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Ferguson and Black Jews


In the city of Ferguson Missouri things are going out of hand.
This city close to St Louis has a majority of Black population.
A young black man was shot and killed while unarmed by a
law enforcement officer. As a result, protests flared in the city.
Then a grand jury decided that the officer who killed the young black man was not responsible for his death in terms of homicide, but self defence.
This decision made the protest spiral out of control in the last few days with arson fires, destruction of property and violence.
Why we may ask, 50 years after the civil rights movement, are such things happenning in the United States ? What lessons must we learn from such events as African Jews ?
Poverty and blackness are still intimately linked in America. The economic formulas of that country are still connected to the idea of making the biggest profits, over the lowest wages possible.
Africans were brought to America to function as labor under such a philosophy.
That philosophy is diametrically opposed to what Judaism teaches about social fairness.
According to the laws of Torah, absolute dignity is due to the laborer. Many laws are stipulated about humane treatment of laborers. Wages must be paid according to true needs, according to age, gender and effort. The kind of abuse of laborers who have virtually no rights or protection in America are unthinkable in Jewish terms. The fact that the thinking of making profits from stripping laborers of their rights comes mainly from Bible believers in the US only adds to the absurdity. It makes one wonder if these Bible believers have any knowledge of the Bible at all.
Racism against Blacks in America has an agenda. It is a model based on treating labor with utter contempt.
The family of the young black man who was killed does not have the money to hire proper attorney defense.
Whereas the city agency which the officer worked for, has all the funds it needs. And the grand Jury who made the decision is made of a white majority, representing the white upper class in Missouri.
That’s exactly what was behind that verdict.
Racism in America is not about white people feeling superior to black people.
It would be a mistake to think in such simplistic and dehumanizing terms.
Racism is simply a strategy to keep people at the bottom of the social scale, who can become ready to work for the lowest wages, and under the most inhumane conditions, just to survive.
Poor areas are often plagued with crime, because there aren’t much options given to people living there, to survive under normal conditions.
Often, law enforcement in these areas are plagued with demands to act forcefully, to contain the social anger they are likely to face.
Being Torah informed demands that we become aware of these simple truths.
Not because Torah is merely a social commentary, but because being aware of the causes of suffering enables one to see the human dimension behind suffering.
Being rich or successful does not exempt people from awareness, nor does it place them on the wrong side of the fence. Being poor does not mean to have no hope and no other option than being angry or revolted. Torah asks from us to be proficient in Tzeddaka, to open our hearts and our hands to the less fortunate.
Events in Ferguson should make everyone meditate on the meaning of success, on how to build more inclusive and compassionate communities, on how to not descend into violence to be heard.
The prophets of Israel rebuked the Kings and the peoples of the world about these cardinal points of human consciousness. According to the Biblical prophets, not only humans must be treated with dignity, but their environment as well. When unbridled profit takes over, the whole planet feels it.
Global warming is not only due to people’s activities in the generic sense. It is much more due to uncontrolled plundering of natural resources for unlimited profit.
Torah has much to offer in terms of reflecting upon these ideas.
Tzeddaka, being compassionate, charitable and fair, is where this reflexion starts.
The whole world is watching Ferguson with anxious hearts.
How will the country of Civil Rights take the next step, the one of Social Rights, of fairness, of dignified minimal wage ?
That would help avoid the easy downward slope toward racism, because with fairness in wages, racism would have no roots to grow from. Is that not obvious ?

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