Please don’t use “Charlottesville” as a stand-alone word to refer to the white supremacist terrorist attacks of August 11-12.
As in, “ever since Charlottesville,” or “when Charlottesville happened.”
1. You are using the name of an entire city as a euphemism when what you really mean is “THAT WEEKEND WE ALL WATCHED ACTUAL NAZIS ATTACK AND KILL PEOPLE.” Yeah. That weekend. Say what you mean. Say “the Nazi terrorist mob in Charlottesville” or “when Nazis attacked Charlottesville” or “the largest most violent white supremacist rally in a long time.”
2. When you refer to this terrorism simply by using the name of our city, you are telling yourself that it’s just about Charlottesville… but it’s not. It’s also about you. Most of the Nazis who attacked Charlottesville came from other cities, other states. Which ones live near you? Do you know? Do you know which Nazi groups are organizing in your city, in your state? Do you know which of your neighbors came here to attack my neighbors?
3. We’ve been fighting in Charlottesville on a regular basis since the first torch rally on May 13 and long before then too — there have been Nazis with guns and threats and direct confrontations and it still continues every week. When you say “Charlottesville” and really mean “August 11-12” what you are telling me is that you were paying attention when we were all up in the news coverage for a few days, and *you* had a strong reaction to that and got all up in your feelings (which you definitely should, yes, valid, terrifying, infuriating, yes, all those feelings) — AND THEN YOU MOVED ON AND WENT BACK TO NORMAL LIFE. What you’re telling me is that you stopped paying attention to the ongoing struggle in Charlottesville.
Don’t stop. Don’t stop paying attention. Pay attention to Charlottesville. Pay attention to your neighbors too. Even as you are paying attention to the US imperialist neglect of climate crisis damage in Puerto Rico and the St. Louis rebellion in response to police murders of Black people and the threat of a second major Nazi attack aiming for Charlotte, North Carolina. This is all interconnected. The fascist terror continues. The resistance continues, too. #Charlottesville continues.
My beloved Jews, here is my love letter to you this New Year.
I am a WhitequeerfemmeJew in Charlottesville. Although many friends in Boston and NYC thought I had moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, by now I hope you’ve heard of Charlottesville. We’re in the mountains of Central Virginia, a small city of 50,000 people, founded by the racist rapist colonizer Thomas Jefferson, with the University of Virginia two miles from downtown.
The Nazis chose Charlottesville. There have been Nazis (with guns) in Charlottesville since long before I got here, harassing Black politicians and intimidating anti-racist protesters and also planning amongst themselves. The friendly liberal White folks who populate this space know who they are — will talk about them and roll their eyes and make fun of them — but it has taken persistent, daring, fierce leadership by anti-fascist and anarchist people of color (primarily women and femmes) to teach Charlottesville how to fight Nazis. Everything I share with you in this piece, I learned from them. Except for the Jewish parts — those I learned from you! And our powers combined, we can do this. I believe that we will win. But first, we have to fight.
1. Trust Black and indigenous liberation leadership.
Find anti-fascist Black and indigenous people who have been doing the work from so many directions to address systems of colonization and anti-Blackness in this country. Believe them when they tell you what to do. Support them with everything you’ve got. One of the most serious mistakes I made this summer was falling into that Whiteness trap of Thinking I Know Best — assuming that I can talk to other White people to figure out what the hell is going on and what my role in all of it is. Here’s a great way to make sure you’re talking through things with and asking questions of and offering support to and really getting to know people who aren’t just White Jews: make Friends. That’s right, I capitalized Friends. People I eat with, drink with, dance with, call, text, visit, hug, appreciate, and ask many questions on a regular basis. It’s irreplaceable. Make friends with anti-fascists who have been confronting, disrupting, and undermining Nazis for years or even decades. You may also hear them called “antifa.” Everything I know from fighting Nazis this summer, I learned from local anti-fascist, anarchist, and anti-racist leadership. This includes Jews of color! There are Black Jews and Latinx Jews and other Jews who face very specific threats to existence and presence in this country. Trust them; build trust with them.
