To the Editor:
Nylah Burton’s article [“Beyond the Black-Jewish Alliance”, March 8th, 2019] was a very problematic response to an issue that is very important to the Jewish Currents community, and has been since the magazine began as Jewish Life.
One of the hallmarks of the tendency represented by our corner of the Jewish left has been that the struggle for Black rights (and indeed, liberation), is what distinguished us from most other publications and organizations. Fundamentally, Burton repeats a discussion that occurred over the course of the 1960s. What is critical, and what is wrongheaded about the article, is the conflation of the Jewish left with Jewish liberalism.
It is true that since the mid-1960s Jewish liberals have used the general support for the early Civil Rights movement on the part of the Jewish community as an excuse to oppose the development of radical Black movements as they emerged in the late 1960s and ’70s. This became part of a common discourse among both Jewish and non-Jewish liberals as they moved right during the era of conservatism, beginning in 1980 with Reagan’s election. However, the Jewish left did not engage in this process. Instead Jewish leftists, especially those with roots in the Communist tradition represented by Jewish Currents, were constantly involved in fighting racism at every turn. They did not use the “I marched with King” trope as an excuse to oppose antiracist militancy on the part of people of color. Rather, they said it to call upon the fact that Jews did support the Civil Rights movement in larger numbers than any other white group, and to remind our community not to betray that tradition.
Any view that conflates Jewish liberalism as it moved right with the constant and ongoing antiracist tradition of the Jewish left essentially supports a conservative view of our history as a people, our country, and our struggles.
Paul C. Mishler
Associate Professor of Labor Studies-IUSB