What’s it like, being a black chasid?
For Ben Faulding, it means racism on both sides of the block.
“There is racism in every community and the Jewish community is no different,” said Faulding. “I hate to say that the Jewish community is racist but it is something that happens.” He gets comments from the black community, too, he added. “Strangers yell at me.”
Faulding, 30, will be featured in a somewhat ungrammatically titled photo project called “Who I Be,” by California-based photographer Steve Rosenfield later this month. Rosenfield asked participants to pick something they were insecure about and write it on their forehead. This latest iteration of an ongoing project focused on Jews living in New York. Faulding picked a word that always bothered him and wrote it on his forehead with a black marker: shvartze.
In a blog post, Faulding explained his choice.
“It’s always ‘a shvartze stole my bike;’ or ‘if the shvartzes get welfare why shouldn’t we?’ So, this common excuse that shvartze merely means black doesn’t play well with me,” he blogged on Jan. 26. “Shvartze isn’t Yiddish for Black. Shvartze is Yiddish for Nigger.”
Faulding, whose mother is Jewish and father is African-American, said insecurity, rather than anger, prompted his choice of that word. Faulding became observant after a Birthright trip to Israel. He later moved to Crown Heights.
There is a long history of racial tensions in Crown Heights between the Jewish and black communities, tensions that recently flared up once again over a series of random street assaults known as ‘knock-out attacks.’
Still, Faulding says, the reaction to his post has largely been positive.
“A total stranger walked up to me in the street and said ‘I loved [the post].’ Faulding recounted. “A couple of people said they didn’t realize how harmful that word is and that they won’t use it again. I was amazed.”
The photo exhibit, “What I Be: Jews of New York,” will be on display at the Mister Rogers art space in Crown Heights on Feb. 22.