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Activism in the Wake of Nothingness

Following the large protests and riots around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, our Mazkira Imi Wise collected a few opinions from several members in FZY.


Seeing social media flooded with black squares yesterday morning made me realise that if we didn’t use this time now, more than ever, to galvanise people to be activists then what even is the role of a youth movement in 2020. The last 11 weeks have shown communities from across the world come together in the global fight against Covid-19, raising money for health services, sacrifices to fight the disease and support those most vulnerable. Right now, when life is on a momentary pause, it makes you realise the huge opportunity that we have. An opportunity to not just educate, but actively inspire people to take that social media posting one step further.

I spoke to a few of our members about their thoughts and frustrations about what the world is coming to. I have chosen to anonymise them so to ensure those that read are reading the words, and not the person.

“Do you really believe that Black Lives Matter alongside equality for all or are you just trying to follow the Instagram trend? Aspects of contemporary British society have come from a time when we marched around the globe endeavouring to expand the British Empire and inflict our culture upon the nations of India and Africa because it was regarded as primitive. For all those saying racism isn’t an issue in the UK, it is. After spending 3 weeks working for a law office specialising in employment, I was shocked to discover the number of unfair dismissal cases which related to racism. To judge others by the colour of their skin, or the religious symbol they wear, is abhorrent. In my view, I suspect that racism is prevalent in all schools and is a microcosm of the macrocosm of racism in society. Schools should be educating their pupils about racism and alongside teaching faiths they should also include black culture. No one is born racist. My frustrations at the moment come from the fact BLM has become an Instagram challenge. It is almost a competition to see who can look the most anti-racist on social media because they want to be seen as a ‘good person’. However, the reality is that not enough people fully believe in the cause. Fundamentally if you are posting that Black Lives Matter you should believe strongly in equality as you are advocating that you believe in the rights for all minority groups. Realistically posting a black screen on your Instagram feed isn’t that productive. Instead engage in discussion with people, educate others and practice what you preach if you witness racism. Increasing awareness on social media is important but to make a difference sign petitions, read books and educate. If you had limited knowledge before, be open minded and change your views. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948) says EVERYONE has rights and should be treated in an equal manner in the eyes of the law, no matter what their protected characteristics are. At the moment this isn’t happening for the black community and therefore All Lives don’t matter until Black Lives Matter. I want to leave you with this quote: ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.”

“Events in America have made me rethink a lot about something that is close to my heart. I have loved and listened to hip hop for the best part of 6 years almost religiously, but recent events with George Floyd have made me reconsider the meaning of countless albums and songs. Hip hop is one of the only black dominated industries and its recent commercial success has forced a lot of the meaning behind the music to take a back seat in order to cater to the commercial ear. After revisiting albums tackling issues of frustration with inequality, which I previously thought I had understood, I’ve had to reconsider the meaning of the music and the attitude I have towards the music I have become so familiar with.”

“Recently, people have started to discuss the fact that the UK is not innocent when it comes to racism and inequality, as previously, the USA was the main matter of concern. As an extremely developed (and relatively well governed) country, it is paramount to look at the way that the UK deals with and documents racism - and to endeavour to promote racial equality. We don’t hear as much here (compared to the USA) about racism because police don’t carry guns and there is far less police brutality when it comes to this matter. However, the issues regarding white supremacy in many strands of life, as well as verbal and emotional racial abuse is just as serious and equally as severe as the physical aspects - whether people see it that way or not. This is what makes the UK not so innocent. The fact that racism is JUST as prevalent, just as critical and, most importantly, just as significant. It is simply less obvious to the public and not publicised the way it needs to be in order for people to be educated. Let’s take GCSE History for example; having taken one of these courses, I heard no mention of black history at all. Nothing. Black people should be considered as worthy and completely equal to those who are white - it is just the colour of skin. Just like white people have history, black people do as well - in fact it is incredibly interesting to learn about - so why don’t we in schools? One of the reasons that people grow up to be so ignorant to racism and uninformed about its consequences is because of education and upbringing. If we don’t learn in equal detail about other parts of history, slavery and apartheid before leaving school, how can we go out into the world and help combat and prevent modern day racism? I think that in multiple Jewish schools (a generalisation - just my opinion), we are particularly sheltered from the real world and the horrors that take place. I can confidently say that in my 15 years of attending Jewish schools, I have never been academically exposed to modern day (or historical) racism against black people and the oppression they face/d. I don’t disrespect the importance of learning about our own history, and the antisemitism that Jews have faced, however it concerns me that such a huge topic has never been introduced to me in a school environment. The only way for this extreme racism and pure ignorance to slow down is to educate. To educate those who are unaware. To educate those who are openly racist. To educate anyone who needs to hear it.”

