I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this because obviously I don’t want to. After attending lovely services during Hanukkah and the Sabbath at my friends’ son’s bar mitzvah in San Francisco, I came home hoping to recreate the experience at a synagogue near you. I started in Central City at one of the oldest synagogues in New Orleans, in an area that used to be home to many Jews and is now home to many African Americans. This synagogue was one of the only ones to invite a young Martin Luther King to speak when he was in New Orleans.
I went by myself to test the waters and see what they had to offer a 4.5 year old. Everyone was more than welcoming and warm and embracing. I had asked the rabbi if there were any people of color and he said there is an African American man who comes by himself sometimes, and that the president of the Brotherhood was married to an African American woman. Okay, I said, let me see.
The experience was a good one in many ways; however, the utter lack of youth gave me pause about bringing my son there. But then on leaving, I was mentioning the lack of youth to women there and was saying I would try the other synagogues and one said to me, very sweetly, “You should try Temple Sinai, they accept anyone there.” I didn’t even know who she meant but since my mother had converted to Judaism before I was born and I have encountered people in my life who have gone out of their way to point out to me I’m only half Jewish, I thought this might be a comment about me or those like me. But no, that wasn’t what she meant. She made the comment again and added, “I met a Black young gal there. They accept anyone.”
In the last few weeks, I’ve been busy with some end of year projects for work as well as our recent trip to the West Coast, and although there are, as there seems to always be, many topics on race and parenting that have surfaced, I have been quiet. The reason is – call it white privilege – after a while my head and heart hurt from hearing how “those” people speak about “these” people.
As long as they seem so removed from me, or us, I keep thinking the future is either, as Oprah said, a situation where we have to let the dinosaurs who were raised and steeped in racism to die off or that little by little the voices of oppression, which are only getting more vociferous because their days are numbered, will be silenced.
Unfortunately, when the offender is one of your peeps, all bets are thrown off.
That is why I read with interest how so many are defending Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty because they identify with him even though they believe what he said was racist and homophobic. He’s not bad, he’s one of us, with just some mixed up notions in his head.
In a workshop I held on race and parenting, I asked the group if they would disassociate themselves from a family member if that person was racist, heterosexist, or some other form of obnoxious especially if the relative targeted their adopted child. Most said they would just turn the other cheek because that person – grandma, uncle so and so, or any elder who held hierarchical family status – was only seen on a limited basis and so they would just say, “Oh, it’s just granny and you know how she is” and one day she’ll be dead and gone and it won’t matter except in the anecdotes we tell about her.
I found this disturbing. Am I that much more radical than most? I think if I were sitting at a dinner table and a family member made a racist remark about African Americans, my son and I would have to leave not only the conversation, but the family table, for good.
Recently, I read an article that said children’s cells live in their mothers’ brains. I thought about what that means to a transracially adopted child who is plucked from their memory life – where they learned voices and rhythm in utero to being born into hands where the skin matches their own to smells, sounds, and tastes that informed their earliest days only to be thrust into something different. I thought about how obnoxious family members are not just found across the adoptive family table. They lurk everywhere. While my son’s cells don’t live in my brain, who he is now lives within me in a way that only an adoptive mother could speak of – he is my son.
So on days and weeks when I check out of the conversation on racism, knowing fully well that my son will not get a pass at all in his experience of racism, I feel no community among my peeps when they perpetuate separateness rather than inclusion whether that be here at my synagogue or in Israel with the Palestinians; I feel no sympathy for reality stars who are good in every other way except in acknowledging we are all one human race rather than us versus the homosexuals & Blacks; and I know that any day I give myself a vacation from addressing these issues is unearned time off.