Second Middle Age, Systemic Discrimination & Loving Kindness

Second Middle Age has been a boon to me in terms of patience and bandwidth. I have always been a bit on the impulsive side; my husband used to say: “Don’t just do something, Stand there.”  Not acting immediately on impulse has gotten a bit easier for me in 2nd Middle Age.  Also being farther away – living now in Jerusalem, Israel – has made me more observer than actor. 

Until now I have not Tweeted, Instagrammed, Facebooked or otherwise expressed my views.  I wanted to share my reflections thoughtfully given the importance of the issues. 

When we left the US in October 2018, it was after Nazis marched in Charlottesville but before the synagogue slayings in Pittsburgh, PA and Poway, CA.  But our move abroad had nothing to do with anti-semitism and everything to do with discrimination against individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By then it had long since become clear that our beautiful, smart and spiritual son (Aaron, now 26 YO) was being – in his own words – “left behind.”  Aaron is on the Autism Spectrum and it was painful to watch his world get smaller after he graduated from High School on the Honor Roll in 2013.

In case you missed it, in recent years there have been a disturbing number of shootings of individuals with special needs – young men who clearly were not posing any immediate danger or real threat. My own view is that our special young men get shot because their needs make us uncomfortable.

Whatever the reason, we worried every day when Aaron left home to attend whatever shoddy program we had managed to cobble together for him at the moment.  He was learning very little and advancing less. 

And all the while we worried about whether he would have a panic attack that would lead to (his own) aggressive behavior and get shot by police. Or that he could just make the wrong gesture with his hands, reach into his pocket and that someone would panic and shoot him.

(We did not worry about whether he would be assaulted by staff at his Day Program, who then lied about what happened and had Aaron handcuffed and taken away by the police for “evaluation.” Aaron was a lamb and was not hurt in the process physically, though he then became understandably afraid of the head nurse who orchestrated a cover up to protect her junior colleague who had attacked Aaron twice in the space of 30 minutes. We could not pull him from the program immediately but in the meantime I extracted a promise from the Director that the senior nurse – who had verbally threatened to call 911 on Aaron again – would not come near him. Imagine having to have that conversation. And the nurse who had assaulted Aaron was fired.)

Even as a 2nd middle aged mostly-passing-for-white (Jewish) lady, I understand what it is like to worry about whether my son would be shot by the police whenever he left the house without me.

I bring this up not as a digression, distraction, or “what aboutism,” but because  nearly half of the people who die at the hands of the police have a documented disability.

I have always recognized institutional, systemic racism against Blacks. It was a reality in the background that was impossible to ignore or deny. I was proud of the role that Jews played in the history of the Civil Rights Movement but realized that work was sadly incomplete.

Racism against Jews (anti-semitism) also has been clear to me from an early age – impossible to ignore or deny.  The roots of anti-semitism run deep in the Motor City (e.g., Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin). My first experience with anti-semitism as a young girl came from some Catholic nuns in the street who saw my Jewish star necklace and called out slurs against me.

The definition of ‘white’ is dynamic, not static.

Geographically, desirable Detroit suburbs like Grosse Pointe remained ‘no-go’ zones for Jews. Burning crosses in yards were also a thing that happened if a Jewish family tried to move into the ‘wrong’ street. The same restrictive covenants that prohibited sale of property to Blacks barred Jews.

Equally demoralizing, the rise of racism of prominent Blacks against Jews in the 1970s colored my childhood and continues to date. I also recognize the casual racism some Jews express against Blacks.  The sad reality is that no minority is immune from racist tendencies.

In the case of hostility on the part of some Jewish men towards Affirmative Action for American Blacks, it may help to realize that in the first half of the twentieth century Jewish men suffered enormously – educationally, culturally, and economically – from quotas, restrictions and exclusion. “Jews” and “Whites” were mutually exclusive terms. The first generation of Jews that were not subject to educational quotas and just getting a foothold in traditionally Anglo-Saxon institutions were suddenly transformed into White beneficiaries of systemic racism for purposes of Affirmative Action.

The reality is that the suffering of one group does not erase the suffering of another; pitting two historically disadvantaged groups against each other was bound to result in resentment.

Now we are seeing violence against Blacks and Jews approaching near-historic levels in the US and worldwide.  It is a shameful admission that we have learned so little from the past. 

My heart goes out to the families that have lost their loved ones due to this systemic discrimination in policing against Blacks and through hate crimes against Jews.

I am outraged that lives are still being lost in 2020 due to this pointless and dangerous ignorance.  And it is especially upsetting that ongoing civil unrest against racism has been hijacked at times by the haters and anti-semites. 

And I believe that there are outside insidious forces – Russian, Iranian, and other international operatives, that are making things worse via social media, trying to increase dissension to tear us apart.

I am thinking about all these things at once. 

We need to call out what is wrong while remembering what we have in common as much as what separates us.  

We need to understand that hatred hurts us all. 

And at a time when we can’t count on elected officials to be better than they are, we need to step up and do more ourselves.

The only solution is loving kindness.

We need to practice in our personal and public lives love – yes love – and tolerance for all vulnerable populations in the US and in the world.  

Because we are all related.

We are all related and yes, responsible for each other in G-ds eyes.

Racism is the abject failure to recognize our kinship. 

So the real question is how can we start to see ‘the other’ as related to ourselves?

When something bad is happening to a stranger/other/outsider/someone who looks different from you – how does that make you feel? 

Can you imagine how you would feel if it were G-d forbid you yourself or a family member?  

Try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about how it would feel to be pulled over on traffic stops because of your race, or to be threatened with police for just jogging in your own neighborhood or for just being on your own porch. 

These are real things that really happen to people just for being Black.

Imagine losing your own life or the life of a loved one, literally because of the color of your skin or because you have ASD/special needs and your sheer existence made someone uncomfortable.  

Imagine going to a Black Lives Matter event only to be threatened for your faith.  That is happening to Jewish people at rallies in the US and all over the world.  

And outwardly religious Jews are also being physically attacked and killed for their faith. 

All of this is real in 2020. 

Rabbi Hillel famously said: 

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And being for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?” 

And the Golden Rule

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Discrimination of any of us affects all of us.  

So let’s try to be kind and to protect each other from harm.

We are all related.

One thought on “Second Middle Age, Systemic Discrimination & Loving Kindness

  1. This is the first relatively comprehensive and deeper look at race and Jewish relations in America today. Thank you for speaking up. I am sorry for what happened to your son. It’s special that you were able to relate that to how black mothers fear for their son’s lives. That’s compassion. Compassion is the answer.

    Like

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