In My Own Words: Majority, minority and fear

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

“Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) today defended his and [Deborah Lipstadt’s].... denunciations of Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) previous comments in support of the January 6 insurrectionists. The Wisconsin Republican demanded an apology for being called out by Senator Menendez and Professor Lipstadt after he told a radio host he would have felt threatened had the insurrection been organized by Black Lives Matter and Antifa supporters instead of Trump supporters ‘who love this country’ and ‘truly respect law enforcement.’” – From a press release issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Fear, deep heart-rending fear: that’s what many white, Christian Americans are experiencing, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Fear of becoming a minority, fear of losing their piece of the pie, fear of someone replacing them, fear of being treated as other minorities have been (and are currently being) treated in the United States. I can sympathize a bit: Jews have lived for centuries as a minority in countries that, at first, welcomed us, then demonized us and finally expelled or tried to destroy us. We know just how horrible it can be to live in fear. But are the feelings of white, Christian Americans being manipulated by those in power, or are they right to worry?

My real question is this: Why would whites think that they would be badly treated if people of color became the majority in the U.S.? Maybe it’s as simple as their assuming that whichever majority controls the government will treat minorities poorly. To take one example, their fear of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has never said that white lives don’t matter. Its concern is that Black lives have been treated as expendable, that something as simple as a traffic stop can turn deadly and that, while white teenagers may be given the benefit of the doubt when arrested for a crime, too many black youths arrested for the same crime are given jail sentences. Now, imagine that scenario is flipped: replace Black with white in those sentences. Policemen would automatically think that a white driver is dangerous. White teenagers would be assumed to be habitual criminals, rather than being released to their families and given a second chance. Does anyone really think that is going to happen? If so, then that’s not only a sad commentary on our country, but humanity in general.

The idea that only Black violence is dangerous is in itself a dangerous thought. Why was Senator Ron Johnson so blind to the violence that took place on January 6, 2021, when protesters attacked the Capitol Police, threatening to harm members of Congress? Did he think that those who carried a noose and called for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence were joking? How can anyone call them true patriots who love their country when they were trying to overthrow the rule of government? Wait, I take that back: they may consider themselves patriots. But their version of the United States is scary: it’s one where whites control the government and upitty minorities – that includes Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Asians, etc. – know their place. But is that truly the United States in which we want to live? Is that really the American dream? No! The American dream offers opportunity to all, regardless of skin color, ethnicity or religion.

It’s this vision – a country that offers freedom and choice to everyone – that makes the U.S. a magnet for people across the world – people who are willing to risk their lives to move here. But that dream is being threatened by those in power who know they can only remain in power if they divide us – making us fear each other, rather than helping us work together for the good of all. Those trying to manipulate us pretend that minorities are part of some secret cabal looking to destroy America and ruin our lives. Some of these conspiracy theories are so far-fetched it’s hard to believe anyone does believe them, but fear prevents us from thinking clearly. It makes us easy to manipulate, especially when people claim that someone of a different skin color, ethnicity or religion is out to demolish our way of life.

People who truly love this country don’t seek to divide its citizens into “us” vs. “them.” They know that if we stand together and work together, we can create a society where no one is left behind and no one is hungry. That may sound unrealistic, but we’ll never know if we can succeed if we don’t try. I believe this can happen, but only if we reach out a hand to each other and work together to create the American Dream of a better future for all.