SUBJECT: The PotUS sanctions bigotry, assists persecution
Dear [NAME TK],
I was truly and deeply dismayed this morning to read the President’s remarks on the recent NFL decision to fine players who kneel during the National Anthem.Specifically:
“You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Just to be clear, I don’t particularly care for football, nor for labor practices within the NFL.If that employer wants to set a weird (to me) rule about how to comport oneself during pre-game musical performances, then that’s for those employers, their employees, those employees’ union, and the courts to sort out.
I’m not even that concerned to hear a President so blithely unaware of existing First Amendment precedent; sure, I learned about cases like West VA State Board of Ed v. Barnette in middle school, but not everyone benefited from my fine education, and not every President can be a noted Constitutional scholar.
But I’m extremely concerned when I hear a sitting U.S. President breezily opine that a group of people who believe differently than he “shouldn’t be in the country.”I grew up in a community with a very small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses—folks who, for religious reasons, do not pledge allegiance or stand for the National Anthem.As a Jew, I did not share their beliefs—but I was taught, by my family, my faith leaders, and my teachers, that their beliefs were worthy of my respect.More to the point, I was taught that their beliefs were due equal protection under the law—just like mine.
Violent crime in general is trending down in the U.S., but hate crimes continue to climb—and speaking out against any element of that rising tide of hate and bias seems to run the risk of having a target painted on your back by a big bully, who we inexplicably permit to continue to bludgeon private citizens from his bully pulpit, uncensured.
“Yes,” I said, “Probably the only one in this room right now.” (I thought one of the gringo lawyers was Jewish, but she had gone out to smoke, so I felt pretty safe with this claim.)
The tico husband nodded his head sagely, smiled, and said, “The Jews control all of the money,” and then his smile froze and eyes went wide as his ears registered what his mouth had just said.
I want to stress that I didn’t feel there was any actual anti-Semitic content to the statement. During both this most recent visit to Costa Rica and my last, the groom had cause to emphatically insist that there is no anti-Semitism in Costa Rica, sorta out of the blue, which I take to be an indication that it’s pretty common in some circles. But ticos are, on the whole, the least aggressive or confrontational people I’ve ever met. As far as I’m concerned, they can hate Jews with as much vigor as they might muster, as I can’t imagine that ever building up to the point where someone would even bother scratching a swastika into a bathroom stall door, let alone killing my entire family and incinerating the corpses. It’s just not a tico thing to do. They don’t even yell at stray dogs, stupid drivers, or smarmy guys whistling at female joggers from passing cars.
Found this in a stack of unlabeled 78 rpm records I bought off eBay, like, a billion years ago. No time to lay down a new track this week, so I just digitized this instead. Mysteries within mysteries, etc.
. . . that it never dawned on me that the dwarves in Snow White, etc., are Jews—especially because I was already familiar with this and this and a slew of earlier print sources (see e.g., the “Lead” section of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, Richard Wagner’s descriptions of Jews, etc.) as well as stuff like this, and so on.
Anyway, just no idea where my game was at for this one to have given me the slip for four decades.
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
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.
I wrote about this via Twitter back in January. I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here. I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God. And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows. But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history. And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up: I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.
I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.
Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…
…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…
…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…
…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…
…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…
…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …
… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…
…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…
…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…
… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…
… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…
… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.
Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.
I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might meditate on this story further, as you go about your days. Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.
Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today: Tell this to your sons and daughters. This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook. Not monsters. Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs. No more, no less.
The argument looks kosher—there’s a neat graphic, and even footnotes to a reputable, impartial source!But if you actually look at the link indicated for footnote #2, you find pretty much nothing other than this graphic:
While this graph does show 46% of Jews to be in the top 18% of earners (the largest percentage for an identified American religious group), it is not possible to extrapolate what percentage of which religious persuasions occupy the 1% from this graphic (i.e., those earning in the $500,000 to $1.2 million range).
Anyway, just another reminder that on November 8, 2016 me and my kids were fired from being White—again. 🇺🇸🔥
A couple summers back my wife and I watched THE PURGE on Netflix.We weren’t expecting great chops as either sci-fi or horror (it’s sort of the lazier ends of both), but we were both sorta taken aback by how bafflingly racist the whole thing was.