2. Center Black lives.
Jews should be fighting Nazis. And — at the same time — we White-presenting White-privileged Jews need to understand that we are fighting Nazis in the US within the very real context of centuries of anti-Black racism. I have been face to face with Nazis and yes I see the swastikas and I see the anti-semitic signs and I hear the taunts and I respect the fear of the synagogue in downtown Charlottesville — AND please believe me when I say that they are coming for Black people first. It is Black people who the Nazis are seeking out, Black neighborhoods that are being targeted, anti-Black terrorism that is being perpetrated. So. Jews need to be fighting Nazis in this moment. And. At the same time. If we are fighting Nazis expecting them to look like German anti-Semitic prototypes, we will be betraying ourselves and our comrades of color. We need to fight Nazis in the US within the context of US anti-Black racism. We need to be anti-fascist and anti-racist with every breath, with every step. Our anti-fascism must affirm that Black Lives Matter and must support the Movement for Black Lives.
3. No platform for White Supremacy.
Antifa refer to this tactic as “no platforming.” Remember that “freedom of speech” may restrict (somewhat) the actions of the government, but it does not restrict our actions as individuals. The goal of no platforming is to stop the spread of Nazi propaganda. I remember the Hebrew School lessons about how much the German Nazis used media — speeches, posters, propaganda — to fuel anti-Semitism and normalize the escalation of state violence. Do not allow Nazis to make speeches. Do not allow Nazis to have press conferences, radio interviews, and rallies. No dialogue with White Supremacy. No platform.
4. Know your Nazis.
No platforming does NOT mean hide your head in the sand and ignore them. Quite the opposite. We must know who they are. As Charlottesville organizershave already instructed: “Do the research to identify Nazis in your community. Find out who’s doing alt-right or white supremacist agitating, find out where they work, and learn as much as you can about their connections to politicians or police in your town. Use this information to block them from gaining social and political control.”
5. Love each other and protect each other.
After Richard Spencer’s first Charlottesville terrorist torch rally in May, local anarchist people of color hosted a community vigil and had us chant together Assata Shakur’s prayer: “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” Loving each other and protecting each other have been core values of the resistance in Charlottesville: community care and community defense. Do folks need food, groceries, a ride, housing? We have to pay attention to and prioritize the most marginalized among us. No one is too much; no one is disposable. These needs are valid. The need for protection is also valid. Community defense — physical defense — is part of this love. We must protect each other from the White Supremacist violence of Nazis and from state violence. Consider bringing a nonviolent direct action training to your community or congregation. And know that antifa saved lives through community defense in Charlottesville on August 12. Saved. Lives. We must protect each other; we must defend our communities.
6. Honor a diversity of tactics.
Again, individuals willing to get physically confrontational saved lives in Charlottesville. We must stop the Nazis. The use of physical confrontation caused some mainstream media outlets to proclaim a false equivalency, which we must refute and refuse. I want to learn more about the legacy of Jewish militia who fought Nazis — in Europe and in America. Charlottesville’s own Veronica Fitzhugh tells us to bring our best gifts to this struggle. Push yourself to find the strength you bring to this moment, and consider how you will know when you are ready to escalate, and what you will do when that time comes. In the meantime, respect and root for individuals who are willing to take risks that you are not yet ready to take.
7. Form local coalitions.
Jews should be fighting Nazis, but we do not need to be fighting Nazis alone. Coalition-building is really hard. Maybe folks from Solidarity Cville will write publicly one day about what we did and what we failed to do this summer… coalition conflict led to many hours of me crying on my couch alone… which is not necessarily the most strategic move, in retrospect. Other people were hurt much more than I was. Check out the St. Paul’s Principles of Unity. Make friends with each other. Always have food at meetings. Don’t assume you always need a meeting in order to get things done. Center Black lives. Honor the emotional labor of women and femmes. Mess up, be accountable, reconnect, and try again. We are in this together.
