Opinion

“Comparing the struggles Black and Jewish people face does nothing when it comes to tackling racism”

Writer Nadine Batchelor-Hunt talks to Stylist about being Black and Jewish in the wake of UK Grime star Wiley antisemitic tweets and the ongoing frustration online. 

I am a proud Jew, I love Judaism and I’m proud of its traditions and culture. I am also a proud Black woman of Jamaican heritage and I’m proud of its traditions and culture. Both of these are fundamental parts of my identity, and it is precisely because of this pride that I find it nauseating and upsetting to see people pitting Black people and Jewish people against each other in some sort of grotesque “oppression Olympics”.

Frustratingly, this “pitting” is a regular occurrence, and in the aftermath of antisemitic posts made by UK grime MC Wiley it went into overdrive. 

When I first saw Wiley’s tweets advancing antisemitic tropes and drawing offensive parallels between my two communities, I felt frustrated and apprehensive because it was pitting my identities against each other. Indeed, Wiley himself replied to me on Twitter claiming that I wasn’t really Black because I was also Jewish.

His Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts were permanently suspended and Twitter apologised for being slow in their response to Wiley’s tweets. People took to social media to suggest that Black people would never be treated how Jewish people are, which heightened tensions as false dichotomies were drawn, intensifying divisions. 

Many people on Twitter expressed that Wiley’s removal was contradictory as little action was taken against those responsible for the racist abuse Diane Abbott received in 2017. The Labour MP was subjected to almost a third (31.61%) of all abusive tweets towards women MPs according to analysis by Amnesty International. I wholeheartedly agree that measures should be taken against those who have sent Abbott abuse and the same swiftness we saw with Wiley should be applied. 

However, a lot of people are focused on the “who has it worse” rhetoric, with many on my timeline claiming that Wiley’s account was only suspended because it was an antisemitic attack on the Jewish community with many wondering why Abbott’s historic abuse on the social media platform has largely been left unaddressed. Nevertheless, pitting two minorities against each other is completely unhelpful.

Not only is it deeply divisive, but it’s also nonsensical when it comes to tackling racism: instead of focusing on the root cause of racial hatred - which is often similar for Black people and Jews — the focus is shifted towards the communities themselves.

I’ve seen a lot of virtual signalling online while this conversation has once again been in the headlines. Take Conservative commentator Darren Grimes, for example, who tweeted that “antisemitism is the most tolerated form of virulent racism in the United Kingdom.” His stance is conflicting because he recently also had David Starkey on his podcast, and nodded along to his racist comments about Black people. If Grimes is so against racism (in its entirety) why didn’t he hold Starkey to account when he said: “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain would there?” on his podcast?

Alan Sugar was one of many public figures who supported the 48-hour walkout which saw Twitter users temporarily boycott the social media platform on Monday 27 July, yet has a history of sharing racist posts about Chinese and Black people. Through actions like these, the selective and perhaps performative support of the anti-racist movements is dramatically highlighted. As someone who is both Black and Jewish, it’s a painfully difficult thing to see happening online right now.

Indeed, the whole thing began to feel pretty nihilistic and the futility of the situation manifested itself most clearly in the way in which people who straddled the divide between the two communities were treated. 

When rows like this start, those who belong to both communities are often made to feel erased and inconvenient. And the fact that Black Jews are regularly told by some members of our communities that we don’t exist is emblematic of sheer ignorance that needs to change.

Because, overall, this approach is deeply corrosive: what do Jews and Black people have to gain by suggestions like this? Rather than tackling the root cause of the difficulties and oppression each group face, this is tantamount to taking digs at each other. These digs make no sense because, while much of the hatred we face is the same, the way in which it manifests itself is different.

To take a couple of specific examples, generally speaking, Jewish people overall do not face the same level socio-economic disenfranchisement that the Black community does. The majority of Black people do not face the reality of using bomb-proof doors at schools and synagogues due to the threat of terrorism. Indeed, we can acknowledge that both groups experience racism differently without turning in on each other and that yes, there may be double standards at times on how each form of oppression is handled by society but we should call them out together rather than battling one another - these reductionist or reactive approaches help no-one.

So, let’s distance ourselves from who has it worse, and instead engage in listening exercises where these communities can teach, learn, and grow from each other. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Black people and Jewish people share so many common grounds that turning on each other makes no sense, both morally or strategically. Each community will be stronger in the face of those that pose a threat to them because of their ethnic background if they stand together; safety lies in solidarity.

I want to see a support network between the two alliances because the liberation of both communities is not a competition and due to the nature of the hatred Black people and Jews get: antisemitism and anti-Blackness cannot really be eradicated without the other being eradicated too; for example, much of the teachings of white supremacists rest in the idea that Black people and Jews alike are ethnically inferior. So, let Black people and Jews recognise that their liberation is inextricably linked — not separate. 

Image: Getty

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