I also (in what seems to be a theme on this website) didn’t watch the Oscars. The next day, the blogosphere directed me to clips of John Legend and Common’s acceptance speech, which moved me. Very much. As did their performance of the song “Glory” itself. Their discussion of the history of triumph and the ongoing struggle of blacks in America was brave, important, and resonant. Their song, with its insistence on highlighting Ferguson in the context of the Civil Rights movement is an act of resistance, refusing to tie up the story of MLK in a neat triumphalist bow of victory. The problems endure. This must not be ignored.
I’ll be honest–my first reaction was not, “What about me and mine? Where is the Jewish ‘Glory?’” In fact, this question wasn’t part of my reaction at all. Nor, frankly, should it have been. Not only because such a reaction detracts from this moment of acknowledging the structural racism that African Americans suffered and continue to suffer, but because I’m deeply grateful that we don’t have an equivalent to Selma and (importantly) Ferguson. I don’t mean that Jews do not have a legacy (and, of course, an ongoing and increasingly prevalent experience) of discrimination and anti-Semitism in the U.S. and globally. We do. It’s terrible. We should, as I’ve written here, mark it, educate others about it, and fight against it.
What I mean is that I’m grateful that Jews in America simply do not experience the same forms of structural discrimination that blacks do. We (or those of us who are white–Jews come in all varieties) have a set of choices that people of color do not. “Glory” celebrates the refusal to accept these forms of oppression. It also issues a plea, and an injunction, for everyone to fight against them. And I’m listening.
As a white person, albeit one with a minority identity, I recognize that my first job is to listen. And then my next job is to ask the people who know what I can do to help. This, perhaps, is the most important legacy of Jews in the United States–bearing in mind the work of activist leaders like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Elizabeth Glaser, and (hell yes) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, alongside the rich tikkun olam (social justice) teachings of our tradition.