Tag Archives: racism

And Then Sometimes The Future Looks Promising

Working on a summer newsletter writing project with a middle schooler….

Me: “So what do you think you want to write about for your editorial piece? What’s an issue you are passionate about?”
Student: “I was going to write about about making the food in the school cafeteria better, because it’s pretty gross.”
Me: “Oh, great idea!”
Student: “But then I changed my mind, but I don’t know if you’ll let me write about it.”
Me: “Ok…”
Student: “I really want to write about what happened in Virginia, and how sad it makes me feel, and how I think we should all spread love and not hate. And how I think racism is wrong. And I know this might be weird but can I add an obituary section? I want people to remember the girl who died, Heather. I think she was a good person and people should remember her.”
Me:
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I Will Be Proud

When my future children ask me what I did in this moment of our nation’s history, when our president openly defended white supremacy, and likened the morals and actions of neo-nazis to the morals and actions of those standing up for equality, I will be proud to say I publicly denounced it.

I will be proud to say I donated to the ACLU.

I will be embarrassed to say that I knew that wasn’t enough, but I didn’t know what to do next; that my disgust, outrage, anxiety, and yes– privileged white guilt– momentarily crippled me.

But I will be proud to say I swallowed that paralysis, and that I turned to you, to my peers, to my elders, to my community, and to my soul to ask the question “What else can I do?” and I trusted that together we would find ways to make positive change.

I will be proud to say that when my student asked me if I heard what the president said, instead of replying, “I cannot talk politics with you,” I recognized this was not politics at all, and said, “Yes. And I disagree with it wholeheartedly, and I think that we as wiser, kinder, more humane people have a responsibility to speak out for equality, and against racism, at every turn.”

I will be proud to say that I knew, if nothing else, not to stay silent.

I will be proud to say that I continued to search for answers, even though I felt a deep sense of hopelessness and despair.

I will be proud to say that I did something, even if that something was small.

I will be proud to say that I knew doing nothing was not an option.

What will you be proud to say?

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Trump’s America

This just happened. (Note: racial descriptors are relevant to the story. It’s not like I just decided “Hey, you know what’s good storytelling and never offends? Calling the characters ‘black man’ and ‘white guy.'”)

Just now, I was in the liquor store buying 4 bottles of wine (one for each day Eric’s away at his bachelor party). As I was paying, a black man started yelling, in an EXTREMELY loud, panicked voice, “WOAH WOAH WOAH NO NO NOOO!”

The whole store froze. I turned to look at the man, and saw that he was starting at, and seemingly yelling at, a white customer at the register on the other side of the store. Not knowing what was happening, I obviously assumed we were all about to die. Then the black man darted out of the store and confronted a cop who was ticketing his car right there outside the door. Turns out, I was mistaken– he was not yelling at the white guy, he was yelling past the white guy, trying to get the cop’s attention because he didn’t want to get a ticket.

Once I realized this, I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief, looked at the cashier, and said, “Jesus, I thought you guys were getting robbed. My heart just stopped.”

The cashier, a black woman, looked back at me, unamused, and said “Uh huh. Because every time a black man’s yelling, it’s because he’s robbing someone?”

I stared at her, taken aback. The race of the people involved had not even occurred to me until that moment (no, not because I’m that asshole who is going to claim “I don’t see color.” Of course I fucking see color. I have eyes. But in that moment, I was too panicked to process anything beyond the fact that I thought I was going to die right there in Yorkshire Wines and Spirits, holding 4 bottles of cheap sauvignon blanc).

“Actually, no,” I said, regaining my composure (but obviously still sweating profusely). “I thought that white man at the other register was robbing the store. I thought the black man was yelling at him, because he saw him with a gun or something. I thought the white guy was going to kill us, and that the black guy was trying to save us all.”

“Ah. Ok, my bad,” she said.

Then she shrugged her shoulders and mumbled, “Sorry. Trump’s America. I just assume now that everyone is racist.”

The saddest part?

I get it.

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(He did get out of the ticket, though. So…happy, feel-good ending? img_2021-1 )

The Day I Stopped Caring What Old People Think of Me

Years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I worked at a school in the suburbs and had an awesome boss. We’ll call her Diane. Diane was the principal at a predominantly white, predominantly Catholic private school. She was the only black person on the premises, and I was the only Jew, and I always felt like we had a special bond because of that (I am acutely aware that she likely did not feel the same).

Anyway, one day her 5-year-old son came to visit the school, and because we had this special bond (re: I was the only one standing there), Diane asked me to watch him in the yard while she made a quick phone call. He was a gorgeous little boy with huge, beautiful eyes and a vivacious spirit. As I was watching him, a coworker of mine came outside and sat next to me. She was a stuffy, judgmental old white lady who I had absolutely nothing in common with (other than our whiteness) and who, needless to say, never really “got” my sense of humor or personality in general.

It was clear she didn’t like me. But because I was young and insecure, and had a broad, all-encompassing respect for the older generation (a respect I now hand out more selectively, thanks in part to this woman but also thanks to the various old ladies who have spit at me on the streets of NYC), I still felt the need for her approval.

So I tried to strike up a benign, friendly conversation as we watched Diane’s kid climb the jungle gym. “He is just too much, isn’t he? Such a beautiful kid. Diane is in so much trouble when he gets older.”

The woman turned to me, completely unamused and said, “You know, it is subtle statements like that that keep racism alive and present. Most Caucasian people inherently just assume that African American children will grow up to be ‘trouble makers,’ and that attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for them. I don’t see why you would conclude, just from looking at an African American boy, that he will cause trouble when he’s older.”

I stared at her, stunned.

And in that moment, I decided I no longer gave a fuck what she thought of me. Yes, she was old enough to be my grandmother, but you know what? Grandmas are assholes, too.

