Op-Ed: How I learned to embrace my Black and Jewish heritage
Last week, my wife and I had dinner in a Jewish restaurant in Miami. We enjoyed our conversation, and I told her about the story that had me thinking recently.
“I’m so proud of you and how you are honoring your heritage,” she said. She knew I was proud of her, but the comment wasn’t about herself. She was speaking to me because I am a Black Jew in an era where being Black and Jewish are commonly seen as bad things. And I’m not talking about being “chickens.” But I think it is important for a generation to consider that in some ways, it’s not a bad thing at all.
In a Black and Jewish perspective, having two distinct identities is not always a bad thing. For many, being White and Black isn’t enough. They want more. They want some things like having a White father and Black mother. They also want to be raised with Black spiritual and cultural values. They want to know what to think about when they hear a Black person being questioned about their heritage. That’s why the notion of Black heritage as a bad thing is so often heard from people who have no idea that it’s so common.
The Black Jewish Experience
My first Black and Jewish experiences were when I was in high school. It wasn’t until junior year of high school that I got to really explore my “Black Jew” identity. That is when I learned that I didn’t have to hold onto a black person’s idea about the Jewish past and how it should be. I’ll never forget one day when we were chatting about black people in the 1960s when I said, “No, we look like Jews, we are different.”
There was a pause. I felt like she was about to hit me. But she said, “I didn’t realize we were both Jewish.” I went home and told my mom.
As I got older, I discovered more and more facets of my life and identity. I have lived in three different states over the course of my life. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. While my parents were both from New Orleans, the only thing that tied us together was that