There are a lot more parallels between the treatment of Jewish and Black Americans than people assume, according to Magda Teter.
“I think that raising awareness, raising connections, building empathy for each other is key,” Teter said. “We haven’t been exploring this connection and what it means.”
Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies at Fordham University, spoke at Boston College on Wednesday about the roots and connections of anti-seminism and racism. Teter said she first found the connection between the treatment of Jewish and Black people through shared stereotypes.
“As I kept thinking about it, I was struck—I kept jotting down the different striking parallels,” Teter said. “Both for different reasons are presented as lazy and not productive and unwilling to work physically, and both in some ways harming the [Christian] population.”
According to Teter, antisemitism is rooted in the Bible, particularly in the book of Paul and by Saint Augustine. She states that the book of Paul was the first to introduce Jews as the children of the flesh and Christians as the children of promise, with Augustine furthering the idea.
“[Augustine] returns to the motif and the language and the passages that pull us and elaborate on the motifs associating jews with criminality, and Christains with spirit,” Teter said.
Teter also explained the differences in the way Europe, Judaism—which Teter refers to as Synagoga—and Africa are historically represented in the media.
“In the imagery you’ve seen, Synagoga kind of disappears entirely but Europa remains the Christian queen, [with] the cross and the globe she is holding,” Teter said. “And then we see the works that are actually coming out of the study of religions, global religions, and the era of enlightenment, that begin to depict Black people in this sort of savage way.”
Teter said that she was not the first person to find the connections between these marginalized groups. After the Nazi regime, Jewish and Black scholars were interested in exploring the parallels between the similar treatment of both Jewish and Black individuals, according to Teter.
“In the 1930s with the Nazi regime coming to power and this gradual denaturalization of German Jews and a removal of citizenship, all these things were of interest to Black intellectuals,” Teter said. “Then, after the Holocaust, Jewish intellectuals also became interested in exploring these connections with anti-Black racism.”
Teter said she was struck by the initial lack of empathy and reaction to the attacks in Israel. She stated that she believes there are differences in sympathy expressed toward the Jewish and Black struggles that separate similar experiences, arguing that people tend to be less sympathetic regarding the struggles of Jewish individuals.
“In Black studies, scholarship on racism never loses the sight of how racism impacts its victims,” Teter said. “Whereas we scholars of antisemitism are engaged in dissecting the ideologies, the definitions, the how it works, the why it works, the roots, but we have lost sight on the impact of anti-semitism on its victims, of how Jews felt and were impacted.”
When an audience member asked about the possible dangers of comparing the experiences of two different marginalized groups, Teter agreed it can be a sensitive subject, but said she focuses on facts and specific events to keep emotion out of her argument.
“Not because I want to equate one experience to the other, but rather trying to explain why in such a different context, the language and the tropes and the lenses are so similar and similarly used,” Teter said. “That has to be done very sensitively, without equating the experiences which are incredibly different.”