As Sephardic Jews with family roots in the former Ottoman Empire and North Africa, we are acutely aware of the underlying racist systems and structures that have shaped the United States since its foundation. American laws targeted our own parents and grandparents through immigration restriction and American society forced our forebears to sacrifice our language and culture in order to enter, tentatively and at great cost, the American mainstream.
We therefore recognize not only the precarity of our position as descendants of Spanish-speaking Jews from the Muslim world, but also the privileges we have accrued by largely—although not always—finding our way to the “white side of the color line.” Our position therefore renders us implicated in an unjust system of laws and institutions that continue to disproportionately and detrimentally impact Black communities, indigenous communities and other people of color through exclusion and violence.
Drawing on an awareness of our own historical experiences, we recognize our responsibility to act. As a first step, the board of the Seattle Sephardic Network unequivocally condemns the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police—the latest case to reveal the pervasive and systemic racism that continues to shape law enforcement practices and other domains of American society. We recognize that real, structural change is long overdue and necessary in our country right now; mere talk of “education,” and “tolerance,” and reforming the “bad apples” is not sufficient. This statement is an initial, long-overdue step in acknowledging, addressing, and remedying the problems.
We therefore join the calls made by those across the country for systemic change. As we say in Ladino, the historic language of Sephardic Jews: “Boz del puevlo, boz del sielo.” “The voice of the people is the voice of the heavens.”
The heavens have spoken; we must listen.