Celebrating #BlackJewishUnity Week with the National Urban League


Next week, two of the world's foremost human relations organizations the National Urban League and J. C. will unite against surging levels of Anti Semitism and racism to declare black Jewish unity week. Together, we will strengthen ties between our nations black and Jewish communities and combat all forms of hate. To discuss the importance of this event and to talk about the challenges of fighting racism I'm joined now by Clint Oda, the National Urban League Senior Vice President for Policy Advocacy and the Executive Director of the Urban League's Washington Bureau Clint, thank you so much for joining us. It's a pleasure to be with you. Now this special week, this black Jewish unity week is not happening in vacuum. It's happening because of rising antisemitism and racism in this country my listeners here plenty about antisemitism. So I just wanted to start by asking you this. It's been a Helluva summer. How are you? I would describe myself as weathered a little bit. We've been going through this quite some time this summer at least the notoriety of these police incidents are is much higher than it has been in the past. So we're we're hanging in there. We don't have a choice. Because this work is so important. And it really does reinvigorate me to see that we've got allies in this fight and we've always had allies in this fight but to see them step up in the way that they have his really reinvigorated me and I'm very excited to keep the fight going. I'm sure that our listeners are familiar with the name, the Urban League because it is etched into the annals of history of this country and anyone who knows anything about the civil rights movement will know the names of the Urban League of the ACP Snick we can go deeper also start really getting to the deep cuts. Tell us a little bit about. What the Urban League has been up to lately and what you've been up to especially over the summer in the wake of the George Floyd killing and other events in recent months while we're one, hundred, ten year old civil rights and Economic Empowerment Organization and we have been working on I'd like to say ending systemic racism for the past one. Hundred Years. we've been doing that through our programs such as making. Housing more Ford audible teaching people how to purchase homes how to stay in homes. We've been helping people to get work meaningful work they can sustain them and their families. We've been working the traditional voting rights area and civil rights area for the entirety of our existence but social justice is taken on a real importance in our work right now as as well as doing all this work in the midst of a pandemic So that's so interesting what you say about systemic racism and then specifically citing home-buying and things like that. You didn't mention education, but I think there's a pretty robust education. Portfolio at the National Urban League as well. Absolutely I think if you look at AJC's goals and National Urban League goals, you'll see mirror images of each other. That's been the real cool thing about this that this partnership and all of these things that people are talking about and I'll show my millennial miss. All of the things that people are are posting on instagram talking about explaining what systemic racism is and why you know wealth divides between black and white communities are so important and underpin. So many elements of of racial injustice today all of those things are things that the National Urban League is. Working on absolutely and I can't say that when I started about a year and a half ago I spent the previous ten years working in the United States Senate including four vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris. I believe crazy how these things happen working for her and the agenda that she pursued is so consistent with the work that I'm doing today. One of the first things we did when we walked into the place is lead a resolution condemning hate antisemitism anti racism xenophobia homophobia. It's as important to her as it was to me and so coming here was just a natural extension of that but. As I was saying just the Times in which we live are so unique and perilous parallels between the early nineteen sixties which I'm sure we'll talk more about and today are really really compelling. It's almost like we're back in the sixties again, I want to go there right now because this week is going to be all about black Jewish. Relations and the story of black Jewish relations is not a new odd. We might be writing a new chapter, but there's a whole book that comes before us here. So what's one element clint of the Black Jewish relationship that has meant a lot to you personally. I would probably say the religious and spiritual aspect of the relationship. Growing up as a as a young kid in the deep South. There were a lot of Jewish people around although they were president. We didn't know it I grew up Protestant Christian and a great story is on Sundays. We were always able to use the parking lot of the temple across the street and it used to just puzzled me is to how generous the temple folks could be. Given that they must have services on Sunday to. Eat of the temple was empty or they were just being generous over time and as I moved out of south, then went to law school and live here on the East Coast I. got a much greater appreciation, not only for the religion. My Wife, for instance, used to teach at a Jewish day camp in new Rochelle New York but just meeting. So many friends of the Jewish faith drawing those connections between my own faith and their own and. Also learning the rich history of black Jewish communities especially in the era of civil rights as a lawyer was a big fan is that really don't have you could come up with a Thurgood Marshall and no understanding of the work at the end of Lacey P., Legal Defense Fund was complete without understanding the role that Jack Greenberg played and lots of other Jewish folks in philanthropy in spirituality and pursue the nonviolence movement just a wonderful partnership over the years. As a religious person myself that resonates with me a lot as it happens our listeners probably talk about this before for college I went to a joint program between Columbia University and the Jewish illogical seminary and actually not migration at the graduation of the class ahead of me which attended representative John Lewis spoke, and of course, John Lewis all of our listeners will remember passed away this summer I think he actually was an ordain ministered and he told a story that I'm sure you've heard before because I've heard until it multiple times of preaching to his