The prospect of no longer having to impress her was altogether freeing.

“I think you misunderstood me. I said ‘Diane is going to be in trouble when he’s older,’ because he is gorgeous and girls will be falling all over him. Which was a joke. But, to be clear, a joke that had nothing to do with race, and zero to do with him making any actual ‘trouble.’ The fact that you would jump to that conclusion makes you, in fact, the subtle, underlying racist.”

Watching this stuffy old white woman’s face crumble was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

A few days later, she removed the Swastika-adorned wigwams that had been decorating the entryway to her 2nd grade classroom.

So yeah. I’d say we both learned something that day.

 

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Early Warning Signs of Social Awkwardness

When I was a 4th grader, I dressed up as Michael Jackson for Halloween by putting on a wig, a glove, and covering my entire face in white face paint.

Fifteen years later, it is just now occurring to me how horribly offensive that was. I somehow managed, at age 9, to unknowingly create a more awkward and offensive scenario than going in blackface. I even remember one neighbor hesitating to give me candy. I figured he just wasn’t a Michael fan.

The year before that, in 3rd grade, I went as a hobo. I wore a sign around my neck that said “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” In the town of Potomac, Maryland, where there is now a Real Housewives series (inexplicably devoid of any Jews or white people, but that’s a subject for another post) being filmed. Enough said. We had a school Halloween parade (this was back in the days when schools let children have fun), and I marched through the halls and recess yard wearing my dirty t-shirt, disheveled hair, and “hilarious” sign. The other Potomac parents loved it. The other students didn’t get it (they had never seen a poor person). The teachers, who could not afford to live in Potomac, looked away. I figured maybe they felt bad that they didn’t have a dime to give me.

“Don’t worry!” I told my teacher, laughing. “You don’t REALLY have to give me money!”

She did not smile.

Finally, at age 16, I decided to be something normal for Halloween. A friend was throwing a big Halloween dance party, and I went as Cinderella. Full-blown floor length ball gown, crown, the works.

“Finally!” my mom cried as she dropped me off at the party, “I’ve tried for years to get you wear something like this for Halloween!”

I rolled my eyes, slid the mini-van door closed, and walked into the party, fluffing my skirt upon entrance.

I was the only one in costume.

It’s a wonder I ever leave the apartment.

 

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The Student Becomes the Teacher

After I posted Yes. That’s Exactly What the Beatles Were Going For., someone alerted me to the fact that the song “Blackbird” was, in fact, inspired by the civil rights movement. A quick google search during my lunch break confirmed this was true. So after lunch, I approached the kid.

Me: “So guess what? You know how this morning you said ‘Blackbird’ was about black people being free? And we said that was maybe a possibility, but that seemed a bit specific, and perhaps there was a larger theme of overcoming adversity and being brave? Well, it turns out you were exactly correct. Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, said that when he wrote the lyrics, he was inspired by the black women in the Civil Rights movement, who were fighting to be treated equally.”

Kid: “Yeah. I know.” (walks away)

Oh.

Ok.

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Social Anxiety Thought Spiral

That moment when you get in the elevator and press “Lobby,” but there’s a man coming down the hall pushing a cart and yelling “Hold the elevator please!” so you quickly press the “Door Open” button, and hold it down firmly.

Except that the “Door Open” button you’re pushing is actually the “Door Close” button, and you hit it by accident because you are tired and have A.D.D. and are also a little dumb, but mostly because the “Door Close” button looks EXACTLY FUCKING LIKE the “Door Open” button, and really this is the fault of elevator-makers everywhere.

So the door closes on the man’s cart (because again, you are furiously pushing the “Door Close” button). And he watches you as you continue to push the “Door Close” button, and the door continues to close on his cart.

Then he miraculously makes it inside the elevator, despite your (unintentional, but nonetheless vicious and repeated) attempts to sabotage him.

And it is at THIS point, as you are riding down in silence and staring at that uncooperative button, that you realize your error. And you realize that he knows exactly which button you were pushing. And that he must assume you were purposely trying to close the door on him, because no one is dumb enough to push that hard and that repeatedly on the wrong button.

And he’s staring at you and shaking his head.

And he’s black.

And you want to scream out, “It was an accident! I’m not racist! I swear! I am happy to share this elevator with you, sir! I voted for Obama! I have black friends! I FUCKING LOVE OPRAH!!!”

But you’re pretty sure that’ll make it worse.

So you just hang your head down and accept that you’re a racist now.

Just a big, dumb, ignorant racist who won’t let innocent minorities through the door.

You’re basically the exact opposite of what this country stands for.

You’re disgusting.

You should run for president!!!!!!!!! IMG_1451

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Are We Racist?

On Friday, our 4th grade class had “book buddies” with a 1st grade class (it’s exactly how it sounds– 1st and 4th graders are paired up, and they read books together). It was our first book buddy session, so we, the teachers, had to assign the partnerships for the year.

The 1st grade teacher immediately told us that one of her students spoke Spanish and almost no English, and we agreed that it’d be great to partner him with a Spanish-speaking 4th grader, to make him feel more comfortable. So we did.

Then we thought “Oh, WE have a Japanese-speaking 4th grader– do you have any 1st graders who speak Japanese?” And she did, so we paired them together and then watched delightedly as they conversed in both English and Japanese.

“How lovely! We’re great!” we thought.

But then, as we looked around the room and saw Asians paired with Asians, Hispanics paired with Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders/Other paired with other Pacific Islanders/Other….we thought, “Oh, fuck– are we racist?”

Nah. Our intentions were good.

I’ll admit we were toeing the line when we yelled “Hey, you two Jews! Go find a book about money and read together.”

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