Welcome back to Jewish History Matters. In this episode, Marc Dollinger joins us for an important conversation about the history of Black-Jewish relations in the 1960s, and its ramifications and relevance for the continued struggle for civil rights and racial justice today.
Marc Dollinger holds the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University. He’s the author of Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern America, and Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s, which we discuss in this episode.
Black Power, Jewish Politics reframes the place of Jews in the civil rights movement and the rise of black power in the 1960s. As Marc argues, American Jews tend to have a filiopietistic and self-congratulatory historical memory of these events emphasizing Jews’ place in a cold war liberal consensus, and as allies in the fight for civil rights, prior to a breakdown of this black-Jewish alliance with the rise of the Black Power movement. Marc doesn’t deny that this alliance existed, but he offers a new way of thinking about it and its legacy: He argues that Jewish leaders recognized the limits of white allyship early on, and later supported Black power—both in itself and also as an example of how to pursue Jewish empowerment. As Marc argues, the emergence of Jewish ethnic identity in the 1970s — Jewish day schools, the Jewish catalogue, Jewish studies courses, just to name a few — actually paralleled the broader context of American life in which various ethnic groups drew from the example of Black power to chart their own course within the framework of identity politics.
However, the struggle for civil rights and racial justice is not concluded in this country, so this book is about the past but it’s not entirely history. As a result it offers one starting point for rethinking the relationship between Jews and civil rights both historically speaking and today, the question of whether Jews are white, or are perceived as white, and the ramifications of all this within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. As we’ll get into today, this book and its argument offers a pathway towards rethinking this history, our place within it, and what it might mean to be an ally in the fight for social and racial justice today.