Here are three things to know about me: I’m white, I’m Jewish and I’m marching in the Women’s March.
Before 2019, I would have just said, “I’m a woman! Woo-hoo, let’s march!” But that identity has – somewhat ironically – not been the one at issue in the controversy surrounding allegations of anti-Semitism against Women’s March national co-chair Tamika Mallory and her responses to those charges, alleging that white Jews are complicit in white supremacy. (Have you banged your head against a wall yet? Please don’t, health care in this country is a mess.)
As a Jew, I am well aware that I am part of a minority that has been the target of ethnic hatred for centuries. (We have like twelve zillion holidays about it.) I am also aware that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US and internationally. I was deeply chilled by the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville in 2017 with their chants of “Jews will not replace us” and I was horrified and enraged and terrified by the murder of 11 mostly elderly Jews worshipping in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October. And as a Jew, I was upset and unsettled by how tepidly the Women’s March leadership responded to allegations of anti-Semitism.
Briefly: Tamika Mallory has a long personal association with Louis Farrakhan, who can both be described as “founder of the Nation of Islam, an organization that has been important to protection and development within black communities” and a “person who has regularly made anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic comments, including likening Jews to termites.” Because of the latter, Mallory has been asked to renounce Farrakhan; because of the former, she has declined to do so. (Mallory’s history with Farrakhan, as well as his history of making anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic comments, is ably detailed by Adam Serwer at the Atlantic.)
This all blew up last March after CNN anchor Jake Tapper tweeted footage of Farrakhan making anti-Semitic remarks at the Nation of Islam Saviour’s Day event, which Mallory had attended and posted about on Instagram. At the event, Farrakhan called Jews his “enemy,” “the mother and father of apartheid” and “Satanic,” and griped that Jews controlled media and entertainment and “were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” This was just at the Saviour’s Day event; Farrakhan had previously made numerous other such remarks. Mallory had also previously posted a photo of herself with Farrakhan, calling him the GOAT, aka Greatest Of All Time. When called upon to distance herself from Farrakhan, Mallory refused, and tweeted, “If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader!” which some took to be a less-than-subtle reference to the persistent, insidious anti-Semitic myth that Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. Talk about doubling down.
Despite calls for Mallory to resign, and for the national Women’s March leadership to address the issue and renounce anti-Semitism, neither thing happened, and the news cycle churned on amid, among other things, the many, many jaw-dropping scoops about the Trump administration. (Remember way back when Michael Cohen’s office was raided? That was a month after all this. I know, I’ve aged a 10-year challenge’s worth in that time, too.) Women’s March co-chairs Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour, who have also voiced support of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, came to Mallory’s defense, and fourth Women’s March co-chair Bob Bland both condemned anti-Semitism and supported Mallory in her support of Farrakhan.
But in December, Jewish news and culture magazine Tablet ran an in-depth article on the Women’s March leadership and persistent allegations of anti-Semitism, including its ousting an original member of the leadership group, Vanessa Wruble, who was Jewish. In The New York Times, Mallory acknowledged the reality of anti-Semitism this way: “[W]hile white Jews, as white people, uphold white supremacy, ALL Jews are targeted by [anti-Semitism].”
This is as brief as I could make all this, even though there is an incredible amount of nuance to every assertion and allegation in this whole messy conflagration. (Rebecca Traister’s article in The Cut has much of that here.) But the backstory is important to explain why this white Jewish feminist woman is not only still planning to march, but even more determined to do so than before.
As mentioned above, I’m Jewish. As mentioned above, I’m a woman. As mentioned above, I’m white. As mentioned above, I’m marching. Why do I keep on mentioning all these things? Because they are all germane to the state of protest in the United States today. (Er, and I guess this is a good time to say that I’m also Canadian! I can’t vote in the United States. But I can march here.) Yes, it is called the Women’s March, and damned straight if women don’t have many reasons to be angry, and worried, right now. At least 15 women alleged sexual misconduct by Donald Trump during his campaign. Brett Kavanaugh was elevated to the Supreme Court despite being credibly accused of sexual assault. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prioritizes anti-choice legislation over putting 800,000 government employees back to work. There’s a persistent pay gap between men and women, with a motherhood penalty to boot. Thanks to the government shutdown, the Violence Against Women Act expired. Maternal mortality in the United States is on the rise. This is not an exhaustive list!
But also, as a white woman, my risk of maternal mortality is 3-4 times less than a black woman’s. As a white woman, my wage gap is smaller than that of a Latina woman, a Native American woman, and a black woman. As a white woman, I and my family members will be seen more favorably by the criminal justice system. Again, this is not an exhaustive list.
Why is my whiteness relevant to anti-Semitism? It’s not. It is relevant to white supremacy. But it’s not relevant to white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us,” or to anyone on Twitter making oven jokes. It’s relevant here only because Mallory pulled it into the debate. (Lizzie Skurnick at Tablet does an excellent job of deconstructing this false dichotomy: “By leaving out white Jewish women, the Women’s March is suggesting that, to be a full fledged member of their movement, you have to possess some other virtue that makes your progressive creds legit.”)
Well, I reject that, and I hope other white, Jewish women do too. Heck, I hope every woman rejects that and hits the streets. (And men! Men march too!) Good Lord, there’s a lot to march about these days, and I’m not about to let myself be counted out because Tamika Mallory has a longstanding history with a dude who thinks I’m a termite. That just makes me want to show up louder, stronger and angrier to fight for the kind of world I want to live in, and take my place among those fighting for it, too. I won’t agree with all of them about everything – but I will agree about the most important thing, and it rhymes with “Schmimschmeachment.” (And oy, will it taste great on a bagel!)
I’m pretty sure the Women’s March national co-chairs would agree, too. (Maybe not about the bagel. But definitely about the other thing.) I bet we agree on most things, I hope. I truly appreciate the work they’ve done, and their role in making the Women’s March so impactful as an annual event and a continuous movement. And I support what they’ve built, even if I don’t support how they’ve handled this issue. But we are, I hope, ultimately on the same side. As Stosh Cotler writes in The Washington Post, “[n]ow — as we watch our loved ones be deported, shot by police, banned from entry and massacred at places of worship — is the time to collectively resist the forces that would tear us apart from within.”
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And for my Jewish sistren (and brethren) who are sitting it out, I see you, too. That’s your right and how you are choosing to make your voice heard. And that will be part of the story of this march, and rightfully – and righteously – so.
But I’m going, and I’ll hoist my sign for you too. It’ll say: “Social Jewstice Warrior.” I hope Tamika Mallory will get it.