Progressively Speaking: Poll on poor treatment of ethnic minorities
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Progressively Speaking: Poll on poor treatment of ethnic minorities

Rabbi Charley Baginsky takes a topical issue and looks a progressive Jewish response

Jews of colour include famous rapper Drake
Jews of colour include famous rapper Drake

Have you noticed, over the past few months, that people on the street have been looking at their phones and shaking their faces? I’ve suddenly realised this is people trying to unlock their phones with the recently-introduced facial recognition software.

Despite raising questions about public dignity, it has brought up far more serious questions about this technology’s potential to intensify racial bias. Recent research shows that commercial face recognition software is less accurate when it comes to identifying darker skin.

It reminded me of the ‘cross-race’ effect, the psychological phenomenon that just about everyone has difficulty distinguishing between people of different racial groups.

There are a variety of reasons given for this, ranging from segregation as the norm, where people do not have enough experience with individuals of other racial groups, to the idea that we have a tendency to categorise people into groups such as social class, hobbies and race. In other words, we are predisposed to think of people as “them” and “us”.

A recent survey on “unconscious bias” for The Guardian found people from minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to face negative experiences in the workplace, or out in public spaces, than white people.

It is far too easy for us to deny this has anything to do with the Jewish community or that we are not biased also. Indeed, we have been rightly criticised for not recognising and acknowledging the experiences of Jews of colour.

The Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism in the US has put together some amazing resources, which I would encourage all of us to spend time looking at. Another good resource is from Rabbis Susan Talve and Sarah Barasch-Hagans, who have produced their 10 Rules for Engagement for White Jews Joining the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.

They write: “Jews love to talk, but we need to listen. Become familiar with the literature, texts and individual voices. We must explode the myth that all Jews are white. Black Lives Matter means Black Jews (and other Jews of colour) must matter. Don’t speak of Jews as if they all share race and class privilege.”

As we head into 2019, this is something we all should take on board.

  •  Rabbi Charley Baginsky is director of strategy and partnerships for Liberal Judaism
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