chickens in Troy. Alabama and that had a certain resonance in this audience of basically all Jews including some we're going on into the rabbit. Those ties between our communities where were not everyone is a person of faith but certainly, there is deep faith and religious history kind of threaded throughout our communities I think those are really really powerful things to focus on. And I hope over time you take a look at surveys of religion in the country in other pugh has done some study in this area religion is trending down a little bit. Don't always necessarily consider themselves religious if you look at community surveys and so it's really important to reinvigorate this relationship and put it on a firm spiritual pudding in Judeo Christian tradition is so rich in the African American community and there's just so much there to really build on. I'm really looking forward to getting that history more prominently understood and remembered in our communities. So when we're talking about black Jewish unity right and we're talking about building black Jewish unity they're really two levels to it, and this is something that we talk about with a lot of our advocacy work. At AJC, there's the grassroots and there's the grass tops right. I want to ask you about both. Let's start with the grass tops right at the high profile level at the celebrity role model level, the politician level what do you think? Needs to happen there to demonstrate the Jewish people and black people should work together and are stronger together. The grass tops may be one of the more important roles in unity and understanding. We are a celebrity driven culture for better or for worse and ideas have a lot more resonance and a lot more acceptance when someone that you know and admire to saying the same thing. So grass tops to that extent are the key in moving opinion. Notions like reparations notions like black lives matter notions like social justice have mood and pretty quickly I think because athletes because celebrity on television and other artists have been saying the same thing and in a short period of time we've seen. Opinions shift in this country not just age not just religion not just race, but everything seems to be moving in the right direction from a popular standpoint. The grass roots which we're going to talk about next is where you really determine how sustainable this movement is. Right. Yeah. So tell us about that I mean in our neighborhoods and our schools in our churches, our synagogues mosques, how can we strengthen those relations? Sure. I've seen a lot of encouraging evidence that we can do this at grassroots level. This is a very human. Very, empathetic movement when we're talking about grassroots, we've seen some of these grassroots efforts come up in. Pittsburgh for instance and New Jersey. And in Brooklyn where when horrible acts of hate murder violence take place the communities come together and they usually come together I with religion. It's the pastors it's the churchgoers. It's the temple goers that really give me some hope that we aren't just a moment, but that we're in a movement. So I think in many ways, the church and the faith community are are in central piece of grassroots. That's kind of what I'm seeing sort of on the ground right now I think black Jewish unity week can drive those grassroots even deeper because understanding the tragedy of the moment is not nearly as important as understanding these deep historical ties right in our faith and our families and what we want from each other in shared history sometimes things that aren't so great sometimes shared history of oppression. Lutely, and for our listeners WHO WANNA learn more about black Jewish unity week, they should go to AJC, dot org, slash black, Jewish unity, or text black Jewish unity all one word to five to eight, eight nine not to keep hitting the faith note here you know we're we're a pretty secular organization in JC but I love what you said about the houses of worship I live on the upper west side of Manhattan which is this incredible. Kind of Jewish bastion historic whatever and if you go twenty blocks down for me in twenty blocks up for me, you probably are GonNa pass by twenty synagogues total and we're also steps away, I mean. We're a mile two miles away from Harlem and the two neighborhoods are very different and that's something that's worth exploring as well. Why that is how that happened etcetera, the strengths and the challenges of both communities, but I was in synagogue on. Chabad after the shooting in Muncie and Lo and behold there in the front row, was a a delegation from church in Harlem that wanted to come in and to be there and to show solidarity, and they got up and spoke after services, and then fast forward to this summer were all obviously in lockdown. But the rabbi of the synagogue made kind of Zoom appearance at that churches services after the killing of George Floyd talk about solidarity with. The black community in the wake of the killings of and Taylor George Floyd and so many of the challenges of injustice that are being faced right now and I think you're right that the grassroots level it. So often does start in those kinds of houses of worship, our religious leaders reaching out one to the other in something that you said, really struck me about the proximity of Latte community and Jewish community in relatively small plot of land. As a policy Wonk I'm sure you appreciate this but either just for the benefit of your listening audience, blacks and Jews were both subject to the same kinds of redlining restrictions in many ways throughout much of the United States where banks would identify areas and they would say this is a desirable area in this is a less desirable area, and so you know Jewish and black families were often circumscribed by these lending lines that still have an ongoing lingering vestige today. If you look at housing segregation patterns certainly in the African. American community they are just as bad as they were in the nineteen sixties things like bike homeownership, which is at a low point especially because pandemic in or closures any fictions Is Worse than it was in the late nineteen sixties. So some of these things we were still wrestling with they seem twins dental, but they're not incidental at all. But again, it's this proximity you know that gives me hope and hope that even outside of crisis, we can expand and strengthen these relationships crises great reasons to get together but it's the more sustainable relationships happened over time outside of the crisis built on shared values and shared interests. So once again, this Jewish unity week has the potential to to be a real game changer. Well, so