Whew, I need to get this off my chest.
I have some bad news, folks. I do not live in a racist community. I live in a racist world. I spent a great deal of time in New York City and Los Angeles and I wouldn’t call either of the Jewish communities I live in while I’m there racist. In fact, I have found the Los Angeles, Riverdale, Upper East Side and Washington Heights Jewish communities especially welcoming.
So you can imagine how saddened and shocked I am when someone in these communities has opened their mouth and rather unexpectedly said something awful. No matter how many times I hear something awful being said, it doesn’t become any less shocking. Every time it makes me want to curl up as I die a slow painful death.
No, I wouldn’t call the Jewish community anymore racist than the Dominican community I grew up in. I would never call an entire community 100% racist because that would be generalizing. How could I be Jewish if I believed that all Jews were racist? How could I be Jewish if I let these bad experiences taint my feelings towards an entire people? But for many people, it takes just one cruel word to push them away from the Jewish community and so I am trying to prevent people from uttering them, I am trying to make them more aware of choosing their words more wisely.
Would I call most of the people who have hurt me by making racist statements virulent racists? No, they are not the type of white supremacists to shoot up Holocaust museums. They are not the type to discriminate against hiring someone because they are a person of color. They are even the type who do have friends who are people of color but in spite of this hold on to stupid prejudices. When Obama became president, I thought someone put it well when they said this would be the end of “overt” racism but subtle racism still exists. People have their prejudices and their stereotypes and for some reason, I end up smack dab in the middle of them all too often.
For every story I’ve heard about a person of color experiencing racism (or some other form of discrimination) in the Jewish community, I’ve heard a story where a person of color has been embraced with no questions asked. But one does not cancel out the other. And for every letter I have received that said “That is my story! I, too, have experienced racism!,” I received letters (rather lengthy ones) from people saying that this was not their experience and that they convinced themselves that my experiences were somehow invalid or confused.
We cannot rid ourselves of racism by pretending that it doesn’t exist. We cannot rid ourselves of the problems the Jewish community and the broader community faces by sweeping things under the rug. And as a writer, I would be the last one to hold to the notion that one must be silent rather than air a community’s dirty laundry. Because as a writer, I am aware how mighty the pen can be over the sword. Writing can cause change.
In the same week, I published two stories: one about the racism I have experienced in the Jewish community and the other about how the Jewish community has embraced me…and even my non-Jewish family. But you can guess which one I’ve gotten the most comments on.