With early voting already underway in several states, many Americans are heading to the polls. But for me and many Jews of color like me, our very existence as we know it hinges on this election.
This isn’t just average political divisiveness for us. Growing up in southeastern Wisconsin during the close and contentious 2000 and 2004 elections, I’m no stranger to political division or opposing viewpoints on the merits of different policies.
And as a queer, Korean, and Jewish American, my identity naturally straddles multiple distinct communities. One of the prices of this intersectionality is being subjected to short-sighted interpretations of your own identity. I was one of many Jews of color who had to suffer through the Jewish press’s endless debates about whether white Jews are white, for example.
Now I have to practice deep breathing when reading pieces like “Eight Reasons Why President Donald Trump Is Our First Jewish President,” which I initially misinterpreted as excellent satire. Like the in-fighting about whether white Jews are white and the time I was asked at Chabad if I knew what Israel was, articles that talk up President Trump as “good for the Jews” erase Jews of color from existence.
They do this because, like Trump himself, they call Jews who vote for Democrats disloyal to themselves, or to Israel. But 12 percent of American Jews are people of color. How is it “self-hating” to vote against a person with Trump’s abysmal record against people of color?
The self-hating accusation shines a spotlight on the closed-mindedness of the sentiment, its implicit racism in envisioning all Jews as white. And it exposes another irony, too: that the same group claiming that white Jews aren’t white would be so enthusiastic about a president who refuses to denounce white supremacy.
Indeed, even well-meaning and liberal Jewish spaces often fall prey to the fallacy of viewing all Jews as white, something Trump also seemed to imply with an executive order protecting Jews on the grounds that they are a distinct “race, color, or national origin.” Trump subscribes to this fallacious and dangerous view of Jews as a race, which was originated and perpetuated by our enemies until recent times, as Rabbi Angela Buchdahl reminds us. Now you see Jews accepting the view, implicitly or even explicitly.
Of course, the same man who filed that executive order “combatting anti-Semitism” has repeatedly failed to denounce real-life antisemites. He won’t condemn QAnon, a dangerous conspiracy theory, and the philosophical flexibility that led him to equate Charlottesville white nationalists with their opponents shows that he’s actually fine with antisemitism, as long as it’s coming from his base (Rep. Ilhan Omar, on the other hand, never stood a chance).
For Jews of color, this record on antisemitism joins a long list of other racist comments to make Trump into an existential threat to our very lives, a threat that comes from multiple angles. But all too often, we face erasure in Jewish spaces, too, where even well-meaning white Jews often don’t realize that a big percentage of our community does not look like them.
I don’t have to tell you what four more years of Trump will bring. At this point, you have already made up your mind whether you want things like stability, unity, inclusion, accountability, expanded healthcare access, a stronger guarantee of civil liberties and a judicial future we can believe in. You either believe that there needs to be an end to wall-building, “Muslim travel bans” and executive orders prohibiting the teaching systemic racism — or you don’t.
All I can do is tell you what I can see from my vantage point as a Jew of color, and ask you to stand up for our right to exist. It’s as a Jew and a queer Jew of color that I am asking you to consider the importance of your vote in the coming week, and remember that allyship is about exercising your privilege for good, not about resting on your laurels or distancing yourself from oncoming discomfort.
And it’s definitely not about giving up. In 2016, the year of Brexit and Trump, friends of mine were tiring of democracy, claiming that voters had shown zero ability to discern from a variety of options those in their own best interest, let alone the entire country’s. A strong believer in the idea of dynamic self-correction, representation for marginalized voices, and the correlation between democracy and peace, I stood in sharp dissent. While my friends used Trump to illustrate democracy’s failings, I used him to shine a light on a more terrifying alternative: autocracy — a system into which the United States, under Trump, continues to slide.
We Jews have witnessed autocracy at its worst: We’ve seen what it can do when it seeks to destroy us and those on the margins of society. We Jews have learned to never let our guard down.
For Jews of color like me, this election puts our safety, belonging and continued existence on the line. If that matters to you, vote like it does. Our country will thank you.