“Whilst I’m not ignorant to the fact that racism is by no means only an American issue, but rather something entrenched into global society as a whole, I do especially feel obliged to discuss some of the overwhelming issues of white supremacy in the US, with it being one of, if not the most developed countries, yet with some of the worst racism in the world. Whilst many people see the news and presume that racism is just violence and verbal slurs towards people of colour, I feel like a huge part of it is covert and goes unnoticed to those that don’t take interest/choose to ignore it, which is a huge issue, especially as it is rarely covered by the media. It may appear that there has been a lot of development in racial equality in the US over the years, and yes, black people now have the right to vote, there is no longer physical slavery etc, but it’s more ‘hidden’ things, like the fact that even in 2013, a county in Arizona reduced the number of polling stations in black and Latino communities by 70%, limiting minority rights; it’s the fact that there’s still a $30,000 pay gap between white and black workers per year; that the percentage of non-white congressmen is only half the percentage of the non-white population in the US. This is really not even about knowing all the statistics, it’s just the fact that racism is inherent in so many aspects of American society, and without the education, and putting the effort into actively displaying the racial inequality in the US and globally, there cannot be change. People that don’t want to get involved in the ‘politics’ of racism, or don’t have an opinion, or think it’s too ‘difficult’ of a topic to discuss, are the ones who are privileged enough to have the choice whether to take action or not, because they’re the ones that aren’t affected by it - or if they are, it’s to their advantage. These issues are so prevalent today and it is the majority with this white supremacy that actually have the power to enact change. It’s not enough to post on Instagram for one day and forget about it the next; we need to put anti-racism into practise and make it a part of everyday life, to change the perspective and oppression towards black lives everywhere.”

“The recent protests and riots surrounding the killing of George Floyd have weighed heavily on the minds of millions across the globe. Within the Jewish community, there is a sense that, due to our historic association with prejudice and oppression, we should be even greater allies to the Black Lives Matter Movement. That because of the Holocaust, we somehow understand the suppression of black identity to a greater extent than the white populace. This is fundamentally untrue. Whilst it is fact that as Jews, we are more likely to experience discrimination when wearing a Kippah on the street, this is an item that can be removed. Despite the propaganda of the Nazi regime, Jews aren’t identifiable by the structure of our faces, the way in which we walk or the tone in which we talk. Our sole identifiable features are garments that can be removed if our life or health is at risk - this is a privilege that the black community does not possess. They cannot change the colour of their skin in order to combat the denial of their rights. That is why, when I hear fellow members of the community talk about the increased understanding between our community and the black community, I feel ashamed. We do not understand their struggle. Like every other ally out there, we must strive to educate ourselves, to be active supporters of their movement and to battle our own prejudices. We are not, by default of our historical association, devoid of responsibility to learn about the black community’s systematic oppression. We should be proud of our Jewish heritage, and our awareness of the depths of the human depravity, but we should not mistake this for knowing the battle of the black community. We should understand that we will never understand and use that to amplify their voices.”

“George Floyd was just like anybody else. But he was black, and he came to an early death because of it. It isn’t like he’s the first: Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling are just few names to have met a fate like George’s. This has been going on for a long, long time. And it has to stop. While the protests and riots may come to an end, police brutality and systematic oppression will not until there is substantial change made by governments. I believe we need to carry on protesting, whether that be online or in person, as long as possible until our black brothers and sisters have the equality they deserve. Donate, sign petitions, whatever you can do, you should do. We, as a society, cannot be complicit until there is sufficient justice for all. On a Jewish note, I saw a video of the American police on top of a synagogue shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors. This feels intrinsically wrong. A synagogue is our place of worship, our place to connect with G-d and it’s being used to hide these people while they commit vile acts of hate. If anything this makes me support the protesters message more, because the cops don’t care about any type of sanctity or respect, they just want advantages over normal citizens and will defile holy places for this. For this reason, aside from all the others, I believe we as Jews need to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and help end the tyranny of the police.”

“The biggest source of power comes from our voices. At the moment, the amount of people who are speaking up and fighting for what they believe in has united people around the world. However, in light of recent events, I have been thinking about the way humans handle crisis. It’s very much a case of ‘action, reaction.' Whilst I fully understand the empathetic message behind the whole ‘blackout Tuesday’, it is unnerving how this oppression is not new, for years black people have been more likely to be arrested, pulled over, and even rejected for job offers, yet it took an innocent man to die for people to rediscover the power of their voices. It is inspiring seeing everyone using their social media platforms as a way to establish justice, but I encourage people to educate themselves on the subject as well- as the second-best source of power is knowledge. There are so many movies, documentaries, websites, and books which document the atrocities that have occurred throughout history. Please, please educate yourselves on the subject matter- it is super interesting and teaches you a lot about human morale and the flaws within penal systems around the world.”

From the mere 7 members that helped me create this, it is abundantly clear that it is no longer good enough to just be a member of a youth movement and passively care about the sufferings of others. As the future leaders of our community I urge you all to actively be doing something to fight the injustices faced by minorities. We should be pushing our friends, families and communities to do that bit more. Read that extra resource, donate that extra pound, challenge another person. No minority will ever be able to comment on the struggles of another, but we can come together in solidarity and help fight, so that we can truly live out the Jewish commandment to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:9-18)

Imi Wise


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