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Another Reason why Everything is Terrible

The Negro Star, September 20, 1935

Has there been a recent increase in public displays of black antisemitism? That’s certainly been my impression. Apparently, I’m not alone. While I suspect this is just a specific manifestation of a general trend, it’s still frustrating.

We’re in a moment of the most significant civil rights activism seen in the United States in decades. We’re also in a period of emboldened fascism and white supremacism. We are also four months from an election that pits two different visions of American against one another, and you can bet Trump is going to turn the demagoguery up to eleven as he sees reelection slipping away. If there was ever a time to maintain a broad antiracist coalition, this is it.*

Not surprisingly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar puts the matter plainly.

That same month, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign also has been criticized for exploiting anti-Jewish biases, even though Trump’s son-in-law and campaign honcho Jared Kushner is Jewish and his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism before they married. Playing on the same Rothschild’s trope, they issued a letter accusing three billionaires of Jewish descent of using their fortunes to “rig the November election.” This is the kind of “very fine people on both sides” Trump has employed throughout his political career — pandering to hate groups that has emboldened racists who feel like they’ve gotten the presidential OK to attack people they don’t like.

These famous, outspoken people share the same scapegoat logic as all oppressive groups from Nazis to the KKK: all our troubles are because of bad-apple groups that worship wrong, have the wrong complexion, come from the wrong country, are the wrong gender or love the wrong gender. It’s so disheartening to see people from groups that have been violently marginalized do the same thing to others without realizing that perpetuating this kind of bad logic is what perpetuates racism.

The interdependence of racisms is by now pretty well-established. The kind of antisemitism that produced the Holocaust was a component of broader theories of scientific racism, which themselves were underpinned by claims about the inherent inferiority of Africans. Recent books and articles have highlighted how Jim Crow provided a model for the Nuremberg Laws.

Indeed, it’s not hard to find articles from the black press in the 1930s drawing these comparisons. A piece in the Wyandotte Echo from 1933 is entitled “Hitler Smells of Ku Klux Kanism.” Another piece, reproduced below, reflects on efforts by Nazis to deflect attention from their persecution of Jews by pointing to lynchings and segregation.

The Plaindealer, August 23, 1935.
I’m pretty certain this is the same William Pickens.

I also find all of this frustrating for less high-minded reasons. Let me explain.

On the one hand, the white supremacists say that Ashkenazi Jews aren’t “white” and we’re using our ill-gotten resources to empower other minorities – most notably African-Americans – in order to bring about a horrific future of racial pluralism and miscegenation (yeah, I know, it sounds terrible).

On the other hand, the most elaborate black anti-Jewish discourse holds that Ashkenazi Jews are Europeans (Africans are the true semites) who use our ill-gotten resources to oppress and exploit African-Americans (also making Jews the true antisemites).

Obviously, both of these can’t be true. So it would be nice if the people who hate us could just agree on one narrative and stick with it.

*Yes, obviously, there are posts to be written on Ashkenazi Jewish racism against any number of targets, including black Jews.

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