Tag Archives: NPR

Race Matters: Reflections from a White Southern Jewish Mother

macomb-kids

Joe Crachiola/Courtesy of The Macomb Daily

I’ve been thinking a lot about race lately. Many others have, too, in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal – but I’ve also heard plenty of people saying it’s “not about race,” suggesting that the death of Trayvon Martin, and Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, comes down to guns, laws, confusing jury instructions, prosecution not making their case, and so on.

But let’s be honest – it’s a lot about race.

I am a white woman, born in 1964 in Jackson, MS. I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, attended private schools for most of my education, and worshipped at the local synagogue where, at that time, all the members were white.

I didn’t question my insular upbringing or privilege; my parents owned a restaurant, and worked long, hard hours to provide for us. But lately, I have considered this: if I had been born into an African American family, same year, same city - what would my childhood have been like? And framed by those experiences, what would my adult life look like now?

How can I possibly know? Do I even live in the same United States as Charles M. Blow, a columnist and parent of black sons, who wrote in the New York Times recently: “As a parent… I am left with the question ‘Now, what do I tell my boys?’ We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly. So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?”

Reading that, I think I don’t live in the same United States. I get to live in a society where I don’t have to tell my kids how to walk home safely, because of how they look to others. I don’t have to fear immediate judgments being made about me, or my children, based on the color of our skin. Because I am white. Yes, I am in the minority because I am Jewish, but unless I’m wearing a Star of David, no one sees my Jewishness when I walk down the street. So how can I relate?

I recalled a movie I had seen some twenty-odd years ago. I couldn’t recall the title at first, but then I found it, and the lines I was trying to remember (thank you, Google). The movie’s title is Soul Man. It came out in 1986, with C. Thomas Howell in the role of Mark, a white student who poses as an African American to receive a full scholarship to Harvard. James Earl Jones played the role of Mark’s professor and when the deception finally was revealed, Mark and Professor Banks engaged in the following dialogue:

Professor Banks: You’ve learned something I can’t teach them. You’ve learned what it feels like to be black.
Mark: No sir.
Professor Banks: Beg your pardon?
Mark: I don’t really know what it feels like sir. If I didn’t like it, I could always get out. It’s not the same sir.
Professor Banks: You’ve learned a great deal more than I thought.

That awareness is key: it’s not the same.

We need to acknowledge this, and we all need to learn more. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued the following statement after the Zimmerman verdict: “There are serious, unresolved issues of race in our country, and this trial underscored the need to explore these issues more fully. Hopefully, the debate concerning the justice of the verdict in the Zimmerman case will inspire a continued much-needed discussion about the lingering impact of racism in society.”

There is hope – now, and in decades past. In a glimmer of light this week, NPR featured this story of photographer Joseph Crachiola and a photograph he took 40 years ago in Detroit, of two white children and three black children, clearly friends, in a neighborhood known then (and now) as “racially divided.” The photo I’m sharing again here, in this blog. A photo of friendship. A reminder that we can find connections, and bridge the divide. We are not born divided.

But none of us can do it alone. We need to talk to each other.

Jackson 2000 is an organization here in Mississippi dedicated to bringing the community together in the Jackson metropolitan area by promoting racial harmony through dialogue and understanding, facilitates “Dialogue Circles”– groups of people who commit to a 6 week series of facilitated meetings to meaningfully engage on issues related to race and community. No one is naïve enough to think that 6 weeks of conversation will solve all the problems/issues/inequities that exist, but these conversations, and just as importantly, these connections, help us all move forward, together.

And maybe someday, we will all live in the same country, where all of our children are safe.

 

Posted on July 19, 2013

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Freezing Norwegians

Freezing Norwegian child?

On November 28, 2012, National Public Radio aired a segment about this film called: Africa For Norway: Viral Video Pokes Fun At Stereotypes In Aid Efforts. Have you seen the clip referenced in the segment? If you haven’t, please check it out. It’s called Africa for Norway. You can click on the link, or view the video below.

At the end of the clip, you’re not supposed to be thinking “Oh, no! Those poor, freezing Norwegians!” Instead you’re supposed to be thinking something more like: “Oh, no! Are my attempts to advance social justice relevant? Are they based on stereotypes?”

Africa for Norway is thought provoking because it encourages us to think about how various service organizations that provide aid to people in Africa may, in fact, unintentionally introduce or reinforce existing stereotypes about people living in Africa. This brief film challenges the images we have constructed about African people. Rather than focusing on the poor and vulnerable, this film showcases the continent’s strengths and resources. It forces us to grapple with many questions, including: how would we feel if the majority of media coverage about us focused on our weaknesses?

By demonstrating how people in Africa have resources to share with a country such as Norway, we question why the notion that Africa has something that Norway lacks may or may not be consistent with our image of Africa. The sponsoring organizations posed the following question:

Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway”-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?

What a good place to begin the conversation. So I now ask you the following: When we engage in service, whether the goal is to address an international, national or local need, what are some of the perceptions we may have of the people we seek to benefit? What are some ways in which we can examine these stereotypes and look beyond the financial needs of someone living in poverty?

 

Posted on December 10, 2012

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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