Thoughts on the Week 14 July 2016

RACISM IN AMERICA The United States late last week experienced two incidents where unarmed black men (Alton Sterling & Philando Castile) were shot to death by police in the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Protests against police brutality toward black victims were held in major cities across America threatening to take race relations back 50 years in time.

The Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter led to peaceful gatherings in dozens of cities across the USA, until a lone ex-military black sniper killed 5 police officers and wounded 7 others in Dallas Texas.

Controversy even found its way onto a televised national baseball match when a singer changed the lines of the Canadian National Anthem to include the words All Lives Matter; this was condemned as a lone wolf attempt to downplay racial bias, drawing attention away from President Obama’s 7 July remarks that blacks are 2 times more likely to be shot by police than whites.

Here in London, perhaps this event is perceived more as part of the ongoing American problem of rampant gun ownership than as racial-hatred. But curiously, in the USA, Jewish communities have been conspicuously silent. Is racism within part of the religious community more of an issue to be addressed and corrected than might be thought?

In the Jewish educational system of several decades ago, some cited Biblical sources to vindicate the slave-status of blacks. Noah’s cursing the sons of Ham, Kush and Canaan (Genesis 9:25) normalised a belief that may also have supported the West in trampling the basic human rights of Africans during the slave trade.

In a 2014 report by the Public Religion Research Institute, as many as 18% of respondents felt it was alright to refuse service to blacks if it conflicted with their religious beliefs (about the same number felt that way towards Jews, Gays and Atheists). Who doesn’t remember that years ago the Yiddish word shvartsa was in wide use as a pejorative?

No doubt there will be lots of hand-wringing in the USA this summer and more violence to fear pending the result of upcoming police hearings; there may even be some push-back against gun freedom. But no doubt, throughout America there must be new programmes to train white officers to be less lethal when stopping black suspects.

For the rest of us, it’s not enough to sit on the side-lines and watch this chaos unfold on the Tele. Racism in America is a stain on a nation that claims to be leading the Western world economically and it is a cause for great shame!

Any society that has an institutionalised under-class should beware of the potential harm it causes to all. Lack of opportunity in education and employment often leads to resentment and despair. Over a long period, the effects become entrenched and reengaging becomes a monumental challenge. Sadly, forms of racism still exists in countries other than America.

#BlackLivesMatter and as Jews, we should make sure that message is heard.