On one of our family boat trips in the Pacific Northwest, we were deciding whether or not to travel a passage that was described as stunning but needing cautious navigation, when my husband blurted out, “F.R.I.W.A.F.T.T.” Responding to questioning looks, he explained to our family, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
That pretty much explains why I want to continue the discussion about the racial crisis roiling our country. It certainly would be easier to write a Musing about a book I have read, about summer’s approach, or about ZOOM friendships, but it would be cowardly. Like most people, I find it uncomfortable to be disliked, especially by those who previously liked me. It pains me to know that my words are a source of pain to others. Yet, I am going to write. Let me first explain why I started writing my Musings.
I loved being pregnant. Whatever I was doing, whether it was eating or sleeping, reading or daydreaming, I was being productive. How can you beat the accomplishment of, “Take a nap and build a kidney!” As a mother, and particularly as a homeschooling mother, I had no questions about whether I was engaged in a worthwhile activity. Partnering with my husband and God to produce human beings whose presence would make the world a better place seemed an eminently profitable endeavor.
Along the way, I also taught adult Bible classes, supported my husband’s work both in the Jewish community and outside of it, welcomed hundreds (thousands?) of people to our Shabbat table and stood alongside friends as they built their own homes and families.
One day, as inconspicuously yet dramatically as the sky lightens in the morning, many of those roles had disappeared or minimized. What was I to do now? I discovered that I had absorbed a great deal of wisdom along the way and that, perhaps, I could use that on a larger scale than before to benefit others in a world that seemed increasingly confused and wrong-headed.
Doing so entails risk. One of the major perils is being wrong or, of being right but expressing those ideas in the wrong way. Surely, one can do less harm by just staying quiet? The Bible rejects that argument. While there are innumerable rules defining incorrect speech and warnings about misusing one’s tongue, withdrawing from society and staying quiet when words and actions are needed is not a preferred choice. When I chalk up the gifts God granted me, they include a certain ability to formulate thoughts and express ideas with words. At a time when I do feel that the promise of America is being closed off, choosing to ignore that gift is not an option.
I know that the minute a Musing touches on the issue of race, some readers feel alienated and reject both my words and me. There are many wounds out there and ripping off the bandage hurts. But not ripping it off allows the infection to fester. Our society is being pushed, pell-mell, to do something—anything. We did that with health-care and other issues as well. The result is often less fairness, more pain and more suffering. So staying quiet isn’t an option.
My hope is that others will engage with me, letting us both expand our understanding. I appreciate that many have done so. As a female and a Jew, I don’t accept the argument that only Jews can speak about Jews and only women can speak about women. Similarly, I don’t accept the idea that only dark-skinned people can speak about race. If that were all true, we would need to separate all human beings from one another, because none of us share the same experiences, backgrounds and identities. We would need to go back to measuring percentages of racial make-up and to defining ourselves by material rather than spiritual criteria. The trick is to communicate and relate despite our differences, not to use those differences as excuses for alienation.
Having said that, I find it interesting that there are many Black voices being raised that do not agree with the agenda of BLM, but they are being silenced and hidden. You have to put in the effort to find those voices whereas Leftist voices get front-page treatment. (Here are three examples of counter-PC views: https://www.facebook.com/realCandaceOwens/videos/273957870461345 and https://www.prageru.com/video/how-to-end-white-privilege/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88-dV9K_cHE&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR0aJCCJDbSikOF8AWjiw09lfFXjCi016bC8knrmUITFRsB7PdWFmy9Bld8.) There are many more articles and videos for those who look.
After that rather long introduction, here goes.
In the past week, I heard from two friends (one Black and one White—and I hate that I need to describe them as such) as to why they support the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” While I think that I could have a polite discussion with each of them as to whether or not that is a good phrase to champion, I don’t actually think that opportunity exists anymore. Because there is an organization called Black Lives Matter, using the phrase provides support to that organization whether it is intended to do so or not. Making support for that organization the defining feature of a person’s character seems counterproductive to me.
My grandfather was a kind and gentle man. He valued other people and went out of his way to show appreciation for all. Once, towards the end of his life when I was visiting him in the hospital, a cleaner, a Black man, came in to mop the floor. My grandfather conversed with the man and thanked him. After the man left, my grandfather said to me, “We need to thank everyone who does something for us no matter how big or small that thing is.”
Yet, this same grandfather often used the word “shvartze” to identify a black person. An immigrant to America, he occasionally lapsed into Yiddish and in Yiddish, the word “shvartze” means black. My grandfather used that word in exactly the same way that he would have identified someone as a redhead or tall or wearing glasses. “See if you can ask the shvartze nurse for some more water.” There was zero malicious intent or judgment in his words.
Over the years, that word has taken on the connotation of a slur. If someone in my generation uses it, good people need to object. Why and how it turned into a slur is irrelevant. The fact that it technically means ‘black’ is irrelevant. What matters is that good people should neither use that word nor allow others to use it.
I can hear the argument that the phrase “Black Lives Matters” in and of itself has value. In my mind, that is now irrelevant. Intentionally or not, regretfully or not, it has been tainted by association with approval of violence, promoting hatred based on race, opposing traditional family and society and expressing more of a desire for revenge than for rapprochement. There were many peaceful protests over these past weeks. They received very little press. If the Black Lives Matters organization had been front and center condemning and opposing violence and looting, I would have a different opinion of them. If everyone who wore a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt had stood to protect lives and property, I would have a different opinion. Maybe in some localities, they did—if you have specific examples to relate, I’d like to hear of them. If they rejected and stood against Antifa, I might have a different opinion. If I knew where the enormous sums BLM is receiving were going and approved of those efforts and places, I might have a different opinion.
I don’t think all—or most—of the people chanting the slogan or joining marches where that phrase is given center stage support anarchy or the end of having local police forces, just as I don’t think that my grandfather looked down on anyone when he spoke. I do think many supporting BLM are good people who are hurting, but I think they are being manipulated and will be among those who suffer if BLM gets more power. History is full of similar examples. In this case, those words are muddying the waters and causing unproductive distance rather than leading to solutions and progress. The phrase has become an albatross rather than a dove.
A few years ago, anarchy was let loose on city streets and violence and looting erupted through the vehicle of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. The immoral participants were largely White. Along with many others, I was appalled at both the behavior of the rioters and the cowardice and sniveling acquiescence of politicians, pundits and academics as they genuflected before uncivil and illegal behavior. Lives were lost and much property was destroyed.
When similar behavior but under other auspices is taking place today, do I have to ignore it because it is being done under the banner of “justice” or “against racism”? Or because a larger percentage of the hoodlums (though by no means all) are dark-skinned?
A discussion of injustice and of racism needs to be just that—a discussion. Unpleasant truths on all sides need to be aired. When some voices are muted by being fired from their jobs for presenting facts or they are threatened with violence, no good person’s cause is being advanced. When statistics are manipulated and when inflammatory rhetoric incites anger, no good person’s cause is being advanced. When uncomfortable questions are forbidden and when destroying people’s livelihoods replaces arguments, no good person’s cause is being advanced.
I believe that most Americans want to live among people who share their values. Overwhelmingly, those values include a belief that excessive and prejudicial (let alone illegal) force by police is wrong. Overwhelmingly, those values include a respect for law and order. If we cannot understand who, in the short space of a few days, manipulated us as a nation that shares a common ground of being horrified at what happened to George Floyd, to a people divided and facing the specter of destroying our civilization, we face a future that is bleak indeed. For that reason, I keep writing.