Disclaimer: This blog has nothing to do with the arts
I was in second grade when I heard my first Jewish joke. It was one of the standard "Jews are so cheap" jokes. In Sixth grade I heard my first holocaust joke. In seventh grade I was told by a classmate that "I don't like Jews". In eighth grade I met my great-grandfathers girlfriend and saw her tattoo from Auschwitz. In ninth grade I first heard someone use the phrase "jewed down".
When I was a young adult and people would ask me if I was Jewish I would always joke "Well my dads family is Jewish but he's an Atheist. My mom is Christian. I never had a bar mitzvah and except for the occasional Passover Seder we don't practice at all. So...in the eyes of Israel, not a jew. In the eyes of the next hitler, totally a Jew." It was a joke I made because I really believed that day would never come. Then last weekend I saw video of hundreds of white (mostly) men chant "Jews will not replace us.". So maybe that day is closer then I realized. Of course I can pretty much hide my Jewishness, but my friends of color don't have that luxury. That is what privilege looks like.
When Donald Trump was elected president I remember watching Fox News as they played video of people crying, and ran stories about schools and universities offering counseling or approved days off, and the hosts laughed and made fun of them. They made the mistake that people were upset that a republican won, or that our candidate lost, but they were wrong. I was upset because I watched a man who ran a campaign based on xenophobia, fear, anger, and violence ascend to the highest position in our country. I was upset because I wondered if the country felt like he did. Were we a nation of bullies?
In my heart of hearts I want to believe that we are not. I want to believe we are disgusted as a nation by what we see around us. I want to believe that America is ready to do something about racism in this country. The problem is, I think we're really divided on what racism is, and more importantly if it's really a real problem. You see when I talk to my friends whose views differ from me, they typically describe groups like those at Charlottesville as fringe groups. They tend to disagree with the idea of systemic racism while acknowledging that there are certainly racist people.
So I've been thinking about what can we do. What can I do? I certainly don't have all the answers but here are some of the ideas that I've been reflecting on:
If you think Systemic and extrinsic racism is an issue you can:
- Put your money where your mouth is. Donate to organizations that work to fight racism. Donate to the ACLU, the NAACP, The Southern Poverty Law Center, etc. We may not all have time but we all have some money. Give it away when you can.
- Go to rallies. Sometime it might feel silly to gather as a group and listen to speeches, and light candles but there is a point. It's a way to show under-represented communities that they have allies.
- Run for Office. That's right you can change the system by legislation. Run for city council, school board, state senate, dog catcher. Run.
- Confront Racism and Bigotry when you see it. It will take far more courage then you realize but we need to more to stand up when we see it.
If you don't think Systemic Racism is a real issue here's what you can do:
- Remember that it's only been about 50 years since the Civil Rights Act Passed. How fast does change happen? Not that fast. Your parents or grandparents lived at a time when it was illegal for Blacks and Whites to drink from the same water fountain. That doesn't change overnight.
- Find opportunities to talk to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community about their experiences. Listen to them. Go to forums, go to guest author speaking engagements. Go and listen with an open heart and an open mind.
I would love it if my daughters could go awhile before they have to hear their first jewish joke.