In 2009, Jared Jackson, founder and Executive Director of Jews in ALL Hues, was facilitating a conference-style multiracial Jewish gathering to be in community and discuss equity and belonging. At the time, Jews in ALL Hues (JIAH) was the only organization led by and for Jews of Color. Obtaining official status as a nonprofit in 2013, Jackson has expanded JIAH to be one of the oldest organizations serving Jews of Color in the United States. Since the early phases of the organization, Jackson has watched the field of Jewish institutions led by Jews of Color greatly expand, offering him a unique vantage point on the progress made and progress yet to be attained.
“An investment in Jews of Color is an investment in Jews,” Jackson said. While this has always been true, its salience has begun to resonate with the broader Jewish community, including among predominantly white Jewish institutions. This is progress Jackson didn’t foresee in the late 2000s; he is inspired by the number of organizations and leaders who are establishing their own networks, programming, and initiatives that support Jews of Color.
“We’re reaching a really critical time of self-actualization,” Jackson affirmed. “It’s really comforting, as someone who’s done this work for over a decade, to be at the point where there are more and more organizations popping up for JoCs and led by JoCs.” He also said that seeing new research emerge, such as Counting Inconsistencies and Beyond the Count, affirms the diversity few have recognized in the American Jewish community.
For Jackson, seeing the expansion of JoC-led organizations has been a powerful experience that demonstrates the communal need and interest for engaging with the Jewish community’s racially and ethnically diverse reality. “Engaging the Jewish community, going forward, has to be multiracial,” he asserted.
One of the structural barriers Jackson sees suppressing a genuine and thorough commitment to our multiracial people is the influence of whiteness on white Ashkenazi American Jews. “We have a long way to go in terms of uprooting white supremacy,” Jackson stated. The concept of white supremacy is often difficult to grapple with in the Jewish community. Ashkenazi Jews have historically been the victims of white supremacy. At the same time, most (white) Ashkenazi Jews have been (albeit tenuously) classified as white and granted access to white privilege to a far greater extent than those who are classified as People of Color in the U.S.
Jackson believes that internal uprooting of white supremacy from the Jewish community will be an essential step forward. “You can’t repair the world on the outside with a broken inner world,” he said, reflecting on the Jewish community’s need to turn antiracist efforts inward. If the community can heed this call, Jackson believes that “the [justice] work that we as Jewish people do outside of the Jewish community will also be greatly enhanced” by first tending to racism occurring among Jews.
Another way Jackson hopes Jewish institutions can transform is to learn to reconceptualize leadership through a lens of humanity. Jackson explained that tensions often emerge when predominantly white Jewish institutions expect Jewish leaders of Color to overperform to prove their ability or belonging, or expect them to follow prescribed career paths or life trajectories in line with those from more privileged backgrounds or who have had greater structural access to support and resources. Jackson believes rethinking through the lens of humanity can transform how the Jewish community conceptualizes leadership for everyone. “Community-building work is not a straight line. Leadership is not a straight line, either. We need to give everyone the ability to be human.”
Jackson says honoring one another’s humanity should require doing away with the idea that one must decouple their identities—such as feeling the need to suppress one’s racial, ethnic, or cultural background as a way to conform to white Ashkenazi Jewish culture or prove their Jewishness. “You can’t leave part of yourself behind. You can’t segment your personality in order to fit into something,” he said.
As Jackson looks back over the course of the last thirteen years, he is struck by both progress and the need for efforts that expand equity to the next level. “What I envision is fully societal and integrative; something that reaches every single aspect of life…From the cradle to the grave, we should be fully supporting Jews of Color and anyone who is marginalized.”
Jackson’s advice if we collectively attain that goal? “Don’t stop even when you get there.”