In the Jan. 5 Georgia run-off election, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff emerged victorious. This brought the United States Senate to a 50-50 party split, a symbol of relief from years of partisan fighting and gridlock. These victories also brought more inclusive representation to Georgia and the U.S.
Warnock will be Georgia’s first Black senator and Ossoff will be Georgia’s first Jewish senator. The two faced ugly attacks from their opponents that not only mischaracterized their political viewpoints but drew upon antiquated fears of Black and Jewish Americans. Their opponents put out images that distorted Warnock’s skin tone and enlarged Ossoff’s nose — both images intended to evoke fear, mistrust and general “othering” from White, Christian voters. After open polarization, race baiting and anti-Semitic attacks, it’s a relief to see that such tactics were unsuccessful.
In fact, the victory of these two senators-elect represent a unity long sought after among Black and primarily white Jewish communities in the South. During the era of segregation in the early 20th century, Black Americans were openly denied access to white-owned banks, stores, schools, etc. At the same time, Jews, while not as openly discriminated against, were also viewed as “less than” and forced to conduct business in poorer, less advantaged areas. “Jew stores” emerged throughout the South as corner stores run by Jews that were safe and welcoming to their Black neighbors.
In the 1950s and ’60s, as civil rights leaders staged sit-ins and marches in the name of racial justice, their white Jewish neighbors marched alongside them because they had witnessed inequality and wanted to be a part of the solution. Now, both the fight and the allyship continue. This is not just about a history of working together but a future of leadership.
And Georgia is not the only example: Look at our vice president and second gentlemen, Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff. Harris will break many barriers as the first Black woman, first South Asian American and first HBCU grad, among others. Emhoff will not only be the first second gentleman but will be the first Jewish American in the White House. Together, they set new precedents for underrepresented Americans and their marriage serves as a symbol of possibility and unity.
Whether from organizers in Georgia or the attorney general’s office in California, voters have decidedly said that they are looking for something new in Washington, D.C., representation. Minority communities across the country have seen darkness these past few years with mass shootings in synagogues and churches, hateful rhetoric on social media and political campaigns, and police shootings and racial injustice. Representative leadership is not a magic wand, but it’s an important start in having true advocates and partners in the search for unity.
Max Weisman is the communications director for Councilmember At-Large Isaiah Thomas, the secretary of the board of Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School and a Democratic committeeperson in East Falls.