By Carolyn Szczepanski, Communications and Programming Coordinator at The Alliance for Advancing Regional Equity
As a cis white woman with class privilege I take self study seriously. I know I’ve been indoctrinated my whole life to overlook the insidious impacts of white supremacy. And I know it takes daily self education and active un-learning on my part to undermine structural racism and show up effectively in multi-racial justice movements.
But a few weeks ago, I discovered a gaping blindspot in my understanding of systemic oppression(s).
As a staff member of the Alliance, I was collaborating with colleagues at JCA on a newspaper piece supporting a strong inclusionary housing policy in Minneapolis. With shared values around the harms of capitalism and fallacy of market-based solutions to address our affordable housing crisis, I flew through a first draft that called out the legacy of wealth extraction for private gain at the expense of marginalized communities. I didn’t think twice about the language or framing.
When it was pointed out that some of the language leaned into anti-Semitic tropes, I felt a bolt of electricity run through my body. Not because I’m unfamiliar with or uncomfortable with criticism. I know and expect and embrace that I will make mistakes. But because, even when I was told, I couldn’t see it fully — I simply didn’t have the level of awareness to recognize the harm in a way that I wouldn’t replicate it again in the future.
Even with some great resources to start, I reckoned with shame. Shame that, even after Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, I hadn’t put concerted attention and self study to how anti-semitism manifests today. Shame that, at 37-years-old, even some of the introductory framing and background in “Understanding Anti-Semitism: An Offering to our Movement” from Jews for Racial & Economic Justice was completely new to me.
Within a few days, JCA announced the “Anti-Semitism and White Nationalism: Understanding and Undermining the Politics of Exclusion” workshop with Eric Ward and Dania Rajendra. Bringing their dynamic personalities and deep insight to the Twin Cities, the two scholars and leaders so clearly outlined the centrality of anti-semitism in the egregiously racist and openly violent movements that have marched into the mainstream of American culture.
In his piece “Skin in the Game,” Ward asks us to “recognize that antisemitism is not a sideshow to racism,” that collective liberation is impossible without rooting out this insidious worldview. “Within social and economic justice movements committed to equality,” Ward writes, “we have not yet collectively come to terms with the centrality of antisemitism to White nationalist ideology, and until we do we will fail to understand this virulent form of racism rapidly growing in the U.S. today.”
In their talk, Ward and Rajendra helped me see the pillars of anti-semitism in white nationalism and its relationship with/in white supremacy — and the distinctions between the two. It lifted the veil on how pervasive the undertones of anti-semitism are in alt-right narratives and xenophobic hysteria. With examples like Facebook attacking George Soros, I caught myself saying, “Oh yeah, I remember that…” but somehow still considered it a “sideshow” rather than a foundation of the multi-faceted and intersecting oppressions I can name in so many other ways.
But the workshop wasn’t just a learning moment. Or even a re-commitment to do the self study and education I know I need. The basement was packed with folks I recognized from affordable housing, community health, police abolition and environmental movement work. The workshop was an opportunity to see and feel a collective, community-wide commitment to work toward true solidarity with our Jewish friends, colleagues and co-conspirators in dismantling racial injustice.