original post, December 7th, 2015
We had a really interesting discussion last night. It was about race. Black/White specifically. The players involved were my husband - white, brahmin, privileged, prep school educated, good college, father was a doctor, myself - nice jewish girl from Long Island, privileged, public school, good college, Law Degree, successful father, and my husband's business partner, black, from Chicago, privileged, well educated, good college, father was a pastor. So the conversation, like all conversations, came from our own frame of reference as well as the broader understanding we each may have based on the knowledge we've acquired over our lifetimes. It was a great conversation. Honest and real. And, because of the fact that we are friends, any misunderstandings or differences of opinions were an opportunity to educate.
This conversation about racism in America today, it started with the question of whether it really still exists. Because we, meaning those who do not live it, we can't really see it. Not in the same way that someone who is it can. So just as someone Jewish may experience the anti-semitic innuendos that are prevalent throughout our society on a daily basis, and just as women will constantly experience subtle - and not so subtle - sexual harassment, not being white in America means a constant awareness that you are not white in America.
Race is a tough issue. Hard to talk about without sounding racist... hell, there is that hard to handle argument that just talking about it is racist in the fact that there would be nothing to talk about if we didn't notice these differences that divide us even while we claim that they don't.
And hard to talk about because when something isn't easily seen by those who are affected by it, it is then very easy to say that it isn't really happening.
Here's an example. When spousal abuse occurs, and it is physical abuse, we all see it. The bruises and broken bones. We see and and so we know it's real. But what of the abuse that is not seen. The shaming and control, the belittling and manipulation. The emotional abuse that is constant and debilitating but that is invisible to the world. In a sense a worse abuse because of its insidious nature. So much harder to believe because the outward manifestation of the abuse is not presented to us in a way that we can process within our general understanding of what abuse is.
This is the heart of racism in America today.
An insidious current that runs along the underbelly of our society. And so those of us who don't live it, because we can't see it, we can say that is is not there anymore. That Jim Crow no longer lives here in America. That we are all equal. But that is not the case.
Just a bit of history: "Throughout the 1830s and '40s, the white entertainer Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808-1860) performed a popular song-and-dance act supposedly modeled after a slave. He named the character Jim Crow. The, after the American Civil War (1861-1865), most southern states and, later, border states passed laws that denied blacks basic human rights. It is not clear how, but the minstrel character's name "Jim Crow" became a kind of shorthand for the laws, customs and etiquette that segregated and demeaned African Americans primarily from the 1870s to the 1960s" (http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/origins.htm).
And Jim Crow is alive and well and living in America.
And if he were a man rather than a methodology he is laughing with joy in the passenger seat of the black man who must be extra polite when he's pulled over for a traffic violation or he is the sales person watching a black patron take in their surroundings in a store to make sure that no-one suspects them of taking something. He is the owner of our jails, still being filled by blacks arrested for minor crimes but unable to fight against an imperial justice system created for the betterment of those who created it. He is the writer of our textbooks, used in our schools to educate our children about race in this country by failing to truthfully educate our children about race in this country. He gifts us tinted glasses, forcing us to see each other as different from ourselves. And he takes over our egos so that we do not admit that we see each other differently than ourselves.
He owns our media and whitewashes (interesting how that word works) our stories. He pretends that all is good while never letting those he has marked forget that all is not.
When I go out in the world, no one knows that I am Jewish. For most of my life I was more often mistaken for Italian when asked my heritage. And there was a period of time where I was really relieved about that. There weren't many other Jewish women at my college, and so it was easier for me not to stand out. Because anti-semitism was right there, in my classroom, my dorm room, at parties and social gatherings. We went to B-jew instead of BU when we went to Boston University for a party. And any talk of wealth came back to being Jewish about your money. I kept my mouth shut for those years. Felt shame and anger but not enough to call them out, because that would call me out and it was easier to blend in.
And here's the thing. I was able to blend in. And, though prejudiced against for who I was, I had the choice to separate myself from it. Not deal with it. It was definitely not the best choice. I regret that I didn't use my voice and call out those who felt compelled, whether with intent or through ignorance, to stereotype a group of people who were different than themselves. But still, the choice was there. I didn't have to fight the battle every day.
I didn't have to be what being black in America today forces one to be. Hyper aware. Vigilant. Careful.