The Culture of Black Apologists by Lou Cespedes

In 1999 I left New York City to back-pack around Europe. It was the first time I traveled outside the United States or Caribbean. As an architect and lover of history, having seen photos of post-war Warsaw rebuilt, I decided to visited Poland. I eventually made my way to Krakow and visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp and museum. I was 27 years old, and quite conscious of the Holocaust’s deep significance, not only for Jews, but for all humanity. I didn’t need a guide, I didn’t need explanations, I didn’t need invitations.

As a Caribbean man, as a black Cuban-American, the pain and humiliation of the Jewish people was tangible and all too familiar for me. If you grew up like I did, under the long shadow of quotidian Antillean racism and colonial idiosyncrasies, the savagery of slavery and imagery of wasting black men and women in sugarcane fields is never distant. For some perspective, consider that my last name was given to my family by a creole Spaniard slaveowner in Santiago de Cuba, that freed his slaves to fight against Spain in 1868. My great grandparents were freed slaves and fighters.

In April of this year there was a conference held in PS 289. Chasid Rebbe Eli Cohen and Geoffrey Davis, brother of slain CM James Davis convened to tackle the thorny question of anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Several attributed Black-on-Jew hate crimes to “culture” among other things like economics and housing. Pastor Gil Monrose, director of faith-based and clergy initiatives for the Brooklyn borough president framed it this way: “The average person is going to say, ‘Yeah, those Jews — you know they come in and take up all the land,’ and, ‘Another Jewman bought the building,'” “That’s just the kind of talk that you’re hearing.”

Monrose, who leads the 67 Precinct Clergy Council, a group of E. Flatbush pastors, recently returned from a trip to Poland where he visited concentration camps with his “friend” Evan Bernstein, regional director for the New York Anti-Defamation League. To the educated observer, Monrose’s comments and actions are suspect, a clear sign of pandering and posturing, using the sensitive issue of “hate-crimes” to play up Eric Adams’ political standing in the Jewish community. His comments also have the more sinister effect of disqualifying black sentiment and making racism in Jewish communities immune from critique. The “code-switching” in this quote, lifted from an article by WNYC, makes evident his use of language to further denigrate blacks as incapable of articulating their reality, making any critique of the Jewish community an automatic act of anti-Semitism, and by extension a “cultural” fault attributable to black poverty and ignorance.

This is the culture of the black apologists; a cancer in our community, slowly destroying our ability to legitimately give voice to the inequities blacks suffer from over-policing, stripped social services, and biased media-coverage.

To ignore anti-Semitism in our community is tantamount to ignoring racism in the Chasidic community. Both exist, both are real, both are interdependent, and both need to be addressed. You cannot have one without the other. For those that dispute racism and discrimination in the Chasidic and broader conservative Jewish community, examples abound, glowingly even within their own community. Yet, the distinguishing feature between “acts of hate” committed against Jews, is their community’s ability to amplify, project, and mobilize around a narrative of victimhood in a way that makes the black church and our local clergy seem impotent when addressing the aggressions toward our own peoples.

The signs of our oppression are everywhere. In our public-school system, in housing, in economics, in immigration, in healthcare, in criminal justice; it is ever present in our community. There are no museums built in homage to our plight, but our suffering is in plain sight. I wonder why Pastor Monrose, isn’t dedicating more energy to the defense of our community instead of perpetuating a narrative that facilitates the scapegoating of our youth for violence in order to support the triangle of policing, finance, and religion that directly benefits his organization. The 67th Precinct Clergy Council is in effect our very own Judenräte, something Pastor Monrose may have learned about during his visit to the Polish concentration camps. In our district’s current realpolitik, he may want to keep in mind that the members of these “councils” were not spared from the fate of their Jewish brethren murdered in the Holocaust.

 

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