In the weeks since Charlottesville there’s been a fair bit of “What can we[*] do about hate?” talk—on social media, in NYT and WaPo and Slate op-eds and think pieces, out on the street and around supper tables. As someone in a class of folks disproportionately on the receiving end of the most resent paroxysm of hate, I have a suggestion:
Take “Awesome Baby Steps”
EXAMPLE: Last week the skatepark in my town—the one my son and I go to, the one lots of kids in this area (and, notably, lots of brown kids) use—got hit with motor oil (intended to ruin the concrete for skating) and dozens of swastikas and slurs.
The city, of course, responded in no time, and had it all clean in hours—God bless ’em.
I went to skate there the next and found two things: 1) that the park was uncharacteristically busy for an early Saturday morning, all happy families showing resolve; and 2) it was covered in this new chalk graffiti
It’ll sound dumb, but this made me feel better. This, in fact, moved me to tears. Folks punching Nazis in Charlottesville did not move me to tears or make me feel safer. Neither did folks tearing down statues (although I nonetheless applaud that, and more so applaud the many cities who have covered and removed statues in the meantime—because tearing down the participation trophies handed out to white supremacists, nominally honoring traitors, is what you should do after winning a war).
But kids coming out with chalk to make sure I knew that they continued to welcome me in civil society did make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel better in excess of the amount the defacement had made me feel awful—and that slap in the face had left me livid and enraged and absolutely nauseated with a dread so atavistic that I sorta imagine it’s more akin to what a mouse exposed in vacant stubble feels than to any un-fun emotion an employable White man might know. (This isn’t to say that White men don’t know bad times; it’s to say that there is a very specific flavor to being history’s perpetual prey).
Those kids with their chalk, that was an Awesome Baby Step. It didn’t take much—not much money, not much time, not much risk—but it made me feel a great deal better. The pay-off was totally disproportionate.
Again, I know this likely sounds silly. “Dave,” you’re thinking, “You know us! We see you every day when you’re walking your dog; we nod at each other and wave. You know we’re cool with you!”
Listen: You can never, ever presume that the folks targeted by hate can continue to feel confident that you are OK with them being Americans. Don’t argue with me about it being stupid or paranoid or insulting—it’s just a fact of life. In fact, the ability to look at rank-and-file White people with confidence and feel that this person has your back is the first thing to slip. After all, someone voted for Trump, despite all the things he said. Someone buys those Confederate flag stickers, someone goes to those rallies, someone breaks out the spray-paint, someone dials in the bomb threats. It’s just not a possible state of affairs that every White person I see is one of the “Good Guys” and all the bigots are magically somewhere else—but also close enough to trash my skatepark, flyer my streets, drive through my neighborhoods, vote in our elections, etc., etc., etc.
So, here’s one example of an Awesome Baby Step you can almost certainly do almost immediately:
Start being super friendly to people of color every day
Nothing crazy, just always make a point to smile and acknowledge and greet—like, constantly: When you pass on the sidewalk, walk into a building, at the checkout line, whatever.
The best case scenario is that these folks—who may have taken some hateful shit recently—feel less on the outs with the country. The worst case scenario is people think you are just a super friendly person. Either way, none of us think “This person is coming to hurt us.” It’s either a win-win, or just a win. The odds are with you.
(If this seems disjoint—what with me mostly talking about anti-Semitism to this point, and now I’m talking about people of color, and the Venn Diagram of “brown” and “Jewish” in America is frightfully close to just being a pair of tangent circles—just know this: My lived experience, and that of most Jews I know, is that White people who are shitty to people of color are fairly likely to be shitty to Jews, too.)
Another Baby Step in Being Awesome:
When folks get targeted with words of hate, take a moment to counteract that with words of support
EXAMPLE: Our local Jewish Family Services got a bomb threat last Monday. (In case you don’t know JFS, they aren’t an agency specifically offering services to Jewish families, but rather a non-profit founded by Jewish families to offer services in general, sorta returning the favor for the support many of our families received as refugees in the 20th Century). Our local JFS is the primary agency handling refugee resettlement for Syrians here in Ann Arbor. That particular building is also a food pantry for struggling families in general. So, threatening to bomb them isn’t just an attack on Jews: It’s an attack on the poor in general, and immigrants of all sort. It’s a mean, small-hearted, fucked-up thing to do. (Not for nothing, but if you are a White person pissed off that White families are struggling, I can tell you for a fact that JFS is handing out food support to just those exact White families that you, as a White Supremacist, want to see helped. So, really, what the fuck?! Let us feed your people, OK?)
You probably feel bad learning that some jackass felt the need to totally derail a day of JFS trying to help immigrants and poor people (people who, more so than most, can hardly afford to “come back tomorrow; we’re closed because of a bomb threat.”) Maybe you want to bend the arc of the moral universe back toward justice—but don’t know what to do. Try this:
Call JFS, tell them you support what they do, and make a donation—even a tiny one. Multiples of $18 are a traditional sum among Jews (it’s symbolic of Life), but anything is fine—or just voicing your support: 734-769-0209
I see a lot of White people and gentiles crying because we don’t know the “content of their hearts,” or whatever. But I’ve got to level with you:
As a Jew—as one of the JEWS that was told last week that his skatepark and his wife (a “white woman”) were not for him, that he should DIE—I don’t particularly care what is in any of your hearts, because your heart isn’t going to kill me.
It’s your hands that will kill me. And so I’m watching your hands. I am wary, because wariness is what got my grandfather (Z”L) out of Ukraine before he joined his father in a ditch. Wariness is what got my Aunt Lola (Z”L) through Auschwitz and to these shining shores.
Right now, your fingers dialing the phone, your voice, your words, your eye contact and smile are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Use them to take awesome baby steps.
It is 2017: You can take baby steps toward white supremacy, or baby steps away. There’s no standing still anymore—because there never really was.
[*] “We” in this case has disproprtionately—sometimes explicitely, more often implicitely—been White people (and nominally White people, like myself). So I’m addressing that crowd—but let’s be real: These baby steps work for all of us. See also MLK’s 8 Commandments.