This past Shabbos, I spoke on the topic of racism. After shul and for the past few days I have received much feedback, and engaged in many passionate discussions. I learned a lot from those conversations. They also helped me crystalize the most salient point I had been trying to make: The dismal state of employment, education, health, and crime in the black community is undisputed. The impact this has on all Black people, the stereotypes they must all endure regardless of where in this country they live or how educated or wealthy they may be, is also something that most of us agree upon. These are the facts. Where there is less agreement is the question of cause; whose fault is it that this is the case? Politicians of a certain persuasion? The police? The black community? The white community? That’s where the disagreements begin.
So here’s the point I want to make – Ben is right, facts do not care about feelings. But faith does. Our faith cares deeply about feelings; the feelings of others and the emotional response from us.
What is so troubling to me is the detached tone to our conversations, as if we are discussing a theoretical question. There is a community of people who are suffering a few blocks away from us irrespective of who is to blame. It is the role of politicians and pundits to discuss, develop, and debate effective policies. It is the role of decent people to care.
I would argue that the appropriate emotional response is righteous indignation. I realize not everyone would agree with that assessment and I am not confident enough in my ability to interpret the statistics to say everyone should. At the very least, we must all feel compassion. Regardless of who is to blame, it must break our hearts that my child has to look both ways before crossing a street so that he won’t get hit by a car, and a little boy growing up a few blocks away has to look both ways so that he doesn’t get hit by a stray bullet. It must break our hearts that my neighbor, a tall, muscular Black man, must own a cute little puppy so people won’t call the police on him every time he walks down his own block. The sad state of the Black community and the never-ending prejudice they all must deal with should break our hearts. That’s all I’m suggesting, that we care.
If a man was executed in ancient Israel for committing a heinous crime, his wife and children, the widow and orphan, would still receive our compassion. We would still be prohibited from oppressing them in any way, and we would still be obligated in displaying the utmost sensitivity in dealing with them. Why? Because they are in pain and they feel vulnerable and G-d demands of us to feel and display compassion to those who are marginalized in our society irrespective of the cause.
Who is to blame, or rather what needs to change, is relevant and should be discussed, respectfully and without fear of being labeled in any way. Black Lives Matter is used at times to espouse antisemitism, and should be called out when they do. The fact that you were held up by a Black youth is scary, it impacts your worldview, and cannot be discounted. However, none of that should detract from the fact that our faith cares about feelings. And so should we.