The Conversation That Dares Not Speak Its Name

by Phyllis Chesler

Right now, most white people are afraid to talk publicly about race and racism, especially about anti-black racism. “Progressive” white people are either silent—or they monitor other white people’s speech about race. Everyone is very nervous. If a white person says the wrong thing, or says something true but it offends someone, they will be shouted down, shamed, shut up, shut out. Politically incorrect speech is a Thought Crime—and there will be consequences. 

Although slavery reeks to highest heaven, and discussing it is painful, really torturous, I hate to be silenced and I hate to self-censor and so I’d been hoping to have The Conversation with an African-American woman whom I’ve known since we were both 18. I had wanted to say: “As a Jew, the Black Lives Matter anti-Israel rhetoric is offending, enraging, and scaring me to death. How are all the protests and proclamations, the riots and the rhetoric, making you feel? Safer? More powerful? More hopeful?”

I tried to meet my friend in person but for one reason or another, we could not do so. We email-talked about Juneteenth. She found it ridiculous that so many people were jubilant about celebrating a holiday based on telling black slaves in Texas that they should have been freed two years earlier.

“Why not celebrate the date the Emancipation Proclamation was signed?” she asked.

We emailed back and forth about the horrors of black slaves and white owners in America. I sighed and sighed and then I wrote:  “The matter is even more complicated. We know that Black Africans enslaved other black Africans…” And she said: “Oh, but they were much kinder to them than white people ever were, they allowed them to marry, they gave them a day off every week…”

Her response was something like: “Well, there’s all sorts of misinformation floating around out there.”

Our brief exchange was done. The Conversation was over. It had never taken place.

I had wanted to ask my friend this: Why are some very accomplished African-American women and men, and some people of color in general, so angry with Israel? Of all the challenges directly confronting people of color right here in America— why scapegoat Israel, half of whose inhabitants are Jews of color? 

I am thinking of the Squad in DC: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. Just today, Representative Ilhan Omar said that she did “not regret her tweet earlier this month in which she lumped Israel, the U.S., Hamas, and the Taliban together.” Omar said that her fellow Democrats, “particularly Jews,”  are not “equal partners in justice,” implying that they do not have her credentials as a Somali, Muslim, olive-skinned woman. 

Her sister Squad members do not conduct themselves like victims or like male-controlled robots. They are in this for themselves and on their own. They are loud, they are proud, they are righteously angry, they are smart, they have power—and they obviously believe that defaming and destroying Israel via propaganda will get them re-elected to ever-higher office.

But, I am also thinking about the hostility, the bristling anger, that some African-American women have expressed towards white women—especially towards “guilty” white feminist women who have invited them to join a group, a panel, a meeting—events which have often devolved into punishment and abasement sessions for the white girls. 

Here’s one example of the kind of up close and personal hostility that I’m talking about. Economist Julianne Malveaux, is the newly appointed head of a new College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State, LA. One wonders if she will break new ground by including Jew-hatred in her ethnic studies curriculum? Will she also include Islamic hatred towards Christians, Hindus,  and Buddhists? Mainly, I’m wondering whether Malveaux has softened in the last quarter-century, or has her former, unbridled hostility towards white women, towards white people in general, been further unleashed?

Malveaux, is an economist, columnist, entrepreneur, college president, and talk show. In 1996, Malveaux engaged in a dialogue with Tammy Bruce, the then-President of Los Angeles NOW, and also a talk show host. Their exchange appeared on the cover of On The Issues magazine. At the time, I served as their Editor-at-Large. I just asked the publisher, my close friend Merle Hoffman, for a copy of this dialogue. I was astounded, ashamed, embarrassed by it. But this was Malveaux, long before BLM came to town.

In their dialogue, Malveaux disagreed with Bruce immediately. She refused to find common ground with a white woman.

When Bruce said that she tried to call on women first on her call-in show, Malveux said “It’s not enough to simply hear women’s voices….if the voices are not “black, you don’t change the conversation…what does Clarence Thomas bring to the Supreme Court?” As for Sandra Day O’Connor, Malveaux said: “That white woman (aka the first woman on the Supreme Court), doesn’t get race. She doesn’t get gender all the way either.”