8. Demand organizational leadership.
We need courageous Jewish leadership to spearhead a Jewish response to the rising reality of Nazi violence and the threat of American fascism. I called six national Jewish organizations in July, begging for help fighting Nazis in Charlottesville. I got mixed responses; no one seemed to know whose responsibility it was to lead this work. Shout out to T’ruah and If Not Now for your statements of solidarity, and for showing up on August 12. We need many different forms of leadership in this moment. We also need the core Jewish movements themselves — looking at you, URJ and USCJ — to declare resistance to White Supremacy, paving the way for congregational rabbis to do the same. National leadership supports local leadership, and vice versa.
9. Mobilize rapid response.
Support communities facing crisis. When you’re called for help, take it seriously and figure out how to give it. Having better prepared national Jewish leadership will help with this — particularly by having one (or several) Jewish organizations committed to sending people, educational materials, and money to communities under attack. And by “communities” I mean not just Jewish communities — Black predominantly Christian communities, Muslim communities, and entire city communities like Charlottesville. The best way to help is to go there in person. Send money, declare solidarity, signal boost. Build up the skills and resources within your congregation or, even better, within your local coalition so that you are ready to go when needed.
10. Refuse to normalize.
This. Is. Not. Normal. Never let it be normal. I am not trying to “get back to normal” after August 12. Also? Refuse to normalize White Supremacy in retrospect. Don’t romanticize the Obama era, when deportations and police brutality and mass incarceration continued to escalate. That all wasn’t normal either, and it was never okay. Don’t normalize fascism and don’t normalize racism, even the parts that have been here all along.
What does this have to do with the High Holidays?
I call on Jewish leadership — clergy and lay leaders — to apply the ten steps above to the traditions of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the Days of Awe. Use the High Holidays to prepare for a year of fighting Nazis.
Our resistance must start with repentance. Only through acknowledgement and accountability can we strive for reparations. With rituals such as tashlictand al chet, we can reflect on how we even got to this place, what our own complicity in White Supremacy has been, and how we have or have not been showing up for people whose bodies are on the line.
And then comes actual interpersonal apologies and accountability. This time, I need you all to get specific. Who have you harmed, through racism, sexism, or unjust criticism? Who have you turned away in their moment of need? We need each other. We must bind together even as we challenge each other to do way better. We need honest conversations that build closeness and community. We are in it together. Get involved.
Finally, to truly show up for each other and persist in resistance, we must embrace a sweet new year. Fighting Nazis makes me sick. I remember when I started feeling sick in May, after just a few weeks of shouting at Nazis in the streets. Physically ill and shaking and angry and scared. We are confronting rather than avoiding the grossness of the world. So seek out moments of sweetness, be all-out affectionate with your comrades and community members, and wish each other joy in whatever ways feel possible.
Because we must fight. We don’t fight for fun; we don’t fight for joy. We fight for love and freedom and liberation. We fight because we are Jews. Jews fight Nazis.
I’m at that point again where I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m screaming for help but I’m probably not. And there are people I love who I am so much more worried about than I am about myself, and there are communities in peril and there is so much pressure to continue with business as usual and I can’t seem to continue with business as usual and I also can’t seem to fully figure out how to not. How to just not. I don’t know.
Today is the third anniversary of #concussion2014, and I marked it in my calendar to remind myself of this random, out-of-nowhere injury. What’s striking for me as I reflect this year is that I wasn’t even choosing to take a risk.
I spend a lot of my time talking about risk, the importance of choosing risk, and the ways in which we can negotiate risk. In sexual activity, in friendships, in activism. We have many opportunities to step into risk and to manage risks for ourselves and each other.
But I wasn’t taking any particular risks that day. I was simply pursuing pleasure – I was taking risks only insofar as daily life is risky. Or, in the way that daily life used to be risky. Until this year, as my life in 2017 laughs at my life in 2014. As I sit inside my apartment in Charlottesville still wondering about the risks of walking alone to the grocery store, still wondering about being recognized by white supremacists or confronted or followed home. But then, why hold myself back from the simple pleasures of life now, just because I am aware of the presence of risk right now, when even back in 2014 I incurred severe consequences for everyday activity without being prepared for risk at all?
I was just swimming in a pond. Not swimming alone. Not swimming at night. Not swimming under the influence. Just swimming. Then an unleashed dog jumped off the dock and landed on my head. Boom. Concussion. Two months medical leave.
