Read the full essay at The Forge

By Carin Mrotz

In the last week of November 2016, I was helping marshal a direct action on a Twin Cities retailer when I got a call from a friend, a Black organizer in Minneapolis. “Did you see the giant swastika on Facebook?" she asked. "What should we do?” Some time in the last few days, someone had spray painted an enormous (and poorly executed) swastika on a garage in North Minneapolis, just a few blocks from my house. Neighbors had posted pictures on Facebook.

I told my friend that I’d meet her at the garage, and I stopped at a hardware store for paint remover, heavy duty scrubbers, and gloves. For the next hour, we stood in the bitter cold, scrubbing out the swastika. My friend took some before and after pictures, as well as a couple of selfies, and tweeted them so others could learn about what we’d just seen.

The pictures of a Black woman and a Jewish woman erasing a symbol of hate caught the attention of the alt right. We were besieged on social media by white supremacists. Some accused us of staging a hoax; most responded with open racism and antisemitism. They shared old caricatures, calling her my pet, me her puppeteer. Some responses were incredibly violent. My friend was stunned. “People are really still antisemitic? I thought you all were just regular white people now.” “Yeah,” I told her. “I think a lot of us did too.”

I’m the Executive Director of Jewish Community Action, a 25-year old nonprofit dedicated to organizing Jews in Minnesota for racial and economic justice. We build teams of members who work in coalition to pass local policies for affordable housing, immigrant rights, and criminal justice reform. Until recently, we didn’t focus on antisemitism at all. The Jewish community is multiracial but still mostly (and in Minnesota, especially) white. We agitated the mainstream Jewish community for the inclusion of Black Jews and Jews of color while accompanying white Jews on a journey to learn about their racial privilege. We gave people with a history of oppression a path to showing up as allies of those most directly targeted by oppression and injustice today.

But in the winter of 2016, I began to realize that, by stopping there, we’d limited our work and the relationships it was grounded in. By positioning ourselves only as allies in fighting white supremacy, we’d erased the ways white supremacy directly targets us as Jews. We’d allowed our coalition partners to ignore Black Jews, Jews of color, and working-class Jews. We’d failed to understand our community as stakeholders and turned ourselves into saviors rather than co-conspirators. We’d also left our movement partners unprepared to support us when we needed it.


Sometimes, it was challenging for antiracist organizers to assess their hidden biases. Antisemitism functions differently than other types of oppression — rather than “punching down,” tropes about Jews artificially inflate our power and wealth, which can make them harder to identify. A Black organizer told me: “Growing up, I definitely learned that the Jews had all the money, but I saw it as a compliment.” Of course she did, but it’s also not true — it’s a lie white supremacy has told us.

As I talked to other Jewish organizers and experts, particularly my friends at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in New York, who’d been researching and writing on this all year, I began to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how antisemitism functions within systems. If capitalism requires racism to justify exploiting the labor of Black and brown people, it also requires antisemitism in order to point the blame at Jews instead of revealing itself as the actual source of oppression. As a Jewish educator told me, “Many critiques of wealth inequality tell us that the Jews are the man behind the curtain, but antisemitism is the curtain.”

Read the full essay at The Forge