When Bruce insisted on the importance of hearing all womens’s voices and praised Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malveaux, somewhat sarcastically, riffing on Sojourner Truth, asked her: “But hey, ain’t I a woman”? Bruce, quick on the draw, responded, “And ain’t (O’Connor) a woman?” Malveux: “She is an upper class, Republican, white woman…”.

Is this, in and of itself, a cardinal crime?

Malveaux’s did not mention rape, sexual harassment, or male-on-female domestic violence nor did she mention trafficking or prostitution. In fact, she mocked Bruce when Bruce pointed out that both Republican and Democrat women politicians came together to protest the Tailhook harassment scandal.  Malveaux said outright: “Sexual harassment is not my number one issue.”

Here’s what was. “Many times, if I’m faced with a white woman candidate and an African American man, I go with the African American man because I really do not see many white women being sensitive as they need to be about race issues, especially in politics.” Even if both candidates are “liberal,” she would vote for the African American man because “they are underrepresented in politics.”

Malveaux accused Bruce of interrupting her and said: “I’m frustrated (by) your inability to listen. This isn’t worth being angry about. You’re not that important.” When Bruce objected to being insulted, Malveaux responded: “If you feel demeaned, that seems to be your problem.”

Malveax attacked Bruce for “going after O.J. Simpson. He is not the only rich man who batters.” Because the 95% of other batterers whom Bruce exposed did not get the same enormous media coverage, Malveaux was using this to batter Bruce as a racist—and as an opportunist, who was using Simpson as her “ticket to ride.” 

Let me stop here. I have resurrected this dialogue because Malveaux is the woman who has just been chosen to lead the new Ethnic Studies Program in Los Angeles at U Cal. 

What’s going on?

California is going on. It’s something in the air, and on the streets, an indoctrination into “radical” ideas that has been brewing there for a long time. Who’s been influencing the generations in San Francisco and Los Angeles?

Hatem Bazian at Berkeley and his crackpot but well-funded ideas about the clear and present danger of alleged “Islamophobia” and his obsession with “Palestine” have finally had their way with politically correct educated folk on the West Coast.

Academics Daniel Boyarin and Judith Butler, also at Berkeley, and both Jewish post modern “stars,” have for years, provided the necessary Jews-for-Palestine cover for Bazian’s genocidal intentionality toward the Jewish state.

Racism in America is real. Health care housing, educational opportunities, and job disparities, as a function of race are real issues in our country—but so is black on black violence, black on Asian and black on Jewish violence. Guns, drugs, trafficking, and domestic violence in every community, including in racially marginalized communities, are real problems. Whether police really do target black men more than those of any of color and/or whether those targeted and glorified in the headlines are—or are not—criminals is now being hotly debated. Whether racism is or is not “structural” in America and whether all white folk are “racists” is also being contested. 

But why bring the Jews into it—why bring Israel into all this? We are witnessing the diabolical linking of “black and brown bodies” (that’s the choice, academic phrase) to “Palestinians”—as if the Arabs in Gaza and in Yehudah and Shomron are really African-Americans; as if the IDF, the most ethical army in the world, is somehow equivalent to the most prejudiced and most violent of American police officers. Given the propaganda and the vast sums spent on indoctrination, George Floyd has become a Palestinian. 

There is no end to this false equivalency, this scapegoating of Jewish Israel for the historical crime of slavery and for continued racism in the United States. Matti Friedman has penned an excellent piece about this. He writes:

“While following the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, which to me seemed just and necessary, I saw a sign that read FROM FERGUSON TO PALESTINE. This was puzzling…If activists were seeking foreign inspiration for a domestic movement, they had hundreds of ongoing ethnic conflicts to choose from… For these Americans, distant Jews have become an embodiment of the American evil, racial oppression. People have always projected fantasies onto other places and groups, but this particular type of projection, in which Jews are displayed as the prime symbol of whatever’s wrong, has a long history. When it surfaces, it usually heralds an impatience with logical analysis and normal politics, and a move toward magical thinking.”

