Let’s be clear, most of the time I am white, and benefit from white privilege.
But I’m also Jewish and queer. And whenever I hear about swastikas being brandished on the walls of the oldest Jewish school for rabbinic training, or in junior high schools or cemeteries, I think I have an inkling into what it feels like to be brown in this country: My first thought is not shock or outrage, but rather well, yeah, I knew they were only barely tolerating us, there’s still plenty of people here who don’t like us, who think I’m evil just for being me.
I feel ambivalent about the title of this post, because comparing swastikas to the literal war on black and brown bodies in this country seems like the height of clueless of white privilege. But at the risk of violating Godwin’s Law, the Holocaust started with swastikas and nationalism and ordinances. And maybe the reason there’s been such backlash against the idea of oppression theory, and undoing systemic white privilege, is because certain powerful, capitalist, white, male forces not only want to return to the days of slavery but the days of women in the home and queers being closeted and Jews being assimilated and silent.
Now, my rabbi is full of hope in the American experiment and American ideals. It’s why I love him. And I want to believe him. But we’re about the be tested like never before under Trump. Our Supreme Court will hopefully be inundated with cases challenging the constitutionality of all the bullshit his administration is going to throw our way, and I’m hoping my state of Massachusetts, like California and Oregon and Washington and a few others will shield me and other minorities from the worst with state protections to health care, civil liberties, reproductive access.
We sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this May as a congregation and had a beautiful short prayer service. We read George Washington’s letter to the Touro congregation in Newport, RI while gazing out at the Washington Monument. From the very first days, there were some good intentions with this country. Of course, there were also murderous, imperialist impulses that led to the massacre of Indians and the enslavement of black people brought over just to be slaves.
I felt that hope in America that day in May. I hope that someday I will feel it again.