I Stand with Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Palestine: A Brief Essay on White Privilege

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The author with a sign urging to end police militarization.
Within the mountains of conversations that comprise the Babylonian Talmud, I have been drawn to a single practice: strive not to benefit or profit from the fruits of violence. As a white, elderly Jewish woman of mixed Ashkenazi descent and the sixth generation of my family to live on this continent, I am part of the group of European settlers who arrived here and built their houses on land stolen by military force from indigenous people. Turtle Island, the name for this continent for 20,000 years before colonialism, was and is home to great civilizations and hundreds of sovereign nations that excelled and continue to excel in agriculture, astronomy, medicine, and the arts. On this continent, my Jewish relatives who arrived here in the 1840s were not targeted for genocide or slavery by state or society. In my eyes, there is no way I can avoid profiting and benefiting from the fruits of colonial violence that targeted indigenous people for genocide and slavery. We are all embedded in the ever-evolving colonial system, which, even after 500 years, continues to target indigenous people for mass incarceration, land confiscation, and military occupation. The same context is true for Jewish people living in Israel. Jews in Israel live on land stolen from Palestinians and continue to rely upon unjust apartheid laws that privilege them over Palestinians in all things solely based on differences in human identity. This is racism at its core and it is shameful, regardless of our spiritual or historical connection to the land.
As Standing Rock brings long overdue awareness of indigenous history to non-native citizens of the United States, the majority of us remain mostly ignorant of the history of broken treaties and fail to acknowledge Native sovereignty, or the way in which we are embedded within a U.S. colonial system. Many non-native people appropriate the fruits of native spiritual wisdom traditions without acknowledging or supporting indigenous struggles for justice. Traveling to Standing Rock, Ferguson, or Palestine may represent the first time many white people from the U.S. encounter the front lines of oppression. Unfortunately, white people often have a lack of sensitivity to the realities of racism and how it functions on both the macro and micro levels. Augmenting my awareness of how racism functions is something I work on daily as a core spiritual practice. I don’t want to compound the mountains of racism people of color are forced to encounter on a daily basis if I can help it. There are a lot of helpful resources available.
Standing Rock, like Ferguson, has become a sacred site to the entire world. We who inhabit different forms of white privilege are called upon to step way back as we make every good intention to don the mantle of solidarity. We are called upon to honor indigenous-led struggles with acts of solidarity within an intersectional anti-racist framework. We can’t support Standing Rock without supporting the struggle for justice in Palestine. If we truly listen to what is being asked of us by indigenous people and people of color whose lives are on the line every day, and try not to impose our own privileged sense of solving the problem, we may contribute to the success of the struggles for justice in ways that benefit us all.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is cofounder of the Community of Living Traditions, a multifaith residency devoted to nonviolence in study and action. She is also cofounder of the Shomer Shalom Institute for Jewish Nonviolence and the Muslim Jewish PeaceWalk, as well as a performing artist, author, and percussionist.