Van Jones is a problem for the Black community. To be clear, Jones has been a problem for the Black community for quite some time.
He is one of those cringe brothers you wish you could put on mute, especially when something significant to our community happens. You just know he is going to say something cringe-worthy that is going to embarrass us all.
That said, his latest stunt is egregious and unforgivable. And as a collective, we need to call Van Jones out and hold him accountable for his transgressions against us.
In case you missed it, Jones recently gave the keynote address at the UJA-Federation of New York Wall Street dinner. During his speech, he offered an apology to the Jewish community—but just what that apology was for continues to be a matter for debate. (Catch his full remarks here).
As explained by my colleague Zack Linly:
…Jacob Kornbluh, a journalist at the Forward, a Jewish publication, reported that Jones apologized for antisemitism on behalf of Black people.
Kornbluh later recanted his report and tweeted the exact opposite — “To the contrary: [Jones] stressed that many in his community are speaking out forcefully — but the damage had already been done, renewing simmering tensions from Jones’ past comments about the Black community.
First, Van Jones does not represent or speak for the Black community. That he would stand up there and talk about us as if we are a monolith is astounding but not surprising.
A recording and transcript of the speech Jones delivered were published online yesterday. Regardless of where you stand on what exactly he was apologizing for, the entire thing reeks of both-sideism. Jones discredits activism in the Black community, throws Black people under the bus in favor of trying to score points with white people and blames us for Kanye West. In short, this mess stinks, but let me go point-by-point and explain why.
Jones starts by saying, “I’m going to start off with an apology for the silence of my community and for the speech of my profession.”
It’s that opening statement that gets me irritated because it sums up the meaning and the intention behind Jones’ entire speech. Jones is apologizing and saying that the Black community didn’t speak up about antisemitism, including Kanye’s antisemitic remarks. As if Kanye’s antics fall on us.
For someone who makes his living using his words, Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones certainly knows what he was doing there. I am positive his word choice was intentional, which adds another layer of WTF to this entire thing.
“When we were hit as a Black community with appalling anti-Black bigotry and racism that the whole world saw on a video, we expected and insisted that everyone stand and roar back against that hatred, and people did,” he continued. “By the tens of millions, people marched in a pandemic — by the tens of millions — non-black people, to say, ‘we will not accept this sort of racism, this sort of violence, this sort of hatred on this planet.’ People marched by the millions.”
Van Jones knows good and well that going all the way back to the days of slavery, Black people have known how to pull together and activate like Voltron, raising our voices to cry out against injustice. We have definitely had allies along the way, and we appreciate those who stand loudly with us to call out these systems of oppression that continue to push back against us to this very day.
But make no mistake, we will raise our voices and speak for ourselves even if no one else says a word. To take the years of activism Black people have been doing and reduce it to something that occurs in a vacuum of whiteness is to diminish the work of every freedom fighter in history, and Van Jones knows this.
He went on to say that when antisemitism became the talking point, Black people “rationalized over and over and over again, responding not with a roar, but often with barely a squeak, and sometimes a shrug.”
The Black community has been calling out Kanye’s rants for years, and his latest antisemitic remarks are no exception. Does Van Jones know me? Because I went on CNN, where Jones works, and spoke out against Kanye in 2018 when he said that “slavery was a choice.”
We have collectively been ringing the alarm about Kanye. When he was out there wearing “White Lives Matter” shirts and making anti-Black statements, the silence from everyone who isn’t Black was deafening,
But I guess none of that matters to Van Jones, who went on to say that because Black people allegedly did not speak up on Kanye, “we now have the shock to you, the pain to you, and the humiliation to us of having an African-American icon praising Hitler and Nazis. And we act like we don’t know where the hatred came from.”
He again apologizes for “the silence” of his “community” and declares, “the silence is over.”
The Black community has never been silent on Kanye’s antics. We might not always agree as a group on where we stand with him, but he has been a talking point for at least the last six years. I am not sure how Jones missed all that since he considers himself the Ambassador of Blackness.
Throwing an entire race of people under the bus because of the actions of one person who is most certainly in need of immediate intervention is definitely a choice. It is a choice rooted in anti-Blackness.
The many ways in which Jones contorted himself during this speech to appeal to his white audience were at Stretch Armstrong levels. I’m not sure I heard the Jewish community or white people, in general, speaking out when Kanye was doing the anti-Black thing. And I didn’t hear Van Jones addressing that.
As is usually the case, white people only began speaking out on Kanye when his antics landed right at their front door. Before that, there was noticeable silence from everyone, including the brands that raced to cut ties with him after he made antisemitic comments. The hypocrisy is loud and wrong and a slap in the face.
Jones swiftly moved from throwing Black people under the bus to giving an impassioned speech about how there are “very fine people on both sides.” He went on to claim we are all wrong to think there is something wrong with race relations in this country.
I’ve learned that “stupid” is an ableist word, and I work hard not to use it, but in this case, I have to say—Van Jones is very stupid.
You cannot dismiss the political climate in this country, one that is caught up in the last withering gasp of white supremacy and uses propaganda and anti-Black rhetoric to further an agenda determined to keep us marginalized as a people. You cannot pretend that we are making all of this up in our heads and that everything would be OK if we just sat down and talked to each other.
Minimizing our oppression in an attempted kumbaya moment for Black and Jewish people to come together —as if it is not a daily part of our existence and something that sets us apart from every other minority group living in this country —is one of the dumbest things anyone could do. Yet, in two minutes, Van Jones managed to do just that. Implying that Black people don’t speak up for other oppressed groups is a flat-out lie, and Van Jones knows it.
I would caution Van Jones not to act as if he speaks for all of us because he does not. I would also caution Van Jones not to fall into the trap of tap dancing for white people at the expense of his skinfolk. As has been evidenced time and time again, those people will turn on you at the drop of a hat. Just ask Will Smith.
And I would caution everyone to understand that Kanye is not Black people’s responsibility nor our problem. We have been speaking out against him and his word choice for years.
It’s not our fault Van Jones is late to the party.
Monique Judge is a storyteller, writer and journalist living in Los Angeles. She is a word nerd who is a fan of the Oxford comma, spends way too much time on Twitter, and has more graphic t-shirts than you. Follow her on Twitter @thejournalista or check her out at moniquejudge.com.