Victim to Perpetrator in Three Weeks

New York – June 12, 2017: Memorial outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in honor of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in New York City in 2016.

By Cheryl Moore

Just after Christmas, while traveling in Poland, I visited Auschwitz. As a Jew from Pittsburgh, who lost neighbors in the Tree of Life massacre, the visit was especially painful. Everywhere I looked, I felt the horror. I learned how the Nazis used propaganda and a sustained campaign of dehumanization to create an acceptance of Jews, my people, as an evil and dangerous people, deserving of subjugation and extermination.

Three weeks later, while traveling in Alabama, I visited numerous sites where slavery and the Confederacy’s fight to preserve it, Jim Crow, and brutality were perpetrated. Everywhere I looked, I felt the horror. I learned how whites used propaganda and a sustained campaign of dehumanization to create an acceptance of blacks as an inferior race, deserving of subjugation and terror. A frighteningly familiar story, but in this one, I, as a white person, am a member of the group of perpetrators.

As I am sure that the descendants of Nazi-era Germans, and those who were complicit, believe that they would have been righteous resisters, I took meager comfort in believing that, depending upon the era, I would have been an abolitionist or a civil rights activist. But what is the lesson? What can my experiences, separated by a mere three weeks, of being victim and perpetrator teach us?

Today, all over the globe, emanating from quite disparate groups, antisemitic rhetoric and attacks are rising. So too, people of color are subjected to ever more inequality and bias. Rage and distrust swirl around us. In many circles, the expression of these hatreds is no longer considered gauche, but rather progressive or honest.

I have spent my life working for equality for all people, but as a Jew, I focus most heavily on antisemitism, while others may focus primarily on the lack of justice for African Americans, or on systemic inequities endured by women, or on the appalling treatment of those trying to seek refuge in our country, or the stripping of rights of the LGBTQ community. While recognizing the value of the theme of Intersectionality, I will continue to insist that we call the murder of innocents at Tree of Life “antisemitism,” rather than just “hate,” and that “black lives matter,” not just that “all lives matter.” However, an understanding of the general dynamics and ecosystem of hate and persecution is critically important and one cannot ignore what is simply not one’s primary area of focus.

It is important to recognize that one can be both victim and perpetrator. If people of conscience want to join forces to resist the rising tide of hate and animosity emanating from and directed toward all segments of our society, we need to also resist hatred and animosity among each other. Among those whose calling is to combat persecution, there must be zero-tolerance for the expression of hatred of anyone. There needs to be only inclusion and love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. In Montgomery, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, on the day that we celebrate him, inspired by the words and the wisdom, goodness, gentleness and clarity of MLK, I dedicated myself to continuing his fight against persecution, recognizing that Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Cheryl Moore, B.A., M.B.A., B.S.N. is a Women’s Health nurse, living in Pittsburgh, PA.