Most of the other traumas I had incurred up to that point were in the context of something I already knew to be risky: being alone in a room with a heterosexual boy/man. I had made those choices. I was not to blame for what happened in those rooms, but I knew there were risks, just as I now know there are risks in walking alone in Charlottesville. Even if I feel strongly that neither risk is just – it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone in a room with a man who claims to love me, and it is not just to live in a world in which I fear being alone on the streets of a city who claims to care. But I know the injustice, and I know the risk, and I get to make choices within those contexts.
I don’t know. It just sucks. I think I’m writing about it now because I am trying to get myself to leave my apartment to go get groceries. Or I’m writing about it now because trauma triggers trauma, and my head hurts. Or because when I’m on edge and angry and ready to yell at people, I find myself wanting to yell at people who are in public places with their dogs off leash. Yelling at those people is quite socially unacceptable, particularly in Charlottesville. Even when directed at entitled white men. I really want to, though.
I don’t know. It just sucks. Maybe some things just suck.
However you get your news, I hope you came across the Mama’s Day Bail Out action. It was covered here and here and here and here and more here. It happened in Atlanta and Durham and Brooklyn and Los Angeles and beyond. It started with the leadership of Mary Hooks, a Black lesbian who is the Co-Director of Southerners on New Ground (SONG), organizing LGBTQ folks in the South across race and class lines. SONG is also a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table, a collective of over 50 organizations, several of whom responded to SONG’s call to #FreeBlackMamas. The call was to bail out Black mamas – lesbian, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming caregivers and mothers who may not have given birth – who would otherwise be in a cell because of their inability to afford and pay bail. Over 100 Black mamas were bailed out, welcomed home, and connected to community resources by Mother’s Day, thanks to organizing efforts across the United States.
Money bail is a practice in which people who are arrested are held in jail unless they can pay a set amount of money, just how much money ranges enormously, and $100 or $100,000 can each be prohibitive for different people in different situations. An average of 700,000 people per day are encaged before trial solely because they cannot pay the amount set for them by the court. And even people who post bail often do so through for-profit bail bond companies, who charge a fee, which means less cash up front but losing the right to get that money back at trial. This is the racialized criminalization and exploitation of poverty. Pre-trial incarceration has catastrophic human impacts.
There are so many thoughts, feelings, and stories I could share about this action, but three things in particular I want to highlight in the context of SRA.
First: freeing Black mamas is directly related to the thriving of Black adolescents. The system of money bail keeps caretakers from their families and communities, puts mothers at risk of losing their jobs or their housing or having their children sent to foster care, causes additional harm and trauma for the person incarcerated, and offers young people a world in which a person without access to cash is denied innocence and can be held in jail before trial, before being convicted of any criminalized activity. The racist system of criminalization and incarceration attacks individuals, families, communities daily. Many people have said this and said it better than I can. Listen to Black women. Listen to Black youth. Learn about the impact of systematic criminalization and incarceration, and about money bail practices in particular.
Second: what really moves me about this action is its URGENCY and its specificity. As researchers, we play the long game. We invest years of time and resources in grant writing, background reading, data collection, data analysis, paper writing, peer review, and publication… and then barely leave time for translation, dissemination, and application. What the Mama’s Day Bail Out did was address the urgent needs of specific people right now. AND it was organized in such a way as to strategically magnify long-game organizing efforts to end money bail and confront the mass incarceration of Black people.
I want to urge you to action, and I also want to urge you to act with care. Particularly for my fellow White researchers, we rarely (if ever) are going to know how to appropriately and effectively respond to the atrocities of historic and contemporary White supremacist systems. So here’s takeaway number three: Build relationships and invest in community organizing that is led by and accountable to People of Color. Keep your eyes on the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table – know their platform and know the organizations involved. Know the folks who are doing the work in your communities. Build trust, and see what they need. And remember that, as a White person, whether I’m an academic or an activist or a friend or whatever support roles I’m able to play, my opinion on how Black women are working to free themselves and each other is not important. So if you are ready to take action, with care, and ready to see what Black women and mamas and families need from you, then listen. When people tell you what they need, believe them, and do what they say.