It also leads to individual physical attacks on individual, visibly Jewish Jews; to attacks on kosher supermarkets, synagogues, and cemeteries; and to pogroms and genocide.

Just as the Intifada, Hamas-style, has invaded campuses in California and activist uprisings everywhere, so too: California is the template for what is surely coming our way.


9 Responses

  1. In NZ I worked with an Israeli Jew who was originally from Mumbai. Colour-wise he was no different from any other Indian.

  2. The author’s opening statement is incorrect. White people are not afraid to talk about racism, they are afraid to talk about the explosion of black racism toward whites; they are afraid to say that the Democrat party was the party of slavery, of secession, of Jim Crow, and the klan; they are afraid to say that the Republican party was created specifically to end slavery. They are afraid to say that every Confederate was a democrat and every Union soldier a republican. The author wonders why the Jews and Israel come under so much criticism, derision, and hatred. This is an easy question to answer. When societies collapse the collapse always finds its way to the Jews.

  3. As I’m sure you know, in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the far/radical left in the U.S. has acted as a front for right-wing Jew-hatred coming out of the Middle East. This traces back to the alliance of black race radicals and the PLO, who came together at the Third World Marxists conference in Algiers, 1969. With black Americans vouching for their cause of “liberation” from Jewish “oppression,” the anti-democratic, Jew-hating Palestinians were absorbed into the body of the left, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Out of the alchemy of Arab/Muslim and black bigotry, and perhaps in most cases black ignorance of the Middle East conflict, emerged an alliance that holds together, still, by defining Jews as a common enemy. The rest of the left, including increasing numbers of Jews, these days, went along with it. This is why pop theories and ethnic studies curricula, today, falsely define Jews as a bunch of white people from Europe that oppress Arabs in the Middle East and blacks in America. This is where Malveaux was coming from.

    The Jewish community has failed to challenge this tag team assault on us, for the last 50 years, because anyone who tries understands they will be branded a “racist” or “Islamaphobe” by our so-called allies.

    You are courageous for attempting to face these fears. By ignoring what has been going on for decades, Jewish leaders have been abetting a movement bent on silencing America’s Jews. Exactly what Malveaux was attempting to do to Bruce.

    We are facing a movement that is aimed at disrupting U.S. power. One of its strategies is to persuade the world to dismantle Israel, which hurts both Jews and the U.S. The longer Jews live in denial of all this, the worse things get.

  4. Liz Wagner nailed it! Case closed. Thank you for such a thought provoking blog posting and all the comments are thoughtful and correct, on the subject of Racism how it is weaponized, because after all racism is an act of hatred, no matter how it is disseminated.

  5. I’m disappointed that you are buying into this fiction about systemic white racism and racist police in America, even as you rightly condemn the left’s dragging Israel and Jews into the discussion. It should not surprise you that the anti-American marxists who are pushing a fictitious narrative of systemic white racism in America, also hate Jews and Israel. The same lies spoken about Israel are also spoken against America. The underlying motive is communist revolution. Communists peddle in lies.

  6. How about this? There is no excuse for bad behavior, even victimization. One could argue that those who have been victims should be more sensitive and reluctant to treat others the way they claim they have been. Isn’t the purpose to reduce or eliminate hate? How does one put out a fire using fire? Are you relishing having your hand on the whip, or will you lead by example? One path leads to everything that we say we want, while the other leads to carnage.

  7. It’s clear that many black “feminists” have no real understanding of, or interest in feminism. That is their choice. However, feminism has made a major error in compromising feminist definitions and universality in order to pander to the women of color in our organizations.

    Our nice liberal expectations on racial issues in this country are being challenged. Let’s face it: White people are now being unfairly targeted, and if it is true of white people in general, it goes double for Jews.

    The radicals of color hate us because we are the only people who have truly seen and treated them as equals. That is not what they want, and they will continue to find every excuse to reject us, not unlike the Palestinian attitude toward Israel.

    It’s been sad for me to wake up to this reality, but I can no longer stand by and watch feminism, which exists for ALL women – be undermined or destroyed. As long as we remain prisoners of our white guilt, fearing more than anything being called a “racist”, we are sure to fail ourselves and everyone else.

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