My heart is breaking for America. As a Black woman it’s so incredibly hard to watch people spewing words of hate and bigotry when Black people have fought so long and hard just to be thought of as human and not chattel. We say we’re a nation founded on Judeo-Christian values, but where’s the fruit? We say all men are created equal, but we never really meant it. We have been operating in contradictions for the past 240 years and have consistently paid for it. What happened in Charlottesville over the weekend is a chilling reminder that racism in this country is not dead. But we have to ask ourselves: why? Let’s do a quick history lesson (Note: There are so many more events, people and court cases that could have been highlighted but these are just a few to show how racism is a systematic reality in our politics, economy and culture):
1619 – White colonists bring the first African slaves to North America.
1787– Congress passes the Three Fifths Compromise. This law states that slaves were counted as “three-fifths” of a White person toward the total population of a state. This gave slave-holding states greater representation in Congress.
1804 – All Northern states abolish slavery or have plans for gradual manumission. However, Northern states still benefit from the products of slave labor, i.e. cotton.
1807– the Transatlantic Slave Trade is legally abolished in the United States. While this stopped Americans from legally trading slaves with other countries, it didn’t stop people from buying and selling slaves within the United States.
1857 – Dred Scott sued for freedom in 1846 because he was living with his master in a free state while still enslaved. In 1857 the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott and stated that no Blacks, whether free or enslaved, could prove U.S. citizenship and therefore do not have the right to petition anything in court. This case delivered a major blow to free and enslaved Blacks but also heightened the slavery debate that would soon erupt into the American Civil War.
1861-1865 – The American Civil War was the bloodiest war in American history. Slavery was finally abolished in 1865.
1863 – Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in rebel states.
1896 – After the Civil War, racial tensions continued to escalate. In 1892, Homer Plessy, who was 1/8th Black, sat in a “White’s Only” train car as an act of civil disobedience to fight against segregation. In the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson case, the Supreme Court ruled, “’separate but equal’ was fair, and was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment requiring equal protection to all. This ruling signaled the federal government’s and North’s unwillingness to challenge segregation or the oppression of Blacks in the South unofficially called ‘Jim Crow laws’”
1954 – The Supreme Court rules in favor of African Americans in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. This decision stated that “separate is inherently unequal,” thus overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson.
1963 – the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by White supremacists. Four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were killed and many more were injured.
1967 – In 1958 Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in Washington DC. When they came to live in Virginia, they were jailed for “unlawful cohabitation.” Their case went to the Supreme Court where it was ruled that state bans on interracial marriage was unconstitutional.
Oftentimes we don’t take a good, hard look at the countless historical facts because it utterly shames our naiveté. How did we not see this coming? Why are we shocked? We’re shocked because we ignore the everyday race issues that are staring us in the face. We’ve gotten used to people of color living in below the poverty line and can’t understand why “they just can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps like everyone else!” We’ve gotten used to the trope of people of color as drug dealers and criminals. We’ve gotten used to people of color filling up our jails because what we’ve been fed for the past 400 years is that people of color (Black people in particular) are not as valuable as White people. Furthermore, racism in America is so ingrained in our society that even the Nazis in Germany used many of our legalized racist policies as a model when they were forming their policies against the Jews:
“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, America led the world in race-based lawmaking, as a broad political consensus favored safeguarding the historically white character of the country. That is, it codified white nationalism. European racists took note. Among them was Adolf Hitler. In Mein Kampf, Hitler called America the “one state” making progress toward the creation of the kind of order he wanted for Germany. In 1935, the National Socialist Handbook on Law and Legislation, a basic guide for Nazis as they built their new society, would declare that the United States had achieved the ‘fundamental recognition’ of the need for a race state.”
This should scare all of us. Yes, we fought against Nazi Germany, but we played a much larger role in Germany’s deadly racial policies than most people are comfortable admitting. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s such a large neo-Nazi cohort right in our backyard.
As people of faith, we’ve addressed this issue with sweeping generalizations of “it’s not a Black and White issue, it’s a sin issue.” Yes, it certainly is a sin issue, but what is the sin? The sin is racism against people of color (Black people in particular). When we as the believing community operate in generalizations, all we do is minimize the pain of the victim (in this case, Black people) and shut down any sort of move toward reconciliation because we’re framing it as “a problem we all deal with,” when in reality no person of African descent asked to be brought to America as a slave. In Leviticus 19:16 it says, “Do not go around spreading slander among your people, but also don’t stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake; I am Adonai.” (CJB) Your Black neighbors are not being heard and their lives are at stake because while our country was founded on the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, enslaved Africans (among others) did not have access to those rights until very recently. We cannot stand idly by while the lives of Black people in our country are being threatened with hateful rhetoric.
Anne Frank said it best when she said:
“What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again…how wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
This information is not meant to condemn but to call to action. This evil is no longer crouching at our door. We’ve willingly invited it in and it’s become a fixture in our home. We have to eradicate it NOW. I believe the solution is two-fold: we need to be on our knees and invite Yeshua to bring healing to America’s deep racial wounds and we need to educate our children and ourselves. Historically, the Jewish people have stood solidly by African Americans because of the shared history of slavery and discrimination. As believers in Yeshua and followers of Messianic Judaism, I believe that you are again being called to stand hand in hand with African Americans in our fight against racism.
Below are a few suggested books that can help you and your families understand the lives of African Americans over the last few centuries. Listen to people’s stories and be part of the solution.
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Racism: A Short History by George M. Frederickson
- Nothing But Freedom by Eric Foner
- Discovering Black America: From the Age of Exploration to the Twenty-First Century by Linda Tarrant-Reid
- Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl by Tonya Bolden
- Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
Leah Charles was born and raised in New York and has been involved in the Messianic movement for about 18 years. Her passion is youth ministry and she’s worked with Messianic youth both at Messianic conferences and at her congregation, Shuvah Yisrael in Long Island. Leah also works in education at a museum in NYC and loves getting kids excited about history. Her most recent obsessions include: The Hamilton musical (because who doesn’t want to see the Founding Fathers rapping?!), podcasts, Marvel comics & movies, and chocolate covered coffee beans!
 History.com, “Dred Scott Case,” http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/dred-scott-case
 PBS.org, “Jim Crow and Plessy vs. Ferguson,” http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/jim-crow/
 History.com, “Brown v. Board of Education,” http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka