A friend was over the other day and she was telling me about an incident that happened at her business. She has a retail store and a man had come in and was chatting about world events, local news, as well as some cultural innuendos sprinkled in and then after much chit chat, he started ranting about the Jews. Many things went through her mind, first, this was her business, second, fear, and third, the sinking feeling that once again someone else came forward to talk about how much he despised Jews.
Her husband was quick to usher the man out, handing him his invoice and package and saying “good-bye” – all this was done without once telling the anti-Semite that they, the owners of the business, my friend and her family, are Jewish.
My friend said two things – she was glad her husband, who is not Jewish, was able to see what anti-semitism looks like up close and personal because their children will one day experience this, and two, she was thankful she was brought up Jewish because it helped her understand and acknowledge racism because she could identify with people who are oppressed and hated.
I told her that having experienced anti-semitism throughout my life I’m still, even now at this age, taken aback by just how much Jews are loathed in this world and sometimes I even naively ask, why?
When I began digging into the depths of racism and how this affects my Black son and everyone in this country, I thought it was natural for me to relate to my own growing up in a racist country – the one where everything revolves around a Christian season – or the one where because my father wasn’t born in this country and had a thick Spanish accent, I grew up watching this bull of a man being made fun of by ignorant people.
I told my friend about some of my encounters where I didn’t speak up – the one where I went with my first husband to buy a house in Metairie in 1984 and the owner said with a big smile, “As long as you are not a N____ or a Jew, I’ll sell it to you” or the night at Buffa’s when the drunk woman told the Jewish in the oven joke and then followed it with one about Blacks and I just turned my head. Meanwhile, a friend with me, was the one who told the woman without flinching, “I don’t like that.”
I was researching Jews and slavery just days before my friend visited because I was struck by how natural it was for Jewish families to hold a seder every year for Passover and teach and recall when they were slaves and to bring the Holocaust in as a current event to teach about how once again we were enslaved and forced into labor. When I was online, I came across a site about why Blacks hate Jews and I began to read this treatise that said Jews were the first slave traders, slave holders, and built the wealth of this country oppressing others into working for them – I had to step back, there wasn’t enough there to make it seem like it was all true and I didn’t have enough that I knew to say that none of it was true.
Jews are so reviled all over, not just in this country, but the awful truth is that in this country, we can hide behind a veil of whiteness. Everyday when I get up and put on my clothes and go out into this world that harbors psychopaths and racists and anti-Semites, I get to choose how and who I will confront each day. My Black friends don’t have this option, they wake every morning with a skin color they happened to be born into that makes them the target of every form of racism imaginable.
I’m thankful I was born Jewish because I do believe it taught me about being marginalized from the dominant paradigm. I know when I reach deep into my research for those involved in resistance against racism, it is Jews who come up time and time again, and that makes me proud of my heritage. But I made a conscious decision not to raise my son Jewish because I thought here he was adopted by an older, white mother and will grow up a Black male in this country – he doesn’t need the added burden of being a Jew.
When I do workshops on race and parenting, I ask the participants if anyone would choose not to have a child because of racism – and people raise their hands. It’s sad, but then again, I chose not to give my son my religion for similar reasons.
By Rachel Dangermond