Tracey Nicole always makes an effort to introduce herself to any new police officer stationed at her Texas synagogue. It might be a brief hello or quick smile. The gesture however is not of kindness, but necessity for her. Because unlike every other member of the synagogue, Nicole is black.
“I am the only Jew of color at our synagogue,” Nicole said. “So when I walk into situations like that, I’m wondering if people will acknowledge that I belong.”
Nicole shared her experience as a Jewish person of color at a Zoom discussion on July 30. The event was hosted by Moishe House Northern Virginia and Moishe House Mosaic-Fairfax. Twenty people attended the talk where Nicole discussed implicit biases and her experience as a black Jew.
“I’m here so that you have space and you have an opportunity to make connections and talk with each other,” she said. “No one wants to feel like an encyclopedia. So even though I’m here and I’m a Jew of color, I know we don’t always represent the entirety of our culture or race. So I’m here to help you do your own research.”
Nicole described herself at the event as a “social engagement facilitator.” She is the president and co-founder of The Global Oneg, an organization that leads talks and workshops. Nicole lives in Plano, Texas, and converted to Judaism in 2019.
The speaker began her presentation by defining white privilege. One of the areas of focus in the discussion was on media representation. Nicole said negative representations of African Americans can lead to them being perceived as aggressive, dangerous or criminal. In her own life, Nicole explained how she makes an effort to not be too expressive with her body language in conversations as not to get labeled as the “angry, loud black person” in the room.
An example of white privilege she gave is having a positive relationship with the police and to be perceived less as a threat by them. Nicole then recalled her experience getting pulled over for speeding last year by a police officer.
“I literally bawled. It’s broad daylight. I’m on the highway and I thought immediately, ‘Is this my last day? Is this my last moment? Is this how it ends?’ And you shouldn’t have to feel that way. No one should have to feel that way. So having white privilege can look like having a positive relationship with the police generally [and] being favored by school authorities.”
Nicole said she is not against police and supports them. However, she argued that police are overwhelmed and not trained to handle every responsibility society throws at them.
“Somebody with a mental illness, somebody with a drug abuse problem, that is not something a police officer is trained to do. A social worker [learns] to defuse these types of situations that happen every day. So why are we sending the police to deal with that?”
Another thing Nicole discussed was Jews of color. She said that when a person of color walks into a synagogue, there’s an immediate implicit bias that they have no connection with Judaism. She’s had members of her synagogue introduce themselves to her at least three times because they assumed she was somebody new.
Nicole urged white Jews and African Americans to come together to dismantle white supremacy. She said if people of color could have done so on their own, it would have been accomplished already.
One of the things Nicole wanted listeners to walk away with was the idea of compassion over tolerance. She said tolerance can lead to indifference while compassion leads to empathy.
“If I just tolerate you, it means I may not even have any concern for you as a human being. So if I could have you guys do one thing, if that’s the one thing you take away from tonight, take tolerance out of your vocabulary and replace it with compassion and empathy.”