I have joked about being “Jewpanese”, but not once did I think of myself as a person of colour, let alone a Jew of Colour.
[/pullquote]#BlackLivesMatter. These three visceral words frequent my social media, but true exposure to these complex issues only happened just recently when I was invited to attend New York’s Jews4BlackLives vigil led by Jews of Color in conjunction with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) last Thursday.
Being a Japanese-Canadian Jew with little knowledge on this movement, I went to hear the protest. Despite a thunderous rainstorm, I found myself standing next to a hundred people of mixed heritage, many of whom self-identify as being Jews of Color. Now, I have joked about being “Jewpanese”, but in typical Canadian fashion, not once did I think of identifying myself as a person of colour, let alone a Jew of Colour. Is that because us Canadians think about race differently?
Race takes on a distinctly fierce flavour in the United States, and is undoubtedly at the centre of BlackLivesMatter. My facebook feed is inundated with tragic footage of African-Americans being shot and killed by American police in seemingly racist circumstances. At the same time, I see pictures of law enforcement officers (many of whom are people of colour themselves) putting their lives at risk to keep America safe. What am I to make of all of these conflicting narratives?
Judaism has social justice at its core. With a shared history of oppression, Jews have been at the forefront of civil rights for African-Americans because we know what it is like when no one stands up for us. I am all for fighting oppression, but I am not for villainizing police across the board. As I stood under the arch at Washington Square among protesters — and surrounding police — it became clear to me that we are all in this together, no matter the recipe.
What am I to make of all of these conflicting narratives?
[/pullquote]I grew up in Vancouver, where there were few Afro-Canadians, if any. I found out this year that Vancouver once had a thriving Afro-Canadian community, which was ultimately destroyed by City Planning in 1970. Today, Vancouver is transforming into quite the international and multicultural city, and to be honest, I do not know what will be the ramifications of this visible change in demographics on the relationship between its citizens and law enforcement. Canada does not have the same level of gun violence among civilians and police as America, but we are not free of racism either. Canada is not innocent when it has come to residential schools of its First Nations or internment camps of its Japanese community, but I would like to believe that there has been progress.
Attending the Jews4BlackLives vigil offered me insight into one perspective of what’s going on in America, but it more so got me thinking about being a Jew of Colour. What will this mean for me in Canada?