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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
and they hurt my heart 
5th-Nov-2012 11:48 am
I am back home, finally, and starting to feel somewhat like myself again. I'll write more about that later.

Two things for locals:

* s00j and Heather Dale are performing at Brandeis tonight! Doors at 6, show at 7.

* We will have an open-house election-results-viewing tomorrow evening. If you can't take the agita of watching alone, feel free to come over. BYOB. We are currently low on B.

Okay, so.

One of the Florida-family things that is so tremendously painful for me is the casual racism.

I could not talk about it while I was there. Not even a casual comment on Twitter. Because I was in survival mode and I had to be calm and poised and not losing my shit all over everyone. And even talking about it a little would have uncorked all of that anger and distress.

My tactic for dealing with family racism this time was polite incomprehension. "I've never heard that about $GROUP/$RACE. Where does that expression come from?" "No, I'm linguistically interested." "Actually, that's not a real thing." "No, I'm not being difficult, I'm being precise." Like, I'm being precise when I want to make it absolutely clear that we're talking about a racist caricature of black people or Muslims, just so I know we're all on the same page. I want to be really clear about the words coming out of your mouth.

So that was most of my week.

And Saturday Dad's driving me to the hair salon, and we're talking about politics because it's a battleground state and 85% of every day is spent talking about politics. Dad is a lifelong Democrat. He voted for Obama last time, and will be voting for him again later that day. He agrees that Obama has been an excellent president.

"But, y'know, I'm not a fan of black people in general."

He tosses this out just as a natural part of the conversation. Like he expects me to nod in agreement or say "oh, yeah, I know" or "me either", and then just sail on.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath.

"Dad? Why would you say something like that?"

"Well, you know!"

"I really, really don't know. Help me understand."

"Like gang members. Thugs."

"But there are white gang members too. There are all kinds of gang members. That's not exclusively a black thing, and most black people aren't gang members."

"Well, but that's what you see -"

"Then you should change where you look."

And this went on a little, with me trying to explain the socioeconomic pressures that lead to gangs, and reminding Dad that Bernie Madoff was a white guy, et cetera, all the time struggling for composure, and him calling me difficult. "Why do you care about this?" he said, seeming honestly baffled.

Oh, god. I care about this because you hurt my friends when you say things like this, even when no one's listening. You hurt me. You hurt my heart. You smash it into flinders as I struggle to find a way to rationalize the terrible things you believe about people you have not met and will never meet, who you regard as less than you, and I don't understand. I don't understand.

The Jews got this too, you know, this being regarded as subhuman, this hatred and discrimination, which is why I struggle so much with trying to understand when Jews do this, when they think this. There seem to be two paths the recently-destigmatized take - the zero-sum path where they turn on someone else and dehumanize them, and the path where they understand and help.

And my dad is on that first path and it hurts my heart. I want him to have been better. I want him to be better. I want him to do better.

There is a principle in Judaism called tikkun olam - healing the world, repairing the world, fixing its broken pieces for the good of all. And this, this awful zero-sum path - this is not tikkun olam. I am not all that religious, as Jews go, but this is a concept that is at the core of me.

Flavia Dzodan said "my feminism will be intersectional, or it will be shit."

I say that my Judaism, my life, will have tikkun olam or it will be shit.

What is it worth if we hate other people? What is it worth if we don't help people, regardless of their differences from us? What is it worth if we refuse to see, to hear, to understand other people?

If you do these things, if you dehumanize other people - if you saw people just a few days ago with the numbers on their arms and you turn around and dehumanize other people - you are not a good Jew and you are not a good person, and I don't understand. I don't understand how you can be that way and I am trying so hard to understand so I can help, because I don't want you to be that way. I don't want anyone to be that way.

I want to repair the world. So should they.

Sometimes they hurt my heart.
5th-Nov-2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
This is so eloquent.

Would you consider turning some part of it into a personal letter, and mailing it to your father?

Edited at 2012-11-05 05:01 pm (UTC)
5th-Nov-2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
I'll probably write something up about tikkun olam and send it round to the whole family. I will need to be more subtle than "If the only people you think are people are white American heterosexual cisgender Jews, you are FAILING at LIFE please STOP."
5th-Nov-2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
There is a principle in Judaism called tikkun olam - healing the world, repairing the world, fixing its broken pieces for the good of all. And this, this awful zero-sum path - this is not tikkun olam. I am not all that religious, as Jews go, but this is a concept that is at the core of me.

This, this, OMG this, so much.
5th-Nov-2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
I experience this same thing with my southern relatives, and I've got to say it sounds like you handled it so much better than I do. I usually just keep quiet so as not to have to deal with a fight while I'm down there. I think I'm going to try taking a page from your book next year and see if I can make a difference, however small.
5th-Nov-2012 05:20 pm (UTC)

Around what time would you start the election results watching? I get out of work at 630 tomorrow, but might stop by for a little while after. Asking, as I would not be there before 8 what with the mbta.
5th-Nov-2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
Still need to trade war stories?
I cannot guarantee that I can make it to your Election Viewing, but if I do, I'll bring booze.
5th-Nov-2012 05:39 pm (UTC)
I feel for you. The casual racism in my family is disappointing and stress-inducing, too. Unfortunately, I also struggle against it in my own head. I was brought up with it, and it was ingrained, so now I sometimes am confronted by my own racist thoughts and feel horrible. Hopefully I have been and will continue to be successful in checking my privilege and avoiding racism affecting my actions and words.

