When a White nationalist gunman murdered eleven people in a Pittsburgh synagogue last weekend, the international Jewish community entered a collective moment of mourning. The history of global anti-Semitism stretches back millennia, and hate directed towards the Jewish community has a way of triggering shockingly recent memories of genocide and oppression.
The condemnation of both the attack, and the unvarnished hate that serves its antecedent, has been swift and multifaceted. As a Jew, it is comforting to see leaders from other faith communities expressing support, love, and a shared sense of outrage in the aftermath.
As American Jews process the magnitude and vileness of this attack, however, it is important that we situate anti-Semitic violence within the broader context of White supremacy and White nationalism, both in this country and globally. When the khaki-clad klan marched in Charlottesville last year, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” many formerly complacent American Jews realized that the growth of the violently nationalist far-right was a legitimate threat to the Jewish community.
I just wish that they had seen the signs earlier.
Members of marginalized communities, both in America and abroad, have been waving the flag about the threat posed by White nationalism for years. Unfortunately, as I’ve written before, many American Jews of European descent choose to enjoy a provisional form of Whiteness. That provisional Whiteness is available to them because of the literal hues of their White skin; the privileges of merely appearing White are vast.
The problem with provisional Whiteness is that it unravels the second a White supremacist chooses to look past your provisional Whiteness in the interest of asserting White supremacy. No matter how pale your skin, you’ll never be “White” when the gunman marches into your synagogue. Jews must fight White supremacy with the same vigor that they oppose anti-Semitism, because while anti-Blackness is the central factor driving racist policy and behavior in this country, Whiteness depends on drawing boundaries that are both racial and ethnic.
You can’t fight anti-Semitism while ignoring other manifestations of White supremacy. When anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments manifest, Jews should be there fighting shoulder-to-shoulder. Our community shouldn’t wait for another attack to be reminded.