The Black Lives Matter protest movement last week stretched from
Minneapolis to Golders Green via a shared sense of outrage at the killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer. But to many the connection was by way of dotted line.
While there was a strong sense of solidarity, some also felt somewhat removed from an issue seen as “over there”. #BLM felt like a very specific protest against police brutality, systemic racism, and prejudice.
Racism over here just isn’t as bad, we told ourselves, as we turned the page or switched channels.
A week later, that line from Minneapolis to Golders Green is no longer dotted, an historic commission having now been launched to uncover
racism and prejudice right here at home – not just in the UK, but in our Jewish community.
Our synagogues, schools, community centres, care homes, kosher stores and charities are all centres of Jewish life, and all places where a black British Jew can still today expect stares.
They report probing questions at the entrance to synagogues, being given a hard time by security at communal buildings, facing racism in Jewish schools, even being overlooked on the basis of colour in the search for another Jewish partner.
The commission’s chair Stephen Bush, himself both black and Jewish, has said he will aim to understand from others what it is like to “not look Jewish” in the Jewish community. His findings will be both fascinating and illuminating.
White Jews struggle to imagine being mistaken for the cleaner on the basis of their skin colour. With Bush’s help they will soon be able to start. Empathy and education will –we hope – lead to change.
That black lives matter seems obvious. That racism is alive and well and living in the British Jewish community does not.
We’ve been so busy being tolerant that we’ve forgotten to spring-clean our attitudes and assumptions of casual prejudice.
For those still in denial, compare the fuss we make over the use of the Y-word in football stadia with the continued prevalence of old-fashioned and offensive Yiddish terms to denote people of colour.
Despite what we may think, Jews are not yet whiter than white when it comes to race. Black Jews, small in number, have a gargantuan educational task ahead of them over the next few months.
But for the first time, they have a ready audience.