Friday, July 8, 2011

Racism vs Fear of Racism + Working Upwards

First a short story:

Long, long ago,  I lived in a different neighborhood. I lived in Jerusalem.  And, I would always take my twin girls to a nursery in that neighborhood.  Only thing was, whenever I passed a certain corner, there were these little boys there -almost waiting for me, it seems like. 

Like clock work, everytime I passed near them, they jump up and yell at me in Hebrew.  At the time, I didn't know as much Hebrew as I do know and wasn't sure what they were saying. (Also, my brain had this habit of just not trying to read or hear Hebrew).  So, I chose to ignore them, since I couldn't fight them.  I was sure they were saying some racial slur and was even embarrassed to go by there.  But it was my job to get the girls to and from the nursery sometimes and so I had to do it.

Well, one day, one day when I got good and tired of feeling kicked at, I made up my mind to give a good talking to to those little boys!

So the day came.  I was taking the girls back from the nursery to home, as usual.  And as usual, there were those boys some standing some sitting at the curb.  Sure enough as soon as they saw me they began jumping and yelling.  This time I listened to what they were saying....

"Please, please can you help us cross the street!! Please!!"

I was so embarraased.  All this time....all these days...they had been asking me to help them cross the street!!  In my own constricted mentality, I just interpreted unknown variable x to equal racism!!   I quickly gathered the boys around me and when the time was right, we all crossed the street together.  Then the boys ran off some this way and some that way off to their homes or down to the next curb.

Quite often--and I doubt I am speaking just for myself-  we just assume racism or quite often we don't even try- not because of racism, but because of the fear of racism.  I didn't even try to hear the boys out of fear that they were being racists towards me.

This can really hold someone back. Negative emotions are not simply emotions, they almost help the reality to be a certain way. Emotions are like cups, buckets, vessels.  When we invite a certain emotion around us, we are also inviting that cup and those types of vessels only hold "certain" types of "goods" --and it ain't good!

Well, I pray we can fight this.  I know the situations and locations are different.  For me, there is a lot less racism living in Israel, than in America.  I doubt in America a bunch of white boys would beg me to help them cross the street.

There is another problem that I see, but I haven't heard anyone address it.  I certainly hope somebody with some popularity or celebrity status address this. Anyway, before I state the problem......another story...!

A man from South America was very poor.  But he was also optimistic and worked hard.  He made friends with an Italian who asked him to come to Italy. He came, however, he had no money.  So he had to work at all sorts of jobs, construction, janitor, waiter, anything he could find I took. He wasn't afraid. and slowly he saved what he could.  One day while sitting and resting from a job, he saw a synagogue. He decided to visit it.  The people there were nice to him, even though he wasn't Jewish.  And he came again, and again, and again. Finally, they accepted him in the synagogue and taught him whatever he wanted to know about Judaism. 

One day he confessed he wanted to convert.  The Italian rabbi wrote the proper papers and he managed to buy a ticket to Israel. Once there, he learned until his conversion. Again scrapping by with whatever jobs he could, he survived in a foreign country.

He left holding his head high with an Israeli passport and can return free of charge with the Israeli Law of Return!

Great story! True story!  Could such a scenario work for a Black person?

In the same situation with a Black person, would he be nicely received in Italy? If he worked odd and end jobs, could he get by with the money he scratched and saved? Maybe I got it wrong but sometimes I wonder if life is a bit harder for Blacks.  Like if they had small construction, janitorial jobs that maybe people would want to make sure they stay there and not progress or save or rise -maybe not necessarily by doing anything, but by subtle means. By their expectation which comes out in their choice of words, which comes out in their actions (for example, asking them to carry something too heavy vs if it was a white guy, getting help for him because he's not expected to be able to carry such a heavy load without hurting his back). And nevermind the outside influence, there is always -for Americans- the image of slavery that has been beaten into our heads, so when we work odd or manual labor, its hard to push that imagery out!   I don't know. I am just wondering about these things.

To be fair, I was also homeless when I first came to Israel. I had to work as a cleaning lady for a while and live in a youth hostel. So I'm not saying its impossible.

As far as solutions go:  I think the Israeli army got it right. They discovered that in order for the Ethiopian soldiers in the army to be successful, they needed to have at least two Ethiopians in a brigade.  Just one surviving all by himself will drive him nuts and bring him to depression and loneliness. Even when there is no overt racism involved.

I wonder if this could be applied in regular life? Having a good buddy- a kosher buddy now, I mean a real friend who's got your back. Someone to carry the other when they start feeling the effects of subtle hurts or something?

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