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White Ashkenazi Jews Eliminating White Racism

In October 2018 I led a North American White Ashkenazi Jews Eliminating White Racism Workshop. Cherie Brown (the International Liberation Reference Person for Jews) and Diane Balser (the International Liberation Reference Person for Women) assisted me.

I began by saying that we were not there to achieve something. Instead our goal was to head in each other’s direction—as a contradiction to our urgency to accomplish things, which is different from our human desire for tikkun olam (healing the world). Our goal was to deepen our relationships and resist separation (“I’m out of here”) and to build enough safety and caring that we could face and discharge racism. For introductions we shared where our people had hailed from and if our last names were different from what they had been originally. People said that that was the beginning of bringing more of themselves into the room.

We worked on the early defeats that have made us confused about our connections with others and about what we can do in the world, that have kept us from going after [pursuing] each other and made us vulnerable to the lies about and disconnections from People of the Global Majority. We moved from there to the defeats of our people that we felt in utero and saw on people’s faces when we were born. One of the things I said as I worked with people on our people’s defeats was, “Not only can we recover from our individual defeats; we can also end the effects of the early defeats of our people.”

White Ashkenazi Jews are relatively new to assimilation into the white identity. (In some groups of white people, we are seen as only camouflaging as white in order to fool the “real” white people.) At the workshop we gained a deeper understanding of what happened to our people when we moved from rich, deep lineages to the narrow, shallow identity of “white” and to the exploitation of People of the Global Majority.

Our chronic distress when acted out toward People of the Global Majority is racism. Our internalized oppression—feelings of terror, panic, urgency, isolation, lack of trust, and other people not being able to think as well as we can and therefore our needing to take over [take control]—is a perfect setup [foundation] for acting out racism.

We discharged on the intersection of racism, classism, and internalized white Ashkenazi oppression. Our terror and insecurity, along with the continuing reality of anti-Semitism, set us up [predispose us] to aligning ourselves with the wrong people in the wrong places and separate us from our natural allies: People of the Global Majority, Native people, and poor and working-class people. Assimilation and upward mobility place us in roles in which we control or manage other people’s access to resources. Demonstrations with people from working-, middle-, and owning-class backgrounds revealed this phenomenon.

We looked at what Jennifer Wexler [the Regional Reference Person for Boston and southeast Massachusetts, USA] calls “quasi-racism”—white Ashkenazi Jews who look more Semitic being treated differently than their less Semitic-looking family members. As an olive-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed Jew, I was treated differently than my blonde, blue-eyed, light-skinned sister.

Cherie did a class on how our racism targets Mizrachi Jews and other Jews of the Global Majority. After that I talked about where we have difficulty seeing Jews of the Global Majority as our people and can’t prioritize working on this. That led us to work on our relationships with Arab-heritage people. Pride in the formation of the state of Israel was conveyed on the heels of [soon after] racism targeting Arab people. Diane did a class the next morning on discharging the racism aimed at Palestinians.

In the last class, on Sunday morning, we looked at our relationships with African-heritage people. Our fears (reinforced systematically by the society) have gotten in our way of being reliable allies to Black people. As Jews and African-heritage people form a strong alliance, we will move things forward dramatically.

Dvora Slavin

Seattle, Washington, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
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Last modified: 2019-01-05 03:56:00+00