Protesters march in New York in response to the death of George Floyd. (Photo/JTA-John Lamparski-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)
Protesters march in New York in response to the death of George Floyd. (Photo/JTA-John Lamparski-SOPA Images-LightRocket via Getty Images)

Turning a blind eye to racism allows it to continue

I accepted a painful self-realization last week. There is a gap between the person I thought I was and the person I’ve actually been.

I thought I was a person who believed every human being is kadosh, sacred. And yet I have been silent as people of color have been traumatized right in front of me my whole life.

The truth is that most of you reading this are white and you have been silent, too. The truths are excruciating, but if we want to live up to our own ideals, we must confront them.

So herewith are some thoughts and rhetorical questions I’m grappling with, and I invite you to do the same.

Of course, looting is wrong and terrible. It is, however, situational.

The systemic racism upon which our nation is built is 400 years old, woven into every piece of our nation’s cloth, and is experienced on a daily basis by every person of color in our country. Focusing on other things (like the looting or elements of the Black Lives Matter rhetoric you don’t like) is how we white people continue to avoid taking responsibility for the historic racism and daily racism people of color live with.

How much time are you spending focused on the news about looting — and how much time are you spending learning the truths about the country you think is democratic, a land of the free, and how our acceptance of it until now has contributed to the traumatization of people of color?

There is a difference between racism and being racist. It is absolutely possible to not be a racist and yet tolerate racism.

Want proof? I know most of us are not racists. But I also know that most of us have turned a blind eye to the rampant racism that exists around us.

George Floyd was not the first, he was not the 100th. We have tolerated this behavior until now. If you truly want to find a way forward, start by reflecting on that. If you really didn’t know until recently that this goes on, that tells you a lot about where your blind spots are.

And if, like me, you did know, then it starts with the question: Why have I not fought like hell to change systems that brutalize people of color?

The starting point is to admit that we have a lot to learn if we are serious about effecting change. Do you know what white supremacy is (no, it does not refer to neo-Nazis)? Do you know what white privilege is? Do you understand that you benefit from white privilege and white supremacy at the direct expense of people of color?

Here’s an example: Do you think redlining was a problem once upon a time but no longer? (And if you don’t know about redlining, point proven). Redlining prevented home ownership for millions of people of color. It prevented them from developing generational wealth. We whites pass our accumulated money to our children. People of color disproportionately use their money to sustain their elders who couldn’t accumulate wealth (because we didn’t/don’t let them buy homes; we paid/pay them less for equal work; we incarcerated/incarcerate them at disproportionate rates; and we denied/deny them equal access to medical care).

If you didn’t know this, doesn’t that foster more of the same?

This is a moment of reckoning and change.

Many of us are discomforted beyond anything we’ve experienced before.

So how do we move forward?

As Jews, we talk about teshuvah (repentance). It starts with self-acknowledgement that “I need to change.”

Admit to yourself that you likely are naive about the historical facts and that you have passively accepted the horrible reality. Admit to yourself that you’ve known that extreme racism exists. Reflect on why you’ve not fought for the humanity, dignity, and basic rights of other human beings while they were being brutalized, demeaned and traumatized right in front of us.

It says something pretty great about you if you have the courage to own that and the heart to never go back.

It also says something about you if you don’t.

If you are experiencing emotional pain in this moment, be willing to deeply learn the truths. Be on a journey of self-discovery because black lives are still being taken and they are as kadosh as white lives. Together we can show up to the world as the people we think we are and definitely want to be.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Rabbi Allan Berkowitz
Rabbi Allan Berkowitz

Rabbi Allan Berkowitz is the chief operating officer of Faith in Action East Bay, a community organizing social justice organization. For information, visit fiaeastbay.org.