks? Weren’t the Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust primarily Ashkenazi Jews, hence Caucasian? What did Smith mean?

His point appeared to be that they weren’t killed because of whiteness, since the German and other killers were White as well. They were killed because they were Jews, and even here in America, they remain a minority among the larger White community.

He continued, “So, from a categorical perspective, it’s two differents. It’s two different groups. When we’re talking about racial oppression, racial inequality and beyond, we’re talking about what’s happening in this nation.”

Of course, anti-Jewish discrimination in America cannot be compared to the suffering of American Blacks. But Jewish suffering worldwide through history is as awful and unrelenting as the suffering of any people group. In that regard, there can be great commonality in shared experiences.

Similarly, NFL player Zach Banning, who is also Black, said, “There’s a common misbelief among black and brown people, and I know this from growing up, and I’ve heard it and listened to it: that Jewish people are just like any other white race. You know, you mix them up with the rest of the majority and you don’t understand that they’re a minority as well.”

So, even though the vast majority of American Jews are White, they are a minority within White America with their own unique history of suffering.

How interesting to hear these comments from two Black Americans.

The Black Hebrew Israelites

In the early 1990s, I had a confrontation with a group of Black Hebrew Israelites in Times Square, New York.

As I heard them preach through a loudspeaker, I was moved to challenge their lies and confront their hate.

Then, I turned to the crowd and shouted out, “These men are deceiving you! Jesus preached a religion of love! They’re preaching a religion of hate!”

After that, I said to the preachers and their bodyguards, “We are both nations of liberated slaves, and one day we’ll find ourselves at the bottom of the barrel. We will need each other!” (What I failed to calculate was that I was the only White person in the crowd, aside from my colleague, himself a Jewish believer in Jesus like me. Before I left, the small crowd started chanting, “Death to America! Death to the white man!” It appears they didn’t feel the love! For a more recent confrontation with Black Hebrew Israelites, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina, see here.)

Aside from being an interesting story, though, I relate it here to emphasize the perspective of shared historic suffering, something that is often forgotten today because of American Jewish prosperity and influence.

But it wasn’t always like that, even here in America.

The Shared Suffering

As noted in an October 2018 article in The Atlantic, “Even as Jews started to break into certain industries, such as entertainment, in the 1930s and ’40s, they confronted tight restrictions that kept them out of law firms, medical professions, universities and colleges, fraternities, hotels, country clubs, and more. One hotel boasted in an advertisement, ‘No Hebrews or tubercular guests received.’

Elite institutions of higher learning such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton imposed strict quotas on how many Jews they would admit. The application for Sarah Lawrence College asked, “Has your daughter been brought up to strict Sunday observance?” Like African Americans, Jews were subject to restrictive real-estate covenants that prevented “Hebrews” from living in particular neighborhoods.”

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Of course, anti-Jewish discrimination in America cannot be compared to the suffering of American Blacks. But Jewish suffering worldwide through history is as awful and unrelenting as the suffering of any people group. In that regard, there can be great commonality in shared experiences.

That’s why today, when a Black American is killed in cold blood and it appears the killer will get away with murder, the pain of past lynchings is immediately present. In the same way, when antisemitism rears its ugly head in America, especially in extreme, murderous forms, that bloodshed is experienced in light of the Holocaust and prior atrocities.

Farrakhan and Others Stirring Up Hatred of Jews Among Blacks

Ironically, divisive Black leaders like Louis Farrakhan have stirred up hatred of the Jewish people among their followers. The Nation of Islam even published a three-volume work that claims to detail the major role allegedly played by the Jews during the time of slavery. (For a demolition of these volumes with accurate scholarship, see here.)

And members of the Jewish community have sometimes looked down their noses at American Blacks, as if they were somehow inferior. The animosity has gone both ways.

As for the issue of “whiteness,” Fox News reports that, “The City of Seattle held a racially segregated employee training session aimed at White staffers and instructing them on “undoing your own whiteness” in order to be held accountable by people of color, according to documents obtained by a public records request.”

And get this: “Those who attended the session were also shown a datasheet titled ‘Assimilation into Whiteness,’ which claimed to document how those of Arab, Jewish, Finnish, German, Italian, Armenian or Irish descent still classify as White.”

So, an Arab American, who is certainly part of a small minority that has many obstacles to overcome, given the suspicion that he might be a violent Muslim, is classified as “White” – as in evil, bad, sinful White.

And it is the same with Jews. They are White too, and therefore part of the problem, guilty of White Supremacy.

Thankfully, neither Smith nor Banner got the memo, and their comments point the way to renewed and improved relationships between the Black and Jewish communities.

We share a history as liberated slaves and oppressed minorities. We can share a future as free people working for a better world. Why not?

 

Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test? Connect with him on FacebookTwitter or YouTube.

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