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How I Make Black Jews Visible Through the Magic of TikTok

Raven Schwam-Curtis in one of her educational TikToks. Photo courtesy of the author. 

This is the last in a series of pieces to mark Black History Month. Be sure to check out earlier pieces by Tova Ricardo and Kyla Kupferstein Torres.

Let’s take a journey back to Hanukkah 2020. As my fingers glide up and down my ‘For You’ page on TikTok in rhythmic synchronicity, a video catches my eye and invites me to stop. It’s a clip of Trisha Paytas singing and dancing to a remixed Hanukkah song entitled “Might Be x Chanukah.” For those who are unfamiliar with Paytas, they are a Youtuber shrouded in controversy, including blackface scandals and more recent antisemitic remarks. “Surely this is not the Jewish representation we deserve,” I think after watching their video.

A few minutes later, I find myself perched in front of my phone, ready to film my own version of a Hanukkah dance. Topped off with the caption, “This is your annual reminder that Black Jews exist,” I share my completed video for all to see.

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction. In response to my Hanukkah video, I was met with a wall of excitement, affirmation, and comments from other Black Jews thanking me for carving out space for them. I truly had no idea that proclaiming my identity as both Black and Jewish would cause such a stir. It was at this moment that I realized Black Jews were craving more representation on TikTok.

It also became painfully clear through ignorant and often hurtful comments—someone referred to me as a “mutt” and another commenter called me the “least black person on earth,” to give just two examples— that many people do not realize how diverse the Jewish community is. There is an assumption that all Jewish people must be Ashkenazi and racialized as white. The idea that one person can be many things at once (in my case, both Black and Ashkenazi) is dumbfounding to many. For some, my identity is a source of speculation, doubt, and controversy.

Although the ignorance I encountered upset and angered me, it also motivated me to create more educational content on TikTok relating to my Black and Jewish identities, Black history, feminist discourses, queer identities, multiraciality, and Jewish histories. Education is a pursuit I care about  deeply and have devoted many years to, first as a student at Cornell and now as a graduate student in African American Studies at Northwestern. The desire to be a life-long teacher and learner resonates with me.

Black feminisms have played a key role in my education and self-realization. One of the major products of Black feminisms is intersectionality, a concept that is featured prominently on my TikTok page. The term “intersectionality” was coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. In a footnote to a 1989 paper, Crenshaw explains that we often make the mistake of seeing race and gender as two completely separate phenomena. In reality, she suggests, gender and race intersect to create compounded experiences of marginalization. Misogynoir, or the manifestation of both sexist and racist attitudes towards Black women, is an example of this consolidation. Not only are various systems deeply interconnected, they bolster one another. As a result, when people hold multiple marginalized identities, they must constantly negotiate multiple systems of oppression.

This framing disrupts a facile reading of me as a biracial Black and Jewish person. Instead of viewing my Blackness and Jewishness as separate and/or a cause for some existential biracial angst about never being “whole,” I see them as deeply interrelated. So are the various forms of prejudice I experience:  anti-Blackness, antisemitism, sexism. All the “isms” are intertwined. That’s why I frequently insist in my TikToks that either we’re all free or none of us are free.

Over the last few months I have created a huge volume of TikToks about being Black and Jewish. Among my favorites are my video series about “celebrities you didn’t know were Black Jews (like me!)”,  invitations to encourage the Jewish community to uplift Jews of color without tokenizing us, and relatable and funny videos about being Black and Jewish. My main goals with this content are to educate, validate, and celebrate!

We must be willing to abolish all forms of subjugation to imagine, and move towards, the kind of world(s) we wish to inhabit. This requires solidarity—in my case, between Black and Jewish communities. I’m actively working to build these bridges so we might imagine more loving, nurturing, and sustaining worlds together. In so many ways, this is the project of my TikTok page: to invite people to know themselves and others more deeply, so we can enact the project of freedom with more precision.

This might sound like a tall order for a short-form platform like TikTok. Maybe it is. But my job is to plant seeds. Engage in dialogue. Foster meaningful solidarity. And most importantly, to practice a Black feminist ethic of love and care.

I’m certainly not the first Black Jew to use my platform to work towards freedom projects around antisemitism, anti-blackness, misogyny, and homophobia. I carry the torch of so many who have done this work before me. As a Black and Jewish queer femme, I’m excited to keep showing up and doing the work. Growing up, I rarely saw my intersecting identities reflected and amplified out in the world. I’m honored to have a platform to provide others with the representation I lacked.

I know representation is not the solution to all our woes. Still, it’s so important that we see ourselves in every space. Black Jews deserve to be visible.

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Thank you so much for your words!🙏...I am a black/irish Jew who has struggled my whole life with identity and acceptance. Much love

Great article!
I'm an Orthodox Jew from birth with side locks (payos). One of my daughters married a black convert to Judaism. He and I learn Talmud together for years.
He's a psychiatrist at NYU.
I have thank Gd twin 9 year old granddaughters who are black and who have been going to Yeshiva for four years.
I am blessed.

Carve out a space indeed! I'm so amazed to see you proud of who you are and by how empowering this is for others! Great videos and great writing.

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How to cite this page

Schwam-Curtis, Raven. "How I Make Black Jews Visible Through the Magic of TikTok." 24 February 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 2, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/through-magic-tiktok-i-make-black-jews-visible>.