I’m an exhausted Black Jewish American. Every time these frustrating situations occur it keeps proving why Black Jewish Americans must be included in Black-Jewish relations dialogues in America because we understand both communities. This most recent American societal-cultural issue brought the Black American and Jewish community to blows online. The entire Jamie Foxx-Jennifer Aniston antisemitism discourse was sensationalized and lacked the proper education, historical context, cultural context, and Dan L’Kaf Zechus (or, judging others favorably) approach. Also, anyone who had the sechel – the common sense and the clarity – to attempt to bring in reason & encourage communication between the Jewish & Black American communities was met with hostility & harassment.
In America, there needs to be an open-door exchange of education between both the Black American and Jewish communities regarding cultural practices, sayings, traditions, etc., and the history that is inevitably attached to them. This specific situation is one where I am asking that everyone be Dan L’Kaf Zechus, to judge others favorably, avoiding prejudging them poorly.
When this situation first erupted on Friday, I was not a part of the hysteria machine. I saw from the reactions that members of the Jewish community were completely unaware that this was a common colloquial saying in Black American church communities that aren’t said in reference to Jews and I saw that members of the Black American community didn’t understand why their bible saying about “fake friends” upset the Jews because they were unaware that it’s also used as an antisemitic dog whistle for old blood libels. It was a moment of extreme cultural disconnect for both communities that should have been resolved quickly.
On Friday I expressed doubt about Jamie having malicious intent because it seemed out of character for him and I saw the hashtag “#fakefriends”, I noted that the language he used could indeed be weaponized for age-old blood libels to justify harm against Jews and I only requested clarity. I was not aggressive or accusatory. I didn’t want to contribute to the mud-slinging but instead encourage building bridges.
Let’s get into the accusations of Jamie Foxx being an antisemite–he has no history of engaging in any type of antisemitism and is a part of Jewish circles. So immediately, there should have been some hesitation instead of immediately painting him as a super hateful antisemite. Plus, going further to accuse his friend Jennifer Aniston of also being an antisemite/antisemite supporter was also done in extreme haste. There could have been an acknowledgment of how dangerous the language can be if weaponized by antisemites instead of jumping straight to smear campaign mode.
Instead of encouraging understanding, clarification, education, and communication, I watched some people use the situation to create content that encouraged the exact opposite. Their content did not create meaningful dialogues between the Black American & Jewish communities. Some of the posts/stories/tweets were blatantly sensationalist in nature. Some people continued to attack Jamie & Black Americans even after some people came forward and clarified the saying and expressed how they did not know that it would alarm Jews as they weren’t even speaking about Jews and that they would be more mindful moving forward. Some people in response to offers of education decided to demonize Jews, literally saying that when it comes to claims of people being antisemites, we are “crying wolf” and they refused to listen to the historical context of the “Jews killed Jesus” trope. So even during moments when the doors of communication were open, some rejected the invitation and slammed the doors shut.
These are the outcomes of this whole situation and its heavily damaged narrative:
– Widening the divide between the Black American community and the Jewish community
– Reinforcing the false ideology that “all” Black American people actually are antisemitic people
– Refusing to understand how certain antisemitic tropes have been continuously used to justify harming Jews
– Reinforcing the lingering rumors that the Jewish people are “crying wolf” whenever accusing someone of being an antisemite
This was frustrating to watch happen in real-time. Two truths can be held at the same time:
1- The Black Church’s cultural colloquial saying in response to those who are betrayed by a fake friend is “They killed Jesus, what do you think they’ll do to you?” The saying essentially means that if someone as pious as Jesus could be betrayed by his friends–why would normal people like them not have friends that would also betray them? Culturally, for Black Americans, this saying was never about Jews.
Those who use the saying that has been passed down from many generations were unaware of how it could be perceived to mean “Jews” when they meant “fake friends.” So as a result, criticizing the saying felt like an attack on Black American Church culture, misconstrued words & a personal attack on Jamie Foxx speaking on his personal pain of being betrayed by a friend.
2- The “They killed Jesus” new testament reference has always been actively used for thousands of years to justify harming and murdering Jews. The blood libel of referring to Jews as backstabbers who killed Jesus is also triggering until this day because currently Jews are still referred to as “Christ killers” and many of us have been assaulted & harassed for it! This concept also subtly embedded antisemitism into the very fabric of society to the point that some people say antisemitic things without even realizing it. As a result, some members of the Jewish community felt that this saying was a brazen antisemitic dog whistle to invoke violence against Jews, and for some, this led to a very visceral reaction.
Notably, on Jamie’s original post and apology post, the comments were filled with so many antisemitic conspiracy theories and violent responses. Those comments were extremely unsettling and also were the reason why someone like Jamie, a celebrity with a lot of reach, needed to know that saying something like that can be taken out of context by the wrong kind of people.
What is undeniable is that antisemitism is on the rise worldwide and blaming the Jews for the Romans killing Jesus has been used for thousands of years until this very day to justify the harm and murdering of Jews. Antisemitic incidents, including assault, vandalism, harassment & acts of terrorism have significantly increased, with Jews currently being the #1 most targeted ethnic-religious minority in America. Therefore, in such a heavy, scary climate, we must remember that language matters.
I truly believe that considering Jamie’s good reputation, especially the praise he received from his Jewish friends, he didn’t mean to do any harm. This situation should have been approached with better discernment in a way that would not ignite more hatred and chaos. Black American allies and Jewish American allies are a beautiful, cohesive match. We have been through so much together in this country, and we need to break barriers to become closer again.
Once again– this is why it is essential that Black Jewish American voices must be included in Black -Jewish relations issues. Because those who didn’t get swept up in the smear campaigns, who understood the situation and the need for open communication, were mostly Black Jewish Americans. We weren’t caught up in what one community thinks versus another community, we used our sechel, our common sense, to see the entire situation from a holistic point of view. This is why we are essential to these dialogues, we’re literally cultural-historical translators at this point because it’s been established multiple times that one community literally cannot understand what the other community is talking about.
Hopefully we can use this incident only for the good, and use it as a catalyst to come closer together, instead of further apart.