I bring you back to the words of Mary Hooks, SONG Co-Director: “Our vision of prison abolition, our vision of a world where people can have dignity and safety and no cages and no prisons, now seems a hundred years away. Even further away. Our people need hope right now. It’s also a way for our people who have realized that we’re in a long, long trajectory of struggle for liberation to embody our vision of the world we’re trying to create right now.”
A coworker made a casually negative “joke” about divorce during a meeting today, and it stung. I found myself getting lost in my own thoughts about how I hadn’t told her that I’m divorced, and how many times I’ve wanted to tell her, and what will it be like now if I do tell her, and would it feel better or worse if she’d already known in this moment and made that comment anyway?
This is what microaggressions do. They make us feel like we can’t exist fully in shared space. We who do not fit your norm. We who represent your deepest insecurities. We who defy your assumptions.
Getting divorced does not mean you are a bad person.
Getting divorced does not mean you are bad at relationships.
Getting divorced is not always the worst possible outcome.
And yet, I get it. For people who get married, divorce is this threat looming the entire time. Some people think divorce is a sin, or have religious beliefs that create great barriers to divorce. Some people really love their spouse and get a lot of joy from marriage and struggle with the vulnerability that this joyous partnership may end. Some people are really invested in the future they have imagined with this person, and the safety and security the relationship brings them, and the possibility of losing that scares them. It could tear. It could break. It could crumble. Shatter. Disintegrate. Sizzle. Fall apart. Burn to the ground.
I use this string of images intentionally because there are many ways that relationships end, and they all feel different. Me, I felt like shattered glass. Like my torso was full of shards.
Just because it’s not the worst possible outcome doesn’t mean it’s not painful.
It is painful. And you know what made it even more painful? The immense shame. That after months of gingerly holding my torso of shattered glass, I spent many more months spinning round the narratives in my head – and in our culture – that told me I had failed. I was bad. I was bad at relationships. (Which hurt even more because relationships are core to my professional work, aka the context where this microaggression came up today, yada yada yada).
It is painful. It’s so painful, that you want to believe it won’t happen to you. So you defend yourself against it happening to you by separating yourself from the people it does happen to. Or like – hello – maybe it doesn’t even “happen” to them so passively. Maybe they choose it. Maybe they navigate their way through it. Maybe it’s the best of what they can figure out for themselves and their loved ones at the time.
So, to my dear married folks who have every right to have all kinds of feelings about this, here is what I ask of you:
Face your own fear of divorce. You deserve that. Your spouse deserves that. Understand what it is and what it isn’t. Know that you are a full and flourishing person and you are worthy of love both within and beyond your current marriage. Divorce is not the worst possible outcome.
Having faced your own fear, you can check yourself to avoid projecting that fear onto me. I don’t want your pity, and I can’t stand your blame. Those nervous jokes to yourself or to your spouse, those easy cracks at other people who have gotten divorced, for whatever reasons – those are microaggressions. Each comment makes an impact. Also remember that you seriously don’t know who around you has gotten divorced and who hasn’t. We literally don’t wear a ring anymore. We don’t all have children. And we might not have told you.
Let’s also do some questioning of the whole marriage thing to begin with. Let’s notice how the stigmatizing of divorce functions to uphold White heteronormative capitalist models of love and family. Divorce is scary because the potential to freely and lovingly move in and out of relationships threatens the status quo. Don’t make me bear that burden alone – that’s on all of us to tear down and build back up better, together.
Because I am trying to live my life with as much truth and power as I can muster, and I hope you’re doing the same.
I am afraid of hurting you. I am afraid that the hurt inside me will become aggression, need, demand, overwhelm, that I will push and pull and tear and break. I am afraid of hurling my trauma around irrevocably and causing more trauma. I am afraid of repeating the cycle of violence.
I am afraid of leaving you. I am afraid of changing my mind, of not being sure, of wanting more, or wanting less, or not wanting the same thing. I am afraid of all my imperfections, and of your imperfections, and of the inevitable scrapes and scratches we endure as we try to fit together like the puzzle pieces we aren’t. I am afraid it won’t work.
