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Toward a Double Victory in Black-Jewish Relations: Collapsing the Lungs of White Supremacy

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest JCRC column by Allan-Charles Chipman, Executive Director of Initiatives of Change, USA , which is part of a diverse global movement of people committed to connecting inner change with public action. JCRC has been collaborating with the organization on special programs and events for several years.

 By Allan-Charles Chipman, Executive Director, Initiatives of Change USA

Allan-Charles Chipman

The city is Pittsburgh, PA. The year is 1942. The largest Black newspaper in the nation, the Pittsburgh Courier pens two words to embark on a war that is yet to be won by our world, nation, or society. The two words cast the vision of “Double Victory.”

From the onset of World War Two, the Pittsburgh Courier drew attention to the treatment of the Jewish people in Nazi Germany and Black people at home in the USA.

This revelatory act of recognizing that Black and Jewish people were struggling against distinct, yet similar structural racism even drew the attention and ire of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The request from the “new deal” president was to keep the raw deal the United States was giving Black Americans at home a secret deal.

In 1942, Robert Vann, the editor of the paper declared that half-hearted efforts to fight one aspect of white supremacy while ignoring another was a no deal. The turning point was a letter written to the paper by a Black soldier facing discrimination named James Thompson who wrote an era- defining question “Should I sacrifice to live half American?”

This 26-year-old soldier recognized the need for a double victory. Victory against antisemitic fascism abroad and victory over anti-Black racism at home.

Anything less would disrespect the sacrifice of his community.

This Black veteran of the often-named “greatest generation” raised to the American consciousness perhaps the greatest question. Can America truly be all that America promises on paper if we only deal with antisemitism OR anti-blackness?

Or, as civil rights organizer A. Philip Randolph so poignantly stated “how can you fight a Nazi army with a Jim Crow army?”

These leaders knew that collectively Black Americans and Jewish Americans will always have a half-American experience as long as freedom fighters are satisfied with only half of a victory against white supremacy.

Anti blackness and antisemitism

Anti blackness and antisemitism are like the lungs of white supremacy. The question is do we want white supremacy merely wheezing or do we seek to collapse the lungs altogether of a system that has our community exclaiming “I can’t breathe.”

Just as lungs share and pass oxygen between its chambers, so has antisemitism and anti-blackness exchanged strategies between their movements. From Nazis studying the Jim Crow South, to Holocaust denial and erasing Black history, or from mass shooting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church to the attack of Tree of Life Synagogue, the breath of hatred is circulating through the chambers of antisemitism and anti-blackness breathing out a toxin of hate that takes the lives of those we love within each of our communities.

For those unfamiliar of the coordination and circulation between the chambers of these lungs, antisemitism and anti-blackness falsely present themselves as a breath of fresh air.

The Nazi army in World War Two would drop fliers over Black American troops telling them to surrender and stop fighting for a country that discriminates against them. They failed to put on the pamphlets they dropped that Hitler studied Jim Crow and aspired to set up a new Mississippi in Germany.

The Jim Crow South laws in America pressured Jewish department store owners who had access to some of the social and economic benefits of whiteness to not upset the societal order of Jim Crow. The segregationist failed to mention that these Jim Crow laws were some of the same policies that helped Hitler craft the Nuremberg laws or the same sentiments that would sell out Madison Square Garden for a pro-Nazi rally or add Jewish people on some of the same laws and restrictive covenants that were disenfranchising Black people.

This same invitation into silence or solitary half victory for our communities over pursuing the more costly double victory still beckons to our communities today.

We see it when so-called pro black voices peddle the same globalist conspiracy theories that Klan members spread of Black leaders that led to the end of reconstruction.

We see it when politicians promise to fight antisemitism while simultaneously whitewashing standards of learning to remove properly teaching the Holocaust and Black history while even making attempts to remove Martin Luther King Jr. from school curriculums.

