Monday, July 11, 2016

A Very Uncomfortable Post for Comfortable Americans

Whose lives matter? 
This day in age, one cannot answer that question without making a political statement.  If I were to give an honest answer, I would surely be cashing in on my “liberal stripes.”  Surely, as a liberal, I must adhere to #blacklivesmatter.  And I do. 
Clearly, no matter how hard I try, I will never truly understand the struggle of being a person of color in America.  I have worked several jobs where I was the only Caucasian in the room.  I have as good as immersed myself in non-White America as one who was raised an upper-middle class Jewish American can. 
And yet, as the saying goes, When in Rome, no matter how much pasta I eat, I will only be a second-class citizen at best. 
But does that mean I shouldn’t try?  Does that mean I shouldn’t align myself with #BLM?  Absolutely not.
There are a few uncomfortable truths I would like to air out in this post.
1)     Yes, white privilege exists.  Anyone who disagrees is lying or in denial.  I have more than once experienced this.
How many times have I been in a group of black people, and people thought I was “the boss”, in charge, or some figure of authority thereof?  And in none of those situations did I explicitly state that I was any of the above.  People merely assumed that the white guy with the stiff posture who walks with a gusto must be the man.  Body language, sometimes unintentional, can be damning. 
I’ve been accused many times of being racist.  Sometimes it was “race baiting.”  A customer didn’t like the way I looked at her, so she assumed I must have a problem with black people.  It happens.  But most of the time, it was what we call microaggressions.  Little things that weren’t intended to be harmful, but still made me look like I was not comfortable being around black people.  For example, seeing a group of black teenagers conversing loudly and vibrantly, quickly walking the other way.  I wasn’t doing it to be racist, but it was obviously perceived as such.  Those who know me would know that wasn’t my intention; but those who didn’t would think I’m being like George Zimmerman. 
Yes, white privilege exists.  And it is the duty of all white people who aspire to have meaningful coexistence with black people to be aware of this. 
2)     White Guilt.  What is wrong with #AllLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter, or anything else like that?

It’s that many people who espouse views like that have traditionally been using it for racist purposes.
What’s wrong with being proud to be white?  Nothing.  But bear in mind that if one searches for “White Pride” on Google, they will find plenty of websites supporting KKK, Neo-Nazis, et al. 
Some would suggest taking back whiteness.
I would say the climate is not ripe for that.  After all, it would be perceived as being an affront to #BLM.  It wouldn’t add to the conversation.  It would only further drive a wedge. 

I may not agree with absolutely everything that every member of #BLM says.  But I agree with the message at large.  That black people have been unfairly targeted for long enough.  Even in our day when slavery has been abolished, Jim Crow laws are mostly banned, even in our day when segregation is no longer de jure, it still happens on a de facto basis; and it needs to stop!

So now is not the time for white people to speak.  That would be akin to when Kanye stole the mike from Taylor Swift.  Sit down, listen, you’ll have your time, this isn’t it. 

3)     On the acceptability of casual racism. 

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, it’s that for many Americans, bigotry is okay as long as it’s not against your own group. 

I am astounded at how many Americans can turn the other way at Donald Trump’s many infractions.  And his campaign too.  There are too many to list right now, but anyone who hasn’t been living in a cave for the past year knows what I’m talking about.

I speak especially to my Jewish brethren.  Once upon a time, there were Americans who used the same rhetoric against the Jews that Trump uses against Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, et al.  There was a time that plenty of Americans associated Jews with communists, anarchists, Elders of Zion, and other pernicious stereotypes hellbent on unpending society as we know it.  Yes, there was a time that Jews were barred from the highest jobs in the country.  I’ve heard many stories about those days from my grandparents (and people their age).  Some of them still maintain a general mistrust of non-Jews because of those days. 

Don’t Do Unto Others….. not just a Christian concept.  Many world religions have a concept similar to this adage by Hillel.  There is a simple litmus test proposed by Abraham Foxman, founder of the ADL:  If you want to know if a statement is racist, make it about the Jews; if it now offends you, it is racist. 

Let’s try one on for size:  “We are going to deport every undocumented Jewish immigrant from this country.”  Or “When Israel sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

Catch my drift?

America has a long way to go before it fully embraces the dictum it was founded on, the dictum Jefferson said was self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator [whomever that may be] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. 
Meanwhile, one cannot turn on the news without hearing of more atrocities being committed against peaceful protesters.  I cannot log onto my Facebook newsfeed without echoing the words of Ecclesiastes, all is vain. 
I cannot accept a world where people assume that because I am white, and because I sometimes slip up, that means I am on the wrong side of history.  And I have worked hard to eliminate my childhood biases from my system.  But I must accept that no matter how hard I try, I will never be fully accepted—not by either side of the spectrum.
I choose to stand with #blacklivesmatter.  I choose to stand with them because many people of color in America still have a very raw deal; and it needs to end. 

Uncomfortable as it is for me to state this, it must be said.