Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Long Road Home

A long forgotten image comes to mind.

I am five or six, maybe seven years old. And, I am riding my 4th of July, or perhaps Memorial Day, decorated tricycle, streaming with red, white and blue crepe papers.

I am all excited to be going to the parade, especially on this particular day when I will ride my bike in it. My Mom and Dad are in on the fun too.

I like the event. I am happy and feeling very much a part of a celebratory day. Everyone around me seems equally pleased.

This is the America I will remember in a small Ohio town. I carry the memory with me always, stored along with the other memorabilia that make up the treasure chest of who I have been and who I believe I am now.

But today as this image comes to mind, it seems a bit off. Viewing it with the fresh eyes of an expanding perspective, the pleasure of the day remembered is disturbed. New Horizons’ Coffee House Conversations On Race Relations is prodding me to take a second glance at it. I am saddened by what I see.

The scene revisited now alerts me to the fact that other than the red, white and blue of my holiday decorations there is an absence of color in the picture; the color of people who are not white like me.

Now I see signs signally that I was born to “white privilege.” Oh dear, I hadn’t noticed it before!

Sameness, not sameness got to concerning me when I realized that my Jewish mother determinedly kept me apart from non-Jews. As I got older I resented this. Resented it without paying attention to others around me, less noticeable than my self-centeredness allowed me to see, who were also excluded from belonging. But for reasons their elders might not have chosen for them.

Emancipated from this circumstance, by college and then into my adulthood I rectified my situation, after all the choice was mainly mine.

Bleaching my hair blonde camouflaged my physical aspects so I could readily hide my Eastern European, Jewish roots. The Six-Day War of 1967 and my troublesome views on it offered me license to even take an anti-Israel position. Again the choice was mine or so I thought.

Later I would look back on this as also being my ticket to declaring myself as having quit being Jewish.  Still later I gave myself permission to even be anti-Semitic. Of course, now I know that one cannot quit being Jewish. Jewish born, especially of a Jewish mother, is forever Jewish, no matter what!

Still the notion that belonging or not belonging was always still up to me stayed with me.

This was, of course, long before I understood I fully understood the lethal scope of anti-Semitism. In the meantime my evolving adulthood values turned to feminism and civil rights. The war in Viet Nam was of less immediate concern to me. But the rifle-toting, anti-war demonstrators I encountered around me in Washington on what I thought was an ordinary work day, heading for the Mall for May Day Protests, brought that circumstance more closely into my awareness.

Taking a stand for peace and social justice, thus, became a part of who I became, a long ways away from the days of my little parade decorated tricycle.

Nonetheless, outside of the days and the years immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the personal influence it had on me, I am realizing today, this very day at hand here that, in spite of my dedications to equality and bridge building across any and all barriers that divide people, what I have contributed of late to the progress of racial equity has been quite sparse.

And, especially being Jewish I should have known better. So today I am accepting that I have a long way to go if I am to truly understand my brothers and sisters of racial and ethnic difference from me. I’ve only just begun what promises to now be the beginning of a whole new chapter for me on behalf of equal rights, altruism, honor and respect for others different from myself, peace and social justice.

I’ve got to go farther than formerly to do my utmost to honor those who were not welcome to ride in my parade; a parade open only to those privileged to be white.  

I see this now, with shame and humbleness. I have been marked by white privilege. 

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