Hate crimes impacting our communities are rising year-over-year as noted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s most recent Hate Crime Statistics Report. “Nationally, reported hate crime incidents increased 11.6% – from 8,210 in 2020 to 9,065 in 2021. According to this data, 63.1% of single-bias incidents were motivated by the offenders’ bias toward race/ethnicity/ancestry, which continues to be the largest bias motivation category. Anti-Black or African American hate crimes continue to be the largest bias incident category, with 31.1% of all single-bias incidents in 2021. A total of 1,590 incidents related to religion were reported; the largest categories of religion included Anti-Jewish incidents resulting in 51.4% of religion-related incidents”

Those who agree with the hatred of old are becoming more coordinated and emboldened in their messaging.

The question of our mutual liberation not only resides in what is the resolve of those who choose to define themselves as our enemy, but what is the shared resolve of those of us who consider ourselves to be allies to Black and Jewish communities to do what it takes to pursue a double victory?

In the moments of vulnerability and insecurity when the system of white supremacy presents itself, we have the choice: stand up and take it down or stand aside and take a deal.

I am reminded of the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1963 as he addressed a crowd of civil rights activists including Dr. King.

Heschel asked “How many disasters do we have to go through in order to realize that all of humanity has a stake in the liberty of one person; whenever one person is offended, we are all hurt.

What begins as inequality of some inevitably ends as inequality of all… Let us dodge no issues. Let us yield no inch to bigotry, let us make no compromise with callousness.”

The effort and collaboration of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Initiatives of Change USA, and the Baptist Ministers Conference of Richmond & Vicinity “Toward a Double Victory” reverberates the clarion call of James Thompson and Rabbi Heschel and calls us to cultivate and display the courage to join the battlefield of understanding and combatting both anti-blackness and antisemitism. This requires first a cultural humility.

While we face a common enemy, we have endured distinct experiences, survived unique oppressions, and are healing from complex traumas. Latent in this battlefield are landmines that seem like places of safety and resolve but under the layer of safety and security rest tropes, stereotypes, and traditions of harm to a community we have yet to fully understand.

There are false things that this system has taught us to believe about each other and to believe about ourselves. There is no double victory without acknowledging and dealing with these realities in humility and grace.

This is why we begin our collaboration with our Collective Journeys programming. (See several programs on this page) We lead with cultural humility in being immersed in the intricacies of both the horrific transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans and its legacy as well as the Holocaust and the societal conditions and patterns that allowed one of the worst human atrocities to occur.

The horrors we have faced are only half of the journey and half of the victory.

The victory is also in examining and enjoying the beauty and systems of culture and solidarity our communities have created with each other to remind us that a higher “Standard of Love” is possible between our communities.

It is the standard of love for Black World War II veterans who risked their lives to end Hitler’s Holocaust. It is the standard of love of Jewish people; S.A. Bernfield and Samuel Fleishman who were killed by the Klan for daring to upset the societal order of Jim crow by treating Black people with dignity.

It is from this tradition of radical solidarity that we pursue together the “Double Victory.”

About Allan-Charles Chipman

Organizer. Mentor. Healer.

Allan is a lifelong faith community activist, having started his work at the ripe age of six in his hometown of Baltimore, when he was inspired by a group of pastors working to connect their congregations to their communities through service.

Previously serving as IofC’s Faith-Rooted Organizer, Allan runs programming for faith communities, equipping them with the tools to think theologically and logically about race and the history of Richmond and America as a whole. During college he engaged with faith communities to change society through mentorship programs and helped to establish a faculty/student collaborative organization called Reconciliation and Conversation for Everyone (R.A.C.E.).

Allan has also worked in the corporate world, where he advocated to build an African-American network to strive for racial equity at one of Richmond’s Fortune 500 companies.

Allan can be reached at allan-charles.chipman@iofc.org. For more on Initiatives of Change USA, visit us.iofc.org/.

In the photo at the top of the page: Joining Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney at Richmond City Hall on Dec. 19, 2022, after the Menorah lighting were: (from left) Allan-Charles Chipman, flanked by John Mitchell, Executive Director, Richmond Planet; and his wife; JCRC Director Basya Gartenstein, JCFR CEO Daniel Staffenberg and Don Glazer, a JCRC committee chair.