This post originally appeared on my personal Facebook page. Due to the response, I have decided to include it in my blog. It is a personal response to the current events in the United States, and it is no way a scholarly article. I have included links to sources I quote or to which I refer. I appreciate comments, but ask that they are respectful.
I want to let you all know that I care about you, my readers. Oftentimes posting on the internet feels like yelling into the wind, but I want to affirm that I care about you, my fellow people. It feels strange to share these feelings on my blog, but thank you for listening, especially if you disagree with me.
Obviously, I am what is nowadays called “triggered.” I have been triggered so many times in my life over the vast injustices of the world, that I have lost count. As a child this used to happen. Ask my parents about the time that I read Newsweek at the age of seven and spent most of the night freaking out. I don’t even know what it was or why – something that I read about an event in the outside world had me all in a bother. And I couldn’t calm down.
My mother often tells me to stop worrying. But I can’t.
James Baldwin spoke of being in a rage almost all the time. He was speaking of his experience as a Black man in America. I don’t want to co-opt anyone’s lived experience, but truly, I relate to this quote.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one’s work. And part of the rage is this: It isn’t only what is happening to you. But it’s what’s happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance. Now, since this is so, it’s a great temptation to simplify the issues under the illusion that if you simplify them enough, people will recognize them. I think this illusion is very dangerous because, in fact, it isn’t the way it works. A complex thing can’t be made simple. You simply have to try to deal with it in all its complexity and hope to get that complexity across.”
Everything is complicated and painful, and that is why it hurts. Because it cannot be fixed easily. As Ta-Nehisi Coates describes it in We Were Eight Years in Power, “White people wish a magic fairy would make it all right,” and that those of us that want the system of white supremacy to change really just want to make it go away. But it won’t work that way. We all have to do the work and figure out our place in the solution.
I have been in a rage over the injustices of this country for so many years. And I will be honest, I have experienced many of them personally. What you might call “micro-aggressions,” and some were just outright anti-Semitism or sexism. And my friends and family say, “How could this be? I am so sorry you experienced that.” And I say, “How could it NOT be? Have you seen how this society is structured? But you are not responsible for the sins of others. Your responsibility is to not repeat them.”
The system of White Christian Supremacy is ingrained in our society. We don’t even realize it most of the time. It is insidious. The only thing that dismantles it is awareness. For example, in terms of anti-Semitism, if I make my Christian and non-Jewish friends aware of the anti-Semitism of saying things like “Jews are killing Palestinians” or acting like the celebration of Christmas is the norm, just what one does in America (“I know many Jews who celebrate Christmas, why don’t you? Aren’t you depriving your kids of the joy of Santa Claus?”) or call them out when they make disparaging comments about Ultra-Orthodox Jews, they generally stop. And apologize. Because oftentimes, they did not know that saying these things is offensive.
That is why everyone is telling each other to examine their “privilege.” But what is privilege? The term is nebulous. Privilege is not that you had it easy or had money or even opportunities. It is that the color of your skin did not hold you back or make you a target or a threat. To ask someone to look at their privilege feels like an accusation, but it is really asking someone to look at the lived experience of another person, a person of color, and try to walk in their shoes. It is a request to practice empathy. It is not a denial of your suffering. We all suffer. Some suffer differently.
It took me a long time to unpack this idea, but I finally did. I read the aforementioned book by Ta-Nehisi Coates We Were Eight years in Power, a collection of his essays, and work by James Baldwin, and I started to get it. Because I was like a child; I needed it explained to me.
Examining my privilege did not deny my experience as a Jew and a woman, and the injustice I had suffered because of those parts of my identity. It simply made me realize that a) the color of my skin was not an issue in my life, which is a privilege in this country and b) I have a responsibility to stand up for others for whom that is not the case.
I have been in a rage for so many years, “doing the work” as they say, to dismantle the racism and White Supremacy I see and hear around me. How many family members have I told to cut it out when they make a racist joke? Probably some of you! I corrected speech that is derogatory and corrected my OWN speech when I mess up. I have dropped people as friends because of their racism. I have called the legislators and voted for people I believe in.
And I have raged, raged, raged in frustration, because nothing seems to change. Anti-Semitic crime increased by a LOT last year in Colorado. Black people are disproportionately targeted by police. ICE continues to separate families. Muslims from certain countries are still banned. Women still take on the bulk of childcare in this country, and their careers suffer because of it. And there’s more that is still wrong with our country. As a result, I rage, I rage, I rage.
And the rage, it turns out, isn’t just me. It is so many tens of thousands of people. A great rage has been unleashed. A communal rage. The collective is not speaking, it is yelling. It is absolutely terrifying to see it manifest externally, to the point where our cities were literally burning. Which is why I think all of us must seize the moment, and get on board with the change. The rage won’t just burn out—it will increase.
It cannot be contained any longer.
What will burn in the ashes of this great fire, I hope and pray, will be the White Christian Supremacy, the racism of our country, at long last. And if it does not, I will still be there, raging, yelling, screaming, and of course, doing the work.
Because you cannot make the complex simple. But, as James Baldwin also said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Blessings to you, readers. Thank you for listening.