rosh chodesh racial justice
The pursuit of Racial Justice is a core element of our community's Jewish identity. So we begin each month with the exploration of the topic through our Rosh Chodesh (new month) Racial Justice Book Review. Since our first year, we have explored several books describing the history, nature, and problem of white supremacy. And we have championed one another's efforts to address the issue and repair it in large and subtle ways.
Most recently, our group read the 2023 report of the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. It summarized the insidious nature of racial injustice experienced in California and its lingering effects on American society today. The full report can be viewed HERE;
Several participants wrote up their reflections on having studied this report. You may view the reflections below.
It’s very difficult to use the word “like” in reference to the classes about the Racial Justice Book Review. This was an enlightening program, and I’m so grateful I was able to learn and participate.
Rabbi Miler and other participating members engaged in the study of how deeply engrained racial bigotry, inequality, and injustice have impacted the fabric of America. Though I already knew a fair amount about the topic, studying the review proved how pervasively our legal system has subjected African Americans to a system stacked to force them to be subservient, rather than one that supports and embraces them.
Over and over, I was astounded to learn how many laws, ordinances, and statutes from federal to state to local levels, in all corners of this nation, and in every aspect from social to financial to political to entertainment to sports to religious to health to education and more, have intentionally restricted or negated opportunities for Black people. Frequently they’re posited under the banner and aegis of our legal system as if they were constitutionally sound. They are not.
Much of the report focuses on brutal, endemic violence causing death, imprisonment, and suffering where it should never have happened. The lack of equitable judicial governance is shameful. These portions were especially difficult to read. And the instances horribly common.
The shining lights of the report were the numerous stories about African Americans who labored, created, invented, supported, financed, pursued, and envisioned pathways for success. In every aspect of American life, Black people have contributed to our well being. They were part of the foundation, they are substantive to our current situation, they are the pillars of the future. Now we must find a means, many means, of recognizing and rewarding Black citizens. To deny them is to subvert the foundation of our democracy.
Judaism demands that we stand side by side with African Americans and all marginalized people.
Normalizing injustice is not just.
When God created people, there was no mention of color of skin.
That’s what I learned.
I’m so glad I participated in as many classes as I could.
The report has been an eye-opener on the ongoing plight of Black people. It came to me as a shock as well as, a reality-check, that negative perceptions and prejudices against people of color, are still rampant, after centuries of colonialism and post-abolition of slavery. The fight against white supremacy, nationalism, xenophobia and racialization of people according to their origins, skin color, ethnicity, nationality, is more than ever, a battle for the survival of oppressed minorities.
2) What I have learnt
The sad and cruel reality of the lives of African-Americans: past, present and future.
In my mind, I did not know the extent and the depth of the racial discrimination towards them. History on the international scale is pretty much the same, recurrent, unfair and heart-breaking. There are some similarities and overlappings, in the bad treatment of Black people, that know no borders.
3) What can be done?
More racial justice alliances and partnerships should be established with key stakeholders, within a broader judicial and international framework. When cases of racial discrimination grap international attention, there are better possibilities for positive changes. Governments/ political parties should be accountable for their policies towards people of color, not only on the eve of elections. Recommendations should be implemented within a reasonable timeline and national reviews undertaken on a regular basis.
"On June 29, 2023, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans issued its final report to the California Legislature. The final report surveys the ongoing and compounding harms experienced by African Americans as a result of slavery and its lingering effects on American society today, and proposes a comprehensive reparations plan in satisfaction of the direction set forth by the Legislature in AB 3121 (2020)." (https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/media/full-ca-reparations.pdf)
That simple paragraph introduces us to the full text of the California Reparations Report, which was produced at the direction of the California Legislature. The report, running over 1,000 meticulously researched and written pages, is available for free from the Office of the Attorney General.
The Keeping it Sacred Rosh Chodesh Racial Justice Book Club has been studying the Reparations Report each month 2023-2024, with each meeting led by Rabbi Miller and KITS community members. Topics range from Enslavement, Stolen Labor, Racial Terror, Mental and Physical Harm and Neglect, to Political Disenfranchisement and an Unjust Legal System. The Report does a superb job documenting how race-based slavery in the United States created an immense, multifaceted chasm throughout the strata of American politics, society, education, wealth creation and distribution, healthcare, the justice system, and literally every aspect of our culture. The writers of these 1,000+ pages trace how what began in the 1500s did not end with the Civil War and Reconstruction, and did not leave the state of California untouched. Slavery is illegal, and still exists. Progress has been made over the centuries, yet we know how pervasive the evil effects of racism are in 2024.
As Jews, we are commanded “צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף, / tzedek tzedek tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue!” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Jewish leaders such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, of blessed memory, walked side-by-side with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. As Jews, we must study the history of racism, of “otherism,” of misogyny, and any other human manifestations that have led society away from justice. We must know where our cities, states, and countries have been historically in order to clearly see the wrongs that have been committed and how we might help repair and heal the wounds to our siblings of all colors, creeds, and gender identities. Whether or not the wrongs were committed in our name, we are not excused from being part of the solution. We are expected to work towards the repair of the world: tikkun olam.
The Reparations Report proves that the damage to African Americans in the state of California is significant. Reparations are owed; the question is how much and when?
As one of the co-leaders of several chapter discussions, I was surprised by how chilling, how transformative studying this document has been for me. I confess that I approached the reading assuming that I already knew a lot about California history and about racism and slavery in the U.S. After all, I was a history major and did graduate work on racism, slavery, and gender issues; I had lived in California for 60 years and witnessed operationalized racism and uprisings in the 20th century.
I was wrong. I knew the basics, but not the complexities that are so deeply woven into the tapestry of American history and race relations. As I read, I was horrified by both the actual details of how racism has been operationalized for centuries, and also horrified at how “white-sided” my education has been. This Report needs to be assigned reading for all Californians so that we can learn how to work towards a more just state, a more equitable society.
I also have been able to trace the throughline from the historical origins of slavery in the U.S. to the scourge of human trafficking, aka “modern day slavery,” in 2024. Sex trafficking, labor trafficking, organ trafficking, forced marriages/child marriages– these horrors are real, and often prey upon the marginalized in our society– whether marginalized by race, by sexual orientation, by disabilities, poverty, immigration status, and age. The Reparations Report is informing my current work in translational research on the intersections of racism, gender-based violence, and economic exploitation.
Thank you to our KITS Community for the opportunity to study this material, to wrestle with it, to be angered by it, to be transformed by it, to find elements of hope and light in the darkness, and to pursue justice with renewed commitment and passion.