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Our Commitment to Anti-Racism

Betty Morningstar

“When black people are in pain, white people just join book groups" - Tre Johnson, Washington Post

Indeed, this summer, Temple Shalom and many other places of worship started book groups in response to the George Floyd killing. But this time, I believe the result will be different. White people are becoming increasingly aware of how we each of us has had a hand in perpetuating systemic racism in our country. Now and going forward is the time to take advantage of this awareness and scrupulously examine our own role in it, in order to make changes in our personal and societal ways of living. Our self-reflection will also help us to understand more deeply the effects of systemic racism on the personal and community lives of black people.

As the book groups at Temple Shalom unfolded this past summer, we quickly learned that most of us in the congregation consider ourselves to be liberal, even progressive. Many of us think, therefore, that we are not racist. We believe in equality between the races, have black friends, read black authors, and more. Ibram X. Kendi, author of the book How To Be An Anti-Racist, will be the first to tell you that being “not racist” is not a viable option. This is a hard pill for most of us to swallow. We are likely to become defensive and to enumerate all the good liberal things we do and think. And that is exactly his point. We abdicate responsibility for the harm done to black people by not allowing ourselves to know, broadly and deeply, how we benefit from the system.

To be clear, Kendi states that all people of all races are racist, so he is not judgmental toward people who express racist ideas. He describes his own racism throughout the book. Racist policies create racist ideas, according to Kendi. In turn, racist ideas reinforce racist policies, maintaining the endless cycle of which each of us is a part. 

Through the lens of our racial justice book groups, here  is what we learned: To be anti-racist, we must work to eliminate racist policies. As a congregation, we are involved in social justice work through our Tzedek Committee and via our meaningful connections with interfaith clergy and groups that seek to make a difference in Newton and beyond. In particular, we can be proud of the advocacy of our members working  in support of affordable housing in Newton, and our standing with the Religious Action Center (RAC) on seventy progressive social policy issues, to name a few. Each of these involvements contributes to an anti-racist agenda. 

On January 28th, we will welcome the Anti-Defamation League as we learn together about some of the challenges and opportunities as we, the members of the Jewish community, work to navigate the complexities of fighting anti-Semitism, becoming better and deeper partners in the fight against racism, and also at the same time maintaining our support for the State of Israel. I hope we will continue to introduce new initiatives specifically geared towards the elimination of racist policies and practices in the new year. You can register for this ADL event here.

Kendi offers action steps to demonstrate one’s commitment to being anti-racist. The first is to acknowledge our own biases and not use denial as a defense. Just as with all aspects of personal growth, we must first acknowledge the areas in which we are most in need of transforming. Our racist baggage impairs our learning about the lives of others who are different from us. And it holds us back from taking meaningful action to change our biased ideas and policies. The summer book groups allowed this self-exploration to happen. We are thrilled that some members of these summer groups have decided to continue learning together and know what they will learn together will continue to inform our work going forward. 

I hope many more congregants will join in the effort to make our temple an anti-racist religious institution, by joining book discussion groups, supporting the January 28th ADL event, getting involved in our larger community, and by offering your time, expertise, and support for new action plans.

Wed, June 23 2021 13 Tammuz 5781