There was a huge outpouring of anger, determination, resistance and more on January 20, 2016. No to it all—the Muslim ban, the misogyny, the white supremacy, the greed, the inequality, and yes, no to Trump—all of it. Millions marched. No one quite can say how this massive revolt occurred amidst such a varied group, but women marched!
Jump to now, and there is fraying around the edges, anger at the core, charges of racism, antisemitism, self-serving egoism, celebrity elitism.
Many of these charges were addressed months ago and yet they continue to fester and divide. I wonder whose interests are being served in all this division and that attention should be addressed here, rather than elsewhere.
A bit of back-story:
I am an atheist Jew. I was brought up by Communist parents so Israel and its practice of Zionism was always seen as problematic in my household—long before the newer histories of anti-Zionism, anti-Zionist Jews, organizing to support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), the atrocities done to Gaza and Palestine. Edward Said had not yet written The Question of Palestine. And, antisemitism was not on the rise as it is today.
Synagogues have never been a safe space for me, although I do not mean to blanketly indict them, given that I know little of them today. Most of the people attending them in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1970s feared and rejected my family’s anti-racist commitments and civil rights activism. They made sure we did not live in their community. Be careful what you assume about me, and other Jews. We come in all forms. It is why prejudice against any homogenized group is so dangerous.
My father spoke of the mass murder of Jews in World War II as fascism and Nazism. (He was an MP and forward observer in the Army—assignments that Jews were relegated to—to hate them just a bit more—a case of antisemitism in the army supposedly fighting it). But he never used the term holocaust, as such. He thought, and taught me and my 3 sisters, that there have been too many holocausts—settler colonialism against Native Americans, the chattel slave trade and slavery, to name only a few.
So, in this moment, it is important to me to recognize antisemitism as part of the multiple systems of hatred and oppression, but with no singularity of “exceptionalism”. I am thinking how important it is to recognize the specific struggles of any burdened group, but without recognizing the particular history as an “exceptional” one. Hatreds are connected through unique differences that also share commonality.
Consider the intricate lacing of racism and antisemitism. Most Jews in the US have come to be regarded as white but this whiteness does not erase the pain and suffering of antisemitism. Antisemitism constructs Jews as less than human, but our whiteness complicates the rendering of this.
I was the only Jew in North High School in Columbus Ohio, in 1963. Fellow students thought I was “different”, weird, godless, a “kike”. Boys said their parents forbade them to date me. I kept wondering what it was that I was supposed to think and believe as a Jew, given that I had no religious training at all.
I remember screaming at my parents one day: “I believe in God”—not having any idea what that meant, but comforted by the thought that at least I could say this. Of course they replied: believe in whatever you wish to Zillah. That seemed to end my foray as a believer.
In my largely white High school in Atlanta, Ga., I however, was a white girl. The school had desegregated the fall I entered. There was one Black student, Clemsey Wood. We talked, and then both of us were punished. I lived in the Black neighborhood where the faculty housing for Atlanta University was located. I lived in the Black community and walked through the poor white community to get to school. “White Bitch” and “Black N—–Lover” were my two identities. I was heartbroken most of this my senior year.
When I was visiting Egypt in 2008 a merchant stopped me on the street with his wares to sell and asked me if I was from Israel. I thought to myself: he sees a Jew so I am from Israel. I answered, “no, I am not from Israel and I am a Semite, like you”.
These are some of my thoughts when I am asked to respond to the controversy surrounding the antisemitism of the Women’s March. Tamika Mallory’s association with Farrakhan and Linda Sarsour’s implied connection as one of the March organizers has been used to nibble away at the tenuous alliances of all kinds of women.
New Marches are being called for: disabled women; women for Palestine; women against antisemitism, and so forth. The rift over anti-Semitism is further heightened by Alice Walker’s endorsement of an antisemitic writer and her own antisemitic writings.
There is nothing new to the strains between some Blacks and Jews in forming camaraderie, or between some Black and White feminists. I remember speaking at Haverford College just shortly after Angela (Davis) was released from prison, with bell (hooks) on a panel organized by Hortense (Spillers) who was provost at the time—on “Racism in the White Women’s Movement.” It has been four decades now that women have been struggling through the racism of (some, too many) white women.
But, there have been successful and important alliances. Black and white women organizing for reproductive rights and against sterilization abuse; the socialist feminist coalition work that underpinned the Combahee River Collective work and statement of purpose; cross-class and racial alliances against the Vietnam and Iraq war.
So where are we? Not where we should be. More “isms” have been uncovered in the last several decades along with more identities and more oppressions. So “we” need more recognition of how we “intersect”, “overlap”, connect to each other, not less. This means risking alliances that are not perfect.
“We”, the big we, need to come together committed to moving with and through our limitations and contradictions to find a world free of exploitation and racial hatreds especially white supremacy, antisemitism, xenophobia, capitalism, nationalisms, misogyny and its gender binaries.
I am for a march with many contingents. Mine is an abolitionist socialist feminist contingent supporting all the others without any form of hatred; a Feminism for the 99%.