Just to be super-duper clear: I’m not saying that the filmmaker is racist (I don’t really have any clue who the guy is; he looks white-ish in pictures, but who knows—or really cares—what his identity is).I’m not saying the actors are racist.I’m not saying that any aspect of the conscious intent of the film is racist. In fact, it sorta goes out of its way to be tokenishly multicultural and non-racist (the only totally morally uncompromised primary character is the nameless black male, one of the more prominent secondary characters is a black woman, there’s an Asian man in the mix, and all of the villains are white and explicitly upper-class)—which what was precisely what made it so baffling: even though the film worked to be formally racially progressive, both my wife and I (nominally white people) found ourselves queasy with some of the lines these actors were obliged to say (specifically constantly and exclusively referring to the black man as a “pig”) and found ourselves almost simultaneously asking aloud mid-film:
“Jeez!How the hell would a black person feel watching this?”
Or, more to the point, how would a black person feel watching this film knowing what I know?
Because, through a crazy coincidence, I happened to know something about this film not immediately apperent to average viewers, but certainly known to the filmmakers:
The film opens with a montage of faux surveillance cam footage of various violent crimes, establishing the cultural mood of this near-future dystopia (you see some of this montage at around the 26sec mark in the trailer embedded above).The sort of things you’d expect: Liquor store robberies, riots, a woman getting held up at an ATM, a black man with a sawed off shotgun jumping a police station lobby counter and firing at police officers, etc.
But here’s the catch: I recognized that last piece of footage, which I’d stumbled across in 2013 doing research for a client.It was not faux anything; it was actual CCTV footage from a Detroit police station.The black man with the shotgun was 38 year-old Lamar Moore, his motive is still unknown, and he died during that attack. In fact, he was fatally shot just after the piece of footage used in THE PURGE‘s mood-setting montage.
The final, violent minutes of a black man’s life were used to set the mood for a mediocre Ethan Hawke vehicle.Someone found that footage and edited it in.Someone made sure the rights were cleared, so they wouldn’t get stung on copyright infringement later.And that someone didn’t seem to think, in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, that this might plausibly be a sore spot for anyone (for example, 37 million Americans).
This, for me, finally highlighted the bright line difference between “racism” and “white supremacy.”Racism is really about a conscious framework, a deeply seated belief that people of color or Jews or immigrants or whoever have certain essential characteristics that make them unfit.White supremacy is assigning the interests of white people primacy–generally in complete ignorance of the experience of non-Whites, in much the same way that you probably never think about the impact patching a hole in your eaves has on the squirrels who’d set up house in your attic.A racist thinks black people are lazy and Jews are greedy cheats (or whatever), while the vast majority of rank-and-file white supremacists probably don’t think about them at all.While all white racists are implicitly white supremacists, not all white supremacists are necessarily racist.
Do the makers of THE PURGE think ill of black people?I don’t think so–but I also don’t think they honestly considered the existence of black viewers as sentient entities who might view this film and think “What the fuck are you people doing?!”
’cause Donald Trump is the guy who’s says stuff like this:
“Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. … I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”
Meanwhile, I’m a Jew, and even if I’d never met another Jew in my life, I’ve still met me.And earlier today I was hanging out with Brian, and he’s black, and he–likewise–has met himself (as well as his sister, his children, his parents, etc., etc., etc.)Obviously, we’ve met each other.
And I really and sincerely do not believe that Donald Trump is so tremendously stupid or naive that he honestly believes that he is less anti-Semitic than every living Jew and less racist than every living African American.
As such, the only possible way that he could believe the sentence “I’m the least anti-Semitic/racist person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” is if he either doesn’t conceive of Brian and me as being part of the “you” he is speaking to (which is weird, since I heard him say that in a live presser, and therefore literarily was part of that “you” at the very moment he spoke) or he does not conceive of us as being “people.”
Does this make him a racist or an anti-Semite?No, not at all; he’s a white supremacist, and he really and honestly doesn’t even think about me and Brian existing at all, nor how his words and silences impact our lives.
I imagine some of you are getting damn tired of hearing this, all this whining and “identity politics” that “divide America” by “drawing attention to our differences” because, after all, we’re all the same underneath. I hear you, and I understand. But I’m absolutely terrified that, in the absence of me saying this stuff, then you aren’t thinking about the fact that I exist at all, and might just do things—or fail to do things—that get me and my children killed.
UPDATE: Exactly twenty minutes after posting this I got an email telling me that a bomb threat had been called into my daughter’s daycare at 9:10 AM. They’ve evacuated the building, and my daughter is currently being hidden someplace secure, someplace I do not know where she is, while they sweep the building.
So here we are. This is my day. This is America in 2017.