Jews & Blacks

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


  Black-Jewish Relations & Jewish Success Anxiety


 An excellent article by David Biale described the relationship between Afro-Americans and Jews so well. Much has been written about this topic and has once again come to the forefront because of the 2008 elections, which have a black male as the one of two major Democratic contenders for the Presidency of the United States of America.  Here anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.  The black contender, Barack Obama, has a serious connection with Muslim terrorists, exhibits anti-Israel sentiments, and has an unmistakable leaning toward the Palestinians, who have persecuted us and shed Jewish blood mercilessly without conscience.  Somehow this man has lured a number of self-hating Jews into giving money, support and positive propaganda to him.  It is difficult to understand why we, as a small minority, would support our enemies.  This despite the fact that blacks have been historically ungrateful for all that the Jews as a whole have done to fight for them.  Jews have even gone so far as to die for Afro-American causes, as exemplified when two enthusiastic young Jewish men died on behalf of blacks during a voter registration drive in Mississippi during the 1960’s.

An ambivalent relationship exists between Jews and blacks.  There is both sympathy and distance.  The jazz singer Al Jolson deserted his Jewishness and put on blackface during his performances, pretending to be black but not really being black.  He was happy to be able to distance himself from the reality, living a paradox.  “Blackface is recognized at once as both Black and not Black.”  By helping and showing unusual liberalism Jews hoped to guarantee their own integration in the USA.

The anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the deadly destruction of six million Jews in Europe in the 1940’s and before is different from slavery and second class status among blacks.  Jews in the 20th Century have achieved political, economic and cultural success in this country, while African-Americans have not reached this status as yet, although a great deal has changed for them in becoming politically prominent in recent times. Jews are frequently in a state of anxiety about their success.  Blacks are very resentful of any success or prominence that Jews have even though they have won this state with enormous sacrifices, hard work and ambition to better themselves.  For Jews, the way to overcome the disabilities of being Jewish was to identify with the oppressed of the world.  By making the world a better place for all oppressed people they strove to feel safe also. Jews have played a prominent role in the civil rights movement.  Jewish conservatives, and there are unfortunately not too many, are angry with the extreme liberals who they consider as masochists and self haters.  The latter praise themselves for being the people who practice the age old tradition of social justice. 

Jews who came to America with memories of  millennia of persecutions in Europe felt that America was the golden messianic land of equality in which the melting pot would “boil away” all minority distinctions.  Like all other immigrant groups, Jews created their own subculture.  Subjected to anti-Semitism and exclusion that lasted through the Second World War, they developed strategies of survival.  American racism has always found its blacks as a better target than the Jews. For the most part, Jews saw the struggle of equality of blacks as a parallel to their own success in the USA.  Only a country that championed equal rights for all people would remain safe for the Jews. Because of their experiences, Jews worked hard and labored to reach security.  With their newly found strength and accumulated capital they were able to bankroll the civil rights movement.  Jews who supported all this with their hard earned money were now hated by the blacks for having achieved success.  It reinforced the hatred that blacks have for their Jewish philanthropists, who with their money and actions supported them.  It also reinforced some of the stereotypes that lie at the heart of black-Jewish difficulties today.

Many Jews, including progressive Jews, are beset by a contradictory consciousness born of the anxiety of success: a sense of belonging to America’s elite but a continuing consciousness as a minority. Although the Jewish community has been very successful educationally, financially, ethically and more, they have a history and a memory of powerlessness that dates back many hundreds of years.  Their history relates to impotent victimization.  The very existence of the Holocaust Museum tells one story, but its contents tell the opposite.

To blame the Jews for the ills of American capitalism is classic anti-Semitism and a “classic form of false consciousness”.  Like Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer with his blackface façade, we are ambivalent, and impress the audience with a so called imitation of living black. On the other hand, we do not want to be black, but want to assist the oppressed people in our society to obtain equality, so that we too, as once oppressed and beleaguered human beings, will and can be safe.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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