Edited at 2012-11-05 05:41 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
5th-Nov-2012 06:10 pm (UTC)
5th-Nov-2012 06:14 pm (UTC) - I've always loved the idea of <i>tikkun olam</i>
To repair the world. A beautiful dream. An agonizingly slow process. When you do it, you get cut a million times by all the sharp edges, and the ones that hurt most are the ones closest to you.

To be human is to wade among the sharp edges. That you strive so much to repair the world softens some of them. Maybe when you inspire me to fix a little bit of it and I inspire someone else to fix a little bit of it, and so on and so on like the shampoo commercial you're probably too young to remember, then we actually get someplace. Maybe not to there place, not yet. But someplace that matters.

Hug, when you want one.
5th-Nov-2012 06:22 pm (UTC) - Re: I've always loved the idea of <i>tikkun olam</i>
I've always loved it, too. It's something beautiful. I sometimes forget how privileged I've been to be mostly spared that from my family. On an entirely separate note, say hi to SooJ and Heather and Ben for me. Tell the latter two I will see them in Montréal.
5th-Nov-2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
I wish everyone recognized that brown skin doesn't make anyone less than anyone else. Brown skin--mine or anyone's--simply is.
(Deleted comment)
5th-Nov-2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
I hear ya. I hear ya.
5th-Nov-2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
I read the whole thing. (All the things, really; I wanted to comment about your grandma's funeral but I just don't know what to SAY.)
5th-Nov-2012 08:46 pm (UTC)
May I repost this on Facebook? I know people who need to see it and others who would like to share it.
6th-Nov-2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
I'm asking permission as well. This needs to go viral.
9th-Nov-2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
Not yet; I'll write something that can be reposted.
11th-Nov-2012 06:29 pm (UTC)
My hands are off then. That was beautifully brave and to the point, though. Thank you for it, again.
9th-Nov-2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
Not yet; I'll write something that can be reposted.
9th-Nov-2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
Ok *hugs*
5th-Nov-2012 09:20 pm (UTC)
Two of my favorite expressions in the world have come to me through Judaism.

Tikkun olam is one of them.

(The other is "lovingkindness". I like it best in translation.)
5th-Nov-2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
I like that idea, tikkun olam.. it's one that intersects well with my personal belief of balance. [that you do not balance out the bad, by being just as bad to someone else]

It's a pity so few seem to believe this though. I mean, look at Palestine and the whole never-ending cycle of violence and hatred on both sides...that at least is partly based in racism, again on both sides.

I feel for you, having to cope with this shit at such a time. I wish you peace and beautiful things in order to heal your heartache.

Shalom, and blessed be.
6th-Nov-2012 05:22 am (UTC)
Tikkun olam has always seemed to be one of the most beautiful and moving ideas in Judaism, to me.
6th-Nov-2012 06:56 am (UTC)
Earlier today I went into the little Italian bakery in the middle of Medford that I enjoy. A few people were at the far corner table, talking politics. One of them had a decided lack of volume control and seemed to be spouting information gleaned from conspiracy theories. Me being me, I zinged a couple of things back in a John Stewart fashion, though I dropped it when I got into line properly. After getting my eclair I walked over to the table. I ended up talking with the people there for a little while, the loud one included. When I approached the table, the first words out of my mouth to him were, "I am pleased by your degree of civic engagement, but distressed by your belief in conspiracy theories."

It was a decent conversation generally, though the loud fellow did handwave away inconvenient facts and grasped very convenient-to-him conspiracy theories. Still, at the end of it we shook hands.

I am not saying I approve of his wingnuttery, but I needed to show him respect as a person.

This year, as part of my new year resolutions in September, I said I wanted to heal the world. I did not put it as tikkun olam, though I suppose I could have. It's not really a new idea for me, but it was the first time I put it out so baldly as what I want to do. A big part of how I want to heal the world is to show people how to have dignity and show respect for others. Sadly, I feel that yelling at my kids drags me back far more than most anything else I might do to heal the world. I really want my son to stop being so disturbing in lavatories.
6th-Nov-2012 03:57 pm (UTC) - Jeezus jumping jehosephat
yeah I REALLY don't get it when Jews do shit like that. I confess I mostly stare in uncomprehending disbelief when it happens.

Once I said, "You do realize that other people would use the word 'Jew' everywhere you just said 'black', right?" That got a lot of sputtering and backpedaling.

Of course, the speaker had no idea that there are gangs of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem right now who will throw stones and bricks at car they see driving on Sabbath, or that Israel's founding came about after a massive campaign of terrorist bombings against the British and Arabs.

Those who do not remember history...
6th-Nov-2012 05:25 pm (UTC) - Re: Jeezus jumping jehosephat
And because i think we need some humor with life...
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