History Tells Me “Do Not Start Kneeling… Ever”
History has a funny way of repeating itself. The old adage from George Santayana, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is more true today than it ever was. So when I started to see images of people and police officers kneeling at the behest of protestors, the hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up. Unless somebody is hurt in a game, or I am exhausted, or I one day find myself in front of G-d, the chances of me taking a knee and kneeling are between zero and none.
History has shown that prostrating yourself in front of a mob demanding justice does not end well and there is something terrifying–“as a Jew”–watching people kneel even if they have not done anything wrong. There is something decidedly unAmerican seeing people kneel before an indignant crowd when we fought a war and founded the country specifically because we would not bend the knee. Therefore, I don’t kneel, and I find the entire notion repugnant, terrifying, and wholly unAmerican.
Part of my wariness surrounding the entire Black Lives Matter movement is trying to make sense about the similar history between Jews and American blacks and why there is such a divide between the two communities. Throughout Jewish history, you can find numerous examples of Jews being subjugated simply for being Jews. Whenever somebody in power wanted to find a scapegoat or a community had to release some anger and frustration, they invariably turned towards the Jewish community.
An edict would be decreed, crowds would form, and a mob mentality would take over resulting in the eventual death of Jews. This has happened so often throughout Jewish history that there is a special word for it; a pogrom. While the word is barely more than 100 years old, it has come to encapsulate all the incalculable instances Jews were made to kneel and/or die at the hands of an angry mob or government.
Why the Divide Between the Black and Jewish Communities
Obviously, Blacks in America have had to struggle with their own history of oppression and subjugation. Blacks were literally put in chains and used as slaves; the repercussions of which are still being dealt with today. So you would think there would be great synergy between American Jews and Black Americans. It is why there should be no surprise Jews were on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement in America. And yet, when you look at the antisemitic crime statistics, you find that one of the groups most harassing, beating, and sometimes killing Jews, are black Americans. This is one of the main reasons why the Black Lives Matter movement and all the resulting media fury behind it, fall a little flat to somebody like me.
Do black lives matter? Of course, to state otherwise is purely idiotic. Moreover, anybody that does not speak out when he sees an injustice done to a black American is doing a disservice to the country. The same way if he does not speak out when an injustice is done to anybody, he is betraying the very principles of what it means to be an American. However, you will never see me kneel to show support for the black lives movement, or any movement for that matter. Specifically, because (1) I’d be kneeling even though I did not do anything wrong and (2) I’d be kneeling to the very same group of people–a large percentage of whom–are the current oppressors of Jews in America. So I’m going to sit this one out, by refusing to kneel while still calling for the end of police brutality.
Why Kneeling as an American Just Feels Wrong
This is America. To watch people kneel, for whatever reason, is disheartening. Sure, you can kneel during the national anthem if you feel there is rampant injustice in the country. You can show your displeasure and anger and reveal you have lost respect for the flag because you think America has betrayed its core values and founding principles. That is certainly your right as an American. But kneeling is also a very unAmerican thing to do… especially if you are a black American.
It is just not in our DNA as Americans, and even less so for Black Americans who are the most “unkneeling” of us all. Can you imagine the type of strength and power it must have taken to be somebody like Frederick Douglass (easily one of the top-10 Americans of all-time)? To throw off the shackles of slavery, and to succeed in America despite all that putrid history? The history of “Black America” is one of the greatest success stories in the history of the world. To buck a system that at one point institutionalized your subjugation and oppression, and to fight through it with such fury that today the whole world protests on your behalf?
That is the polar opposite of a kneeling culture. That is a fighting culture and one worthy of all the best praise. A fighting culture that brought you the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry–sadly defaced during the riots–the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion. Those men were so rightfully proud of themselves and their history, that they forgave America for its sins, and fought on its behalf. They took to the battlefields and died for a country that had literally put them in chains, knowing full well even though they fought for the country they would still be treated poorly upon their return. If that is not American badassery, then I don’t know what is, but I do know if that is your history, something about kneeling just seems wrong.
How Kneeling in America Today is the Antithesis of the Jewish American
Today kneeling has taken on a life of its own. It means different things to different people. But as a Jewish American, it is quite possibly the last thing I would do besides swearing on the Q’uran or getting dunked underwater while wearing a white robe. It is simply not going to happen. The history of Judaism is replete with instances of Jews kneeling and bending themselves to angry mobs and governments, and yet still ending up broken or dead. For Jews, kneeling and prostrating themselves ends in death and despair.
For Americans, especially black Americans, there is too much pride in fighting against injustices for kneeling to make sense. We stand up and battle against what is wrong. And yes, to some, kneeling is how they are fighting today. But because we are Americans, we should know we value our individuality and personal freedoms over everything else. So some of you can kneel, that is your right as an American. But as a Jewish American, you will never see me kneel. Ever.