In my 17 years on this earth, I have participated in many protests. In 2018, I was at the historic March for Our Lives on the streets of downtown D.C., and I have picketed on the lawn of the Capitol at multiple Climate Strikes. But my most recent experience felt entirely different. America is finally focusing on giving much-needed attention to racism. Yet what many fail to realize, is that this isn’t just about one or two deaths. Most don’t even realize how racism slinks into our institutions. As Jews, we are quick to recognize the evilness of antisemitism, but often are less cognizant of racism which permeates our society in its entirety. If you are white, then you automatically benefit from white privilege. That doesn’t mean that you haven’t had disadvantages in your life, it just means that your skin color isn’t one of them.
As Jews, we are quick to recognize the evilness of antisemitism, but often are less cognizant of racism which permeates our society in its entirety.
If you’re like me and you have an addiction to social media (whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter), then you could not have missed the gut-wrenching footage of George Floyd’s horrendous murder. That video was a spark that ignited the flames of a new revolution in America. After the death of Freddie Gray, riots broke out in Baltimore. At the time, I was just a 6th grader. I had no real understanding of the situation. This time, it was all different. I felt a twist in my stomach as I always do when I see footage of police officers committing brutal injustices.
As a person with a significant following on Instagram (@gabsfine), it’s always been important to me to share posts that I find meaningful and thought-provoking in regards to social justice. I share posts about being pro-choice, feminism, environmentalism, racism, LGBTQIA+ rights, antisemitism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, etc. in addition to the usual ‘Instagrammable’ content. Many of my peers use their Instagrams to share fun pictures of vacations, and snippets of their days that are sure to evoke comments of “so cute,” “pretty!!” and a good amount of heart emojis. But as we learned from George Floyd’s murder, social media can be used as a valuable awareness-raising tool. Since the aforementioned subjects are important to me, and my Instagram is my own, I find it important to use my platform to cause people to think about injustice.
But as we learned from George Floyd’s murder, social media can be used as a valuable awareness-raising tool. Since the aforementioned subjects are important to me, and my Instagram is my own, I find it important to use my platform to cause people to think about injustice.
When I heard of a march against police brutality and to honor George Floyd and other lives unjustly lost at the hands of police, I immediately wanted to go. The march was initially set to take place outside of an Anthropologie on a street in Bethesda, a predominantly white, and very wealthy, neighborhood. While the location was later changed to the outside of a local library, a friend of mine shared that she was concerned the protest was “just going to be a bunch of white kids who like the idea of activism.” This concern was legitimate, and I shared it.
Among other concerns was a lack of social distancing or the possibility of violence and/or looting which was happening in other parts of the country. As a person who is immunocompromised, I was frustrated at the prospect of not being able to join the protest. The flyer circulated on Instagram claimed social distancing would be upheld and that no violence of any kind would be tolerated. Upon arrival, I saw hundreds and hundreds of people all gathered, but with a fair amount of distance between each person. Most were young, appearing to be in high school, but many adults were also in attendance. The white people in the mostly white crowd understood that it wasn’t our time to talk, but our time to listen. It was our time to manifest the phrase that was painted on many signs and used as the captions on many Instagram posts: “I understand that I will never understand, but still I stand.” The obligation to use our white privilege to support people of color, and to be good allies, was the main message of the rally. What I found most powerful was taking the pledge led by one of the student organizers. We raised both of our hands in a display reminiscent of the actions done when chanting “hands up, don’t shoot.” Together, we pledged “to love our black neighbors the same as our white neighbors.” Chanting loudly, we began to walk around the streets of Bethesda.
Those stores scream white privilege. Communities like Bethesda don’t normally express discontent with the police or racial inequality. That’s because they may not recognize the direct repercussions of systemic racism.
Walking past Peloton, Lululemon, Anthropologie, Juice Bars, and vegan restaurants, was bizarre. Those stores scream white privilege. Communities like Bethesda don’t normally express discontent with the police or racial inequality. That’s because they may not recognize the direct repercussions of systemic racism. But the fact that this was a topic for which residents of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Potomac are now speaking openly about, shows progress. In today’s political climate, it sometimes feels like we are reverting back to the behaviors of the ‘olden days’ when deliberate discrimination was acceptable. The visible outrage over police brutality shows the issue is no longer being swept under the rug. It is being faced head-on. Of course, there is backlash. Of course, there is a broad spectrum of opinions on the issue held by people of all colors. Racism is an uncomfortable topic for many people as people are forced to recognize their prejudice and are held accountable for problematic behavior. However, you will not find a movement in history that made real change by keeping everyone comfortable.
Jewish people are joining the expression of outrage because we are instructed to “וְאָהַבְתּ לְרֵעַךָ כָּמוֹך”, “ love your neighbor as yourself.” Some might need to be reminded that we are also admonished: “לֹ֥א תַֽעֲמֹ֖ד עַל־דַּ֣ם רֵעֶ֑ךָ” “not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbors.” It isn’t the place of white people to tell Black people how to express their anger because white Jews in America experience a different variety of oppression and will never know what it’s like to be Black in America. However, what we can do, and should do, is learn to become active listeners, do our own research, sign petitions to advocate for change, safely join protests, and monetarily support organizations that combat racism. As a group with a collective memory of living in diaspora under oppressive regimes, we have an obligation to stand up for others and be the best allies we can possibly be. Take the pledge to not only love your Black neighbors as your white neighbors but to listen to their stories, study their history, and support any way you can.
However, what we can do, and should do, is learn to become active listeners, do our own research, sign petitions to advocate for change, safely join protests, and monetarily support organizations that combat racism.
Gabriella Fine is a High School senior at the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, MD. She is the president and founder of the Berman Girl Up club.
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