And I’m afraid for myself. I am afraid for my reputation, for what people will say, or not say, or see, or not see. I am afraid of being seen as sexual, of my sexuality being seen as hurtful (because it might be). I am afraid of being seen as emotional, as messy, for all my trauma and all my defenses and all my mistakes and mistakes and mistakes. I am afraid of shame.
We are taught to tell the story of Passover as if each of us individually were enslaved in Egypt, and each of us individually were liberated. In that way, the work of dismantling white supremacy calls on each of us to realize we are personally implicated. It is not enough to agree with the idea of equality. Judaism consistently asks us to go beyond beliefs into action. Tonight, we ask ourselves about our own actions—and we also ask the friends, family and community gathered together at the seder about our collective actions. Situated within the racial history and racial hierarchy of the U.S., we start with questions about anti-black racism.
1. What are we doing to pursue the Movement for Black Lives platform?
The good news about doing anti-racist actions in the U.S. is that we don’t have to guess about what needs to be done. The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of more than 50 organizations fighting for black liberation and for the end of state-sanctioned violence against black people and communities. The platform is divided into six sets of demands: end the war on black people; reparations; invest-divest; economic justice; community control; and political power. Each specific demand includes local, state and federal policy recommendations. Where do you have influence? What can you do to ensure that we, collectively, meet these demands?
2. What are we doing to support black trans women?
Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree and Ciara McElveen are seven transgender women of color known to have been murdered this year alone (by the time we are writing this in March 2017). Five of them were black. And there are countless more black trans women who are still alive. What are you doing to support them? They are creating beautiful art and running amazing advocacy organizations and building fiercely loving relationships and need money and jobs and housing and health care and need to not be killed by acts of racist-transmisogynist violence. They need to not be dehumanized. Trans women are women and black trans lives matter.
3. What are we doing to follow the leadership of black women and femmes?
Trust black women. This includes black trans women. This includes black femmes, as in people who embody femininity, feminine expression and/or femme identity. Black Lives Matter was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—three black women. Tamika Mallory is a national organizer of the Women’s March on Washington. Ayanna Pressley has served on the Boston City Council since 2009. Janet Mock. Laverne Cox. Angela Davis. So many more. Listen when they speak, take in their words and push yourself to do what they are asking of you. When was the last time you did something that black women asked you to do? What are the black women in your community asking you to do? What are Jewish black women asking you to do?
Good news again—there is still plenty of guidance out there, in this case particularly for white folks trying to answer the above questions. Check this out, by Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, two black women activists: “Safety Pin Box is a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies in the fight for black liberation. Box memberships are a way to not only financially support black femme freedom fighters, but also complete measurable tasks in the fight against white supremacy.” Money raised from monthly subscriptions goes to individual black women and femmes working for black liberation. How can white people step into the roles black people are asking us to fill? What would it take for you to sign up for Safety Pin Box?
4. What are we ready to risk?
Ava DuVernay (another brilliant black woman) in her documentary “13th” highlights that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery, “except as punishment for a crime.” As we tell the story of our own liberation from slavery, we see too that mass incarceration is slavery, and it is racial violence. Police brutality, vigilante murders and the criminalization of protests, immigration and addiction are all part of this system of abuse and control. When we say “Never again,” how can we mean it if it’s happening right now? Race-based violence is so deeply woven into our social structures that we need to deeply change our social structures in order to end race-based violence. That means now. That means urgently.
What will you put on the line to demand these changes? How much time, energy and money will you contribute? Are you willing to risk relationships to call people out on racism? Are you willing to risk your reputation within your field or workplace? For white folks, are you willing to risk the layers of safety that come with whiteness? Supporting black people means risking all that comes with the whiteness status that Ashkenazi Jews have gained. It means using power and privilege to advance goals perhaps alien to your own. What does whiteness mean to you, how does it shape your life and what will it take to leverage its power? Are you willing to risk your body by showing up to a Black Lives Matter protest? Are you willing to risk your own individual life goals? What will it look like for you to make racial justice a priority?