A Letter to Bret Weinstein from some Jews bent on the destruction of White Supremacy

A note on Jews as a people: Jews are an ethnic and religious group that is amorphous, spanning races. It must be recognized that all Ashkenazi Jews are not white, and many Jews of different cultural backgrounds experience both anti-semitism and anti-black racism or other manifestations of white supremacy.

We want to talk about the ways that Weinstein is positioning himself as a Jew to invalidate the claims of racism being raised against him. We want to examine Bret’s invocation of his Judaism as a prop upon which his anti-black language and behavior has rested. We must speak about this because if we remain silent we accept this unacceptable usage of our shared history.

This is not an isolated incident. This is about Weinstein, but it also about white Jews acting in complicity with and upholding white supremacy, passively and actively. We seek to counter Bret’s narrative and de-center his place in the wider struggle against institutional racism on campus and beyond.

These past weeks students have attempted to hold various people in positions of authority and power accountable for the ways that they uphold racism on campus. Administrators and teachers have shirked responsibility and accountability. Instead, they have acted as though they are the ones being attacked, as though they are not in positions of power. Bret has attempted to position himself as a victim. It wouldn’t take much for Bret to apologize, but he has held fast to his seemingly innocuous position of victimhood, and in doing so has highlighted some of the ways that liberal racism functions. Here we can learn something about how not to react when claims of racist behavior are raised against us.

Something that Bret may be trying to get to when he talks about himself as a Jew is that Ashkenazi Jews have not always been considered white. This is true, and is very important to think about. What was that process of assimilation that brought some Jews into the folds of whiteness? What was the cost? Whiteness is not a singular tangible thing, it is a construction that evolves as power changes hands and as global structures change with them. The assimilation of most Ashkenazi Jews and some Sephardic Jews into whiteness is not a single event, one cannot point to a time or day when their bubbe abandoned Yiddish or traditional clothing, and say “this is the event of assimilation”. Assimilation requires, among other things, a constant of an-other to be compared to — “well, we aren’t white like these scandinavian christians, but we aren’t as not-white as black people, therefore we must be white”. Whiteness is flexible enough to expand its definition of who is welcomed into its fold, when it’s convenient in maintaining the social order it imposes — some Jews, Irish people, Italians, etc., are welcome to be white as long as black people remain the targets of racialized violence. For us to be white, have access to whiteness (power), some groups of people must continually be othered, denied access to power. This is how white supremacy functions, by creating structures of power of exclusion and othering and in doing so relying on anti-blackness.

However, the fact that Jews have not always been enmeshed in whiteness does not negate the fact that today many Jews in this country benefit from and uphold white supremacy. Additionally, we know that the past experience of anti-semitism and oppression of our ancestors does not mean that we are incapable of reproducing harmful behavior. Much less does it mean that we as Jews are the singular authority on what does and does not constitute racially motivated subjugation in a different historical and social context. We can understand that those who experience trauma can perpetuate harmful behaviors and reproduce traumatizing conditions.

So when Bret says that he cannot possibly be racist because he knows what it is like for his people to be oppressed, what we hear is a negation of responsibility and a gross misuse of the history and suffering of our ancestors.The lived experience of white Ashkenazi Jews and the lived experience of black people in the US is drastically different and cannot be equated, and by doing so Bret refutes both experiences. Anti-blackness and racism in general are pervasive amongst white Jews. In combating white supremacy, we are combating the roots of anti-semitism.

White supremacists have attacked our cultural centers, cemeteries, and bodies, and many call for our extermination. Jewish rejection of their agenda is both an act of solidarity and self love.

Where anti-semitism is found, invariably we also find all sorts of racism like orientalism and anti-blackness. Anti-racism is a Jewish issue! Anti-blackness is a Jewish issue! We cannot ignore Jews of color, black Jews, or the fact that all Jews also have a stake in destroying white supremacy. And Bret’s ignorance of this is not only embarrassing but also dangerous. We have been told many times, “without justice our faith means nothing” and may now say something similar, without justice our history means nothing.

Last week there was a swastika spray-painted on a seminar building on campus. Of course Bret’s actions are not an excuse for anti-semitism — but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who painted that swastika, or for what reason. Where there is anti-semitism there is racism.

The way to address racism is to be willing to engage in honest conversations about it, and be willing to admit to where it lives within us. Bret’s refusal to engage in conversations about his own racism has put many Evergreen students in legitimate danger. We will not allow him to invoke our history, the history of our ancestors, as an excuse for his vile and inexcusable behavior. We, Jewish people, wish to express our unequivocal support and solidarity with undocumented, Latinx, black, MENA and Arab, Native, disabled, and trans and queer students, staff, faculty, and residents of the surrounding Olympia area. Bret Weinstein is wrong, he has put you in danger, and we will not allow him to hide behind our histories in order to dodge responsibility for his abhorrent and reprehensible words and actions.

Signed,

Some Jewish students at Evergreen bent on the destruction of white supremacy