OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Scattered around the internet (by which I mean Twitter) are photos of signs people have put in their windows and messages they spray-painted on their walls, all with a common theme: “This business is owned by black people.”
For example, business owner Tony Zaccardi writes in Newsweek, “I felt I had to write a ‘Black Owned Business’ sign on Palmer’s Bar”:
Looks like certain businesses in Newark have been marked as “black owned,” presumably in anticipation of potential rioting tonight pic.twitter.com/YPDGfd78j5
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) May 30, 2020
"I've had to paint 'black owned business' on my Minneapolis bar during the riots" https://t.co/pAUJGdKyAC
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) May 30, 2020
People are encouraging rioters not to damage black-owned businesses.
DO NOT BURN THE BLACK OWNED BUSINESS!!!!!!
— Nola Darling (@naefxckinbae) May 30, 2020
If you are rioting this week DO NOT TOUCH A BLACK-OWNED BUSINESS
— VON🐍🖤 (@RealDealSlime25) May 30, 2020
(Pro tip: Do NOT read the replies to these tweets.)
This makes me feel uncomfortable.
No, I’m not upset that black-owned businesses aren’t being targeted, I wasn’t hoping to see them burn down. Any business that survives this reckless violence is a win. It makes me uncomfortable because it’s an identical message to another rash of discriminate violence called Kristallnacht.
Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, was in November 1938. Over the course of the evening, Nazi officials and citizens around the country destroyed 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, destroyed almost 300 synagogues (and damaged a thousand more), and at least a hundred Jews killed. The German name translates to “crystal night” in reference to the shattered glass of storefronts glimmering in the streets.
The reason given for the violence was outrage over the murder of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew. Obviously, there was much more to it than that, as antisemitism was already rampant in Germany and was about to get way worse. But the assassination created an opportunity and an excuse.
But why am I telling you about Kristallnacht? It’s not like we’re heading toward a genocide. It’s not the establishment that’s rioting. God willing, these riots will not carry nearly as much historical significance as Kristallnacht does almost a century later.
The reason I bring it up now is because, when you strip down to its essence, the signs saying “black-owned,” you get to the conclusion that whether or not it’s okay to destroy someone’s business, property, and livelihood depends on their race.
Is that not the exact same message behind Kristallnacht? Jewish homes, businesses, and places of worship were demolished because one Jew did something bad. It was targeted violence toward people of a particular group.
Today, people are burning and looting almost indiscriminately, with an exception given to black business owners. Conversely, that means white-owned businesses are being targeted. Because four white people did something bad.
I’m not saying the riots are targeting white people the way Kristallnacht targeted Jews. But what these two events have in common is that whether or not someone’s building “deserves” to be destroyed depends entirely on one’s race (YES I get that Judaism is a religion, not a race–don’t parse my words in the comments). That bothers me. It should bother you, too. It should bother us all.
The good news? After Kristallnacht, many Germans expressed their disappointment and disavowal of the violence. They cried for those targeted. They refused to participate. They helped their Jewish neighbors clean up and rebuild (at great personal risk). They condemned the violence.