No easy answers to heal a deeply divided nation

Tariro (Tari) Nussinov

BY TARIRO NUSSINOV

Election results this year show the deep socio-political divide among demographics and identities. Regardless of the outcome  each of us desired, this is not a proud moment. The United States continues to be deeply divided, and it is apparent in election results, in the dialogues that surround the Black Lives Matter movement, and in housing, education and religion. This division is consequential for people like me and other Jews of color who are having to survive in this context.

I moved to St. Louis in the eighth grade, only a couple of weeks after my bat mitzvah. I don’t remember much about the transition except that I dreaded going “synagogue shopping.” I remember one Friday evening walking into a synagogue and feeling glares from all sides as my interracial family and I walked down the aisle. As a Black Jew, I’m no stranger to being “othered.” However, being othered by your own people, that’s another level of pain. That kind of stuff is detrimental. 

 In the past months, I’ve had many conversations with community members, friends and peers. Most of them are now deeply hopeful and optimistic that progress is upon us. However, I worry that this new shift in power will lead us back to complacency. I worry that it will once again give space for us to ignore the lived realities of what occurs outside of our lives. 

The media and institutions teach us to believe that we live in a post-racial society. They teach us to believe that segregation has ended, without an analysis as to why, for example, the socioeconomic split known as “Delmar Divide” still exists. 

They tell us to believe that we are not racist without examining our social circles/communities and examining our own biases. They tell us that “every vote counts” while elective districts are gerrymandered and millions are disenfranchised. They teach us that justice is a tremendous value in Judaism, and yet Jews of color are erased too many times to count. 

If we continue to hide behind these false narratives that allow us to choose comfort over reality, we will never break through to understand the core of our societal problems and how we can build collective solutions. 

At the Jewish Community Relations Council, we are doing something different. For five weeks, we had Sunday sessions as part of the Racial Equity Conference. We taught the history of struggle through the lens and perspectives of Jews of color. We explored the intersections and roots of anti-Semitism and their connections to white supremacy and racism today. We learned from and with each other. We worked to break down the isolation and insular nature of Jewish institutions, and we examined how and why our communities are shaped the way they are. 

I am proud of the work that we have been doing, and I deeply encourage everyone to continue seeking new perspectives so that we can continue learning from and with each other. The issues that we are facing are deeply rooted and complex. There is no easy solution that revolves around an election, a new law or a singular training. 

What I do know is that it is going to take all of us. We must unlearn toxic narratives and behaviors that perpetuate white supremacy, and learn accountable ways to create a more equitable world. The historic moment we find ourselves in calls on all of us to act with justice in the form of critical thought, critical action and critical being. I look forward to being on this journey with you. 

Tariro (Tari) Nussinov served as the racial equity consultant for the Jewish Community Relations Council to help develop the 2020 Virtual Racial Equity Conference. Tari is a doctoral candidate in education psychology at the University of Southern California.

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