Hi there. It’s been awhile. I’m still unsure of how to proceed in the moment, as far as regular “programming” goes, but I wanted to speak up about the topic that’s been top of mind lately for many of us, and that is the inequality and racism that BIPOC people face.
I know that I’ve been guilty of being judgmental toward people (of all kinds, including my own) throughout my life. As much as I want to say I’ve never been influenced by negative (false) stereotypes and the incorrect stories we’ve been surrounded by over the decades, I’m still aware of the times crazy, intrusive thoughts enter my mind. These are thoughts I consider antithetical to my own beliefs. I immediately feel shame over those thoughts, and ask myself why I still think them. And yet I also know that if I’m aware of these thoughts, there must be many thoughts I’ve had and micro-aggressions I’ve committed that I’m completely unaware of. I’m ashamed of myself for that. I’m sorry for that.
I’ve always thought of myself as a very empathetic person. My whole life, whenever I’ve met a new person, or suddenly took an interest in a famous person, my immediate thought was that I wanted to find out what we had in common. Even when I vehemently disliked someone, I would have fantasies about the two of us coming together over some little commonality—a favorite book, an unfortunate GI issue, LA traffic.
But until now I didn’t realize the problem in that. You see, Oxford’s definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” And the truth is, I can’t understand and share everyone’s feelings, because I haven’t walked in their shoes. I haven’t had the same skin color.
Another problem with only focusing on empathy is that it’s okay and can even be a positive thing to recognize differences, as long as we appreciate and celebrate those differences.
I’m ashamed because I used to think, as a Jew, I must be able to bond with black people over some few similarities in our unjust ancestral histories (I mean, face it—slavery in Egypt is not part of any living Jew’s remembered family member’s history). I am very aware of the atrocities of the Holocaust and the antisemitism that still exists around the world today. But the fact is, I’m not directly affected by antisemitism today. At least, not in my daily life. Black people can be and are affected by the color of their skin in every facet of their lives, every day of their lives. I am incredibly privileged, and it’s not anything I’ve earned. Or, I have earned it, by being human. But BIPOC have not been extended the same privilege that is rightly theirs.
I’ve also been terribly inactive about taking a stand, other than via voting and social media, or in attempts to keep myself aware of the injustices in the world by reading and watching the news. And that’s clearly not enough. I’ll be honest. I’ve been overwhelmed (not just now, almost always), and have been frozen by the fear of feeling uncomfortable. And, like most people, I’m not crazy about discomfort. I say this as someone who is constantly trying to tolerate the discomfort I feel sitting with a craving for a brownie. But I’ve learned that discomfort is what we learn to sit with in order to make life better. For ourselves and for others. Just imagine what could be accomplished in our world if everyone could venture outside their comfort zones.
So I’m starting to learn. To read. To watch. To do the things that don’t require any work on the part of BIPOC. Because they shouldn’t have to. It’ll take me some time. But it will be worth it.