talk A. Little bit more about that. What do you hope is going to come out of this week if you believe that the basis of a better relationships and greater understanding comes from exposure than my hope is that we can use this week to focus on our rich history on our shared cultural values and to help understand things that we may not understand about each other but to be able to come together in a safe place and talk about those things, this has been tried in lots of different ways you know with lots of different impetus over the years. But in this country, as you know until you can make a sort of a holiday of it until hallmark starts to sell. It really difficult to have something that is stained and that you can go back to know every year. and. So that's the thing that excites me the most I know how excited I was to leave the south. And to meet people of different faiths including the Jewish faith and and get to know them get to count them among in my close friends. I would like that for everyone and so that when issues come up in our communities as we saw in Brooklyn I think earlier this year there was a really terrible assault in Brooklyn by a woman African American woman and if we had a built in long standing. Unbreakable trust between our communities. We can weather the storms we can come together and mutual condemnation, mutual understanding and mutual healing. It's not enough just to condemn something, but it's more important. I think to learn from it and make sure that it doesn't happen doesn't happen again and then five years hence, we can be sending each other black Jewish unity. We cards produced by hallmark absolutely creating whole new language in a around. It, it could be it could be urban slang and Yiddish expressions that. Unless you're in the know you don't you don't know. I'm hopeful hallmark if you're listening. Might be onto something big year. We'll see we'll see what's things we can pull their. I want to close by asking you for a few tips for our listeners actually the few months ago we had an amazing friend of AJC on the podcast named Eric. Ward. The Executive Director of the Western states center. We were talking about racism and I asked him what he thought as a professional opponent of racism and as a black man, what he thought American Jews should be doing to fight racism. His answer was pretty surprising to me actually because he said the best way for us to fight racism was to fight antisemitism since in his work he's bound that white supremacist racism is always based on a foundation of Antisemitism. So I I'm just interested in your reaction to that I, I think I'm citing him basically correctly I'm interested in your assessment of. That and second I want to give you a chance to answer the question from square one. Also, you know what would you like to see Clinton? What would you like to see American Jews doing proactively now to be effective allies in the fight against racism and I WANNA go back to Eric's point. Let me see if I can make this one I. I've only recently come to understand the difference between anti-racism. An anti-discrimination has a lawyer I've grown up understanding that if you want to fix racism, you have to attack it as a matter of non-discrimination don't discriminate against people in hiring don't discriminate against kids in school, and sometimes that anti-discrimination is in the form of color blindness. So whatever the remedy is, it can't be race specific right because the constitution doesn't allow such a thing but let's let's just come up with big broad sweeping solutions that african-americans might incidentally benefit from. You know by virtue of maybe being lower middle income people, we're going to come up with solutions that will work for everybody including African Americans. I've now come to understand that that's just not cutting. It goes great disparities that you talk about the at the beginning their persistent for a reason it's like trying to perform surgery with your eyes close, but you may be able to route around and feel where the patient is but your ability to be precise with a scalpel. And and fix the problem identified at problems impossible. If you don't open your eyes that has been the character of how we approach race in this country for decades. I've now come to understand and have really been encouraging others to join me in. This is becoming an anti-racist. It saying I may not have owned slaves I may have never committed an act of racism or discrimination. Even if that's true. You have to personally get involved to fix these problems. It's not enough to say, well, you know we have laws to address those issues. Laws had been very inexact and very unhelpful. In many ways you've got to get in there, roll up your sleeves and say, okay, is lack of capital in the black community a problem I need to figure out how to get more capital into black communities are educational disparities problem. Okay. I need to figure out how do we improve schools whether it's funding whether it's through pedagogy whatever we need to do, but we need to come up with solutions that actually help. Like people. And not just. Continue to perpetuate these gaps in Hustle meeting well in educational opportunities and health and civic engagement. That's my biggest message to the community, the An anti races. Just. As you know, we should all be fighting against anti-semitism. It's not enough to turn your back and say, well, you know they're not talking about, knee they are talking about you. And it's when we get to the point where those protests and in the halls of Congress where we're trying to make change we see people who look like you see people who would like me and seek people or Asian and and people who are all different walks of life saying we are here because we care and black lives matter and we've got to change the way this country works. I want to dive in and ask a million more questions and and talk so much more about where you just this conversation we are unfortunately out of time. So I hope that this will be an effective way to wet our listeners appetites for the week ahead, I should just add that in addition to his impressive titles at the National Urban. League clint wears another half. It's one of my favorite. Hats it's the hat organizational podcast host and Clinton is one of the hosts of for the movement the National Urban League podcast which people should check out and especially check out for this next episode where my colleague Dan Elbaum will be a guest on the show. We will link to the podcast in our show notes, Clinton let me just say once more. Thank you so much for joining us this week. She said thank you for letting me be here.

Coming up next