Pittsburgh Steeler offensive tackle Zach Banner joined a panel of Jewish and Black community activists for the webinar “Standing In Solidarity,” hosted by Bend The Arc Pittsburgh on Thursday, July 24.
Joining Banner were educator Michelle King, 1Hood Media founder Jasiri X, Repair the World Pittsburgh City Director Julie Mallis, Bend The Arc’s national organizer and training manager, Graie Hagans, and Bend the Arc member and MLB.com writer Jonathan Mayo.
During the nearly two-hour Zoom conversation broadcast on YouTube, participants discussed a wide range of topics including identity, stereotypes and activism. King facilitated conversation on specific issues such as: who benefits from the lack of solidarity among minority groups; how minority groups involve one another in their struggles; and what new technologies and tools can be used to “get us to liberation.”
Banner began his remarks by saying he was “offering himself to the Jewish community” and referenced both the anti-Semitic comments made by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his own experiences with law enforcement as an African American male.
The tackle recalled being in Pittsburgh during the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life building and expressed empathy with the Jewish community, saying his goal was use his own platform to counter anti-Semitism.
King, a self-identified “learning instigator and love activist” and former middle school teacher, noted that “our suffering is not disconnected.”
During the conversation, Banner said he made Jewish friends while in college, spoke of the need for activism by anyone with a platform and his belief that comments such as those made by Jackson were no longer accepted in the NFL.
“As a member of the National Football League who wants to continue to dominate and rise on a personal level, and also as a Pittsburgh Steeler, I just want to let you know that the change in the locker room is coming.”
Both Banner and Jasiri X, a former member of the Nation of Islam, discussed stereotypes in the Black community about Jews.
“There’s a common misbelief among Black and brown people, I know this from growing up and I’ve heard it and listened to it, that Jewish people are just like any other white race,” Banner recounted. “You can mix them up with the rest of the majority and don’t understand that they’re a minority as well. For you to have me here, I want to use this opportunity to show that.”
“One of the things that is kind of insidious about how white supremacy works is, it’s like you get assigned a stereotype,” offered Jasiri X. “I remember thinking I didn’t know why Jewish people were so sensitive.”
The activist went on to explain that “we teach our children how to respond when the police pull them over. We inherently know that police officers are practicing anti-Blackness and are going to perceive me as more dangerous and criminal just because of the color of my skin…My stereotypes are I’m dangerous, I’m a thug, I’m a criminal.
If you see someone’s stereotypes as ‘oh, you have power,’ ‘you have money’…it’s like ‘that sounds great to me.’ You don’t realize until you’re in community how damaging those things can be.”
Hagans opined that those who are perceived to be white decide who is safe in America.
“That becomes part of the trickiness of why do we see Black folks relying on antisemitic mythology? In the structure of white supremacy, the way you gain power is by identifying yourself above other people. Why do we see white Ashkenazi Jews in the United States responding in deeply anti-Black ways? Because it becomes deeply embedded in the fabric and stories of ourselves that our way to safety and security and longevity is by investing further and further in white supremacy.”
Hagans said that anti-Semitic remarks had been tweeted by a bevy of celebrities including Nick Cannon and Ice Cube. He noted that both Madonna and Chelsea Handler retweeted remarks by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who frequents in anti-Semitic tropes. Rather than focus on those remarks, Banner said he wanted to “make them look dumb real quick and move on because there are other things that need to happen.”
Banner acknowledged that he needed to “challenge himself to step into the role” of an activist. “We’re going to have more views on the Super Bowl this year than you will with this YouTube video, so it’s up to us with that kind of platform.”
The webinar can be viewed on Bend the Arc Jewish Action Pittsburgh’s YouTube channel. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.