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When Criminals Are “One of Us”

When we learn about a dangerous and/ or illegal act long before we know who the suspect is, Black folk tend to hold our breath; we know that there are collective repercussions for the actions of a single one of us— whereas for those in the normative class, a person’s actions are their own.

Watching the news this last week, I have found myself holding my breath again as newscasters cover the story of the Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg, who surrendered to authorities on July first and is being indicted on tax-related charges. At the very notion of taxes, my mind travels back to medieval Europe, when the Christian belief was that the handling of money was dirty and sinful. While Christians would not demean themselves by handling money, European Jews, who had been excluded from guilds and prevented from owning land based on their Jewishness, and whose religion did not prevent them from handling money, became the middlemen—as tax collectors for the king and as money lenders. Both an exaggeration and reductionist history of this dynamic can be found in many places, including Shakespeare’s famous antagonist in The Merchant of Venice.

A weasel.

I feel preemptively defensive reading the name Weisselberg in print, knowing that some will hear it as Weasel-berg and not Why-sel-berg. In quick succession, portrayals of Jews as vermin and rats fan through my head like an old frame-by-frame animation. This includes the appearance at carnival in Aalst, Belgium in 2019, of a float with big nosed Jews sitting on bags of money. Or the image of a human headed snake with a “Jewish” nose encircling the globe, one of the many variations on the cover of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion…Tropes and conspiracy theories persist and mutate. As image after image of Weisselberg comes across my screen and timeline—an image which will increase as the legal case builds—I understand that he, the Jew, is the current face of the empire, though he rules it not! We know from all the brain studies that are proliferating these days that, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” Here, the mirror neurons firing together fuse “Jews” with money, corruption and world domination. I note, too, the number of Jews with which Trump has surrounded himself, up to and including his son-in-law.

This is why I am ever grateful for an alternative understanding of what story is getting written here and how to make sense of it for myself and others… And the deeper I get into liberatory work, the more I understand that experience (of oppression) and analysis (of that oppression) are not the same.