BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 24: Host Nick Cannon speaks onstage at The Los Angeles Mission Legacy Of Vision Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 24, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
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Editor’s Note: David A. Love is a writer, commentator and journalism and media studies professor based in Philadelphia. He contributes to a variety of outlets, including Atlanta Black Star, ecoWURD and Al Jazeera. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidALove. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.

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The public discourse in America over race, racism and anti-Semitism runs the risk of evolving into an oppression Olympics with no winners. Nevertheless, this pivotal year provides a unique opportunity to delve into these pressing issues and pave the way for a more constructive public discourse. The Black Lives Matter movement calls for confronting anti-Black racism and other forms of discrimination including anti-Semitism in the fight against white supremacy, which binds them all together.

David A. Love

In recent weeks, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and actor Nick Cannon, both of whom are Black, have come under fire for making anti-Semitic comments. Jackson shared a quote on his Instagram Story that was falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler, saying that Black people were “the real Children of Israel.” The passage also pushed the anti-Semitic trope and conspiracy theory of a Jewish plan to “extort America” and achieve “world domination.”

Jackson later apologized and said, “”I just want to first off extend an apology on behalf of me and what I stand for, because you know, I’m one that’s fair and I never want to put any race down or any people down. I really didn’t realize what this passage was saying.”

This week, Cannon was fired from his “Wild ‘N Out” improv show on ViacomCBS for pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on his podcast while making similar claims that Black people are the “true Hebrews.”

Cannon, who was joined by hip hop figure Professor Griff, amplified Griff’s false views that Jewish people controlled the media. Cannon went on to defend the conspiracy theory by saying, “It’s never hate speech, you can’t be anti-Semitic when we are the Semitic people. When we are the same people who they want to be. That’s our birthright. We are the true Hebrews.”

Cannon later apologized for his remarks and said, “I must apologize to my Jewish Brothers and Sisters for putting them in such a painful position, which was never my intention, but I know this whole situation has hurt many people and together we will make it right.”

The recent comments from these high-profile Black men are a distraction at a time when the nation must come to terms with its legacy of institutional racism and racial violence. Time that is wasted on such infighting is time that these two groups should spend working together for a just society.

While Jackson and Cannon are attuned to racism against Black people, they displayed cultural insensitivity in their statements and revealed their glaring blind spots regarding Jewish suffering, which includes centuries of pogroms, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the Holocaust, along with the resulting intergenerational trauma, to name a few examples.

As a result, two historically scapegoated groups, Blacks and Jews are experiencing a fissure within each group and between both groups. That history is a complex one of both cooperation and conflict. Judah P. Benjamin was a Jew who served several high-level positions in the Confederacy, and tensions between African Americans and Jews have long been acknowledged by everyone from James Baldwin to Martin Luther King Jr.

There is also a shared history that includes the liberation of concentration camps by Black soldiers, Jewish refugees such as Albert Einstein teaching at historically Black colleges and universities, and the participation of Jews in the Civil Rights movement, reflecting a Jewish sense of tzedek, or justice in Hebrew.

It’s easy to forget that the Jewish community is also a diverse one. According to researchers at Stanford University and the University of San Francisco, as many as 15% of American Jews are people of color, such as Black, Latinx, Sephardic and Mizrahi (Mideast) origin, who typically have been undercounted. Black and Brown Jews face racism and invisibility in the Jewish community because they lack white privilege.

And today, when America needs a reckoning on racism, the current national leadership will not rise to the occasion. President Donald Trump staffs his government with white nationalists while letting the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imprison migrant children in their detention centers. The white supremacists and domestic terrorists who marched in Charlottesville and yelled “Jews will not replace us” are the true threat to the lives of both Black and Jewish Americans, not to mention Muslims, Latinx, Asians, Native Americans, LGBTQ and white allies and all those who want to build a multicultural democracy. We must not lose sight of this.

America requires an honest accounting of its history of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia to have a fruitful discussion and a pathway to healing and justice. Far too often, this legacy is glossed over or rarely and inadequately taught in school, resulting in people speaking and reproducing anti-Semitism through ignorance. This country was built on the genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans, a legacy which continues today through institutional racism and police violence.

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“It comes as a great shock around the age of five, or six, or seven, to discover that the country to which you have pledged allegiance along with everyone else has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians — when you were rooting for Gary Cooper — that the Indians were you,” Baldwin said of the Black American experience in his legendary University of Cambridge debate with William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1965. Baldwin referred to the actor Gary Cooper, who played a cowboy hero with a squeaky-clean image in the old Westerns, reflecting an American innocence with which the country portrays and spins its legacy of racial violence. Like White Americans, Black people are socialized to hate the “other,” the boogeyman or racial scapegoat. The difference, however, is that Black people, also victims of racial oppression, are in effect conditioned to hate themselves.

Meanwhile, 55 years later, Black people are still hunted, and the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville are still free men. As America fights against the policies and systems of racial oppression that place lives in physical danger, we must also call people out for their divisive and intolerant words. We have the responsibility to do both.