Dear Jeremy and Ayla,
I want you to know that I am capable of great doubt. There are days I doubt myself; there are days I doubt humanity; there are days I doubt the existence of God; there are certainly days I doubt the fact that everything will turn out well in the end. I am cable of great doubt. I am however, a tireless hopeful. I hope for peace; I hope for understanding; I hope for genius; I hope for humanity; I hope for good. Hope and doubt are not mutually exclusive and both are inherently important to truth seeking, academic inquiry, and spiritual cleanliness. When I watch the news, conjecture on the affairs of state, and even plan lessons for my classes I temper my perceptions and assumptions with great hope and great doubt.
As I look at the events of the past several months in Ferguson, Missouri and over the past couple hundred years of our nation, and of the past several thousand years of our species I find much to hope about…and much to doubt. In our fictions we, humans, often paint ourselves as special in the universe. We paint ourselves as cosmic children—ever with a sense of awe, undying hope, and an internal barometer of justice—navigating our way through the universe trying to do right. For all our Superman and Wonder Women, the gods of our modern myths always accede to humanity’s superior capability for hope and morality. But, I doubt we are all that different from anything else out there….at least anything that evolved the same way we did. Hungry, territorial, violent.
Built into our nature are responses to others, those different from us who threaten our status quo, our comfort, and our food. We are a highly social animal, but those societies are tribal. We stick to our own and redefine who our own are constantly. In America, we have yet to fully embrace the gamut of races, creeds, and lifestyles that fall under the umbrella of the nationality.
We are judgmental and adversarial by default and create little kingdoms, borders, and tribes for ourselves on economic, social, political, racial, religious, professional, regional lines (and more). We divide ourselves to define ourselves and we define ourselves to belong. We create unequal systems of having and not-having; systems of being and not-being; doing and not-doing. This is not entirely a value judgment…just an observation.
In parts of the country they don’t like people from “New York” and in New York some don’t like those from “the South”. Jamaicans and Haitians don’t always get along and neither do Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Jews and Arabs, Blacks and Whites, Republicans and Democrats. Hatfields and McCoys.. We separate to define, we define to belong. Almost never do we define to include—we create exclusive groups with rules for inclusion; prerequisites.
I look back at Michael Brown, left dead in the street for hours. Criminal or not, is that something we do? Which group is Michael Brown included in or excluded from that makes it allowable to leave him dead in the street for hours, and for a simple apology to suffice for that? It feels like the equivalent of a head on a spike at the town gates. I wonder about the choices I’ve made and I wonder…what would I be on either side of the gun in that case? Would I be the White police officer or the Latin victim? Which conveniently polarizing definition would be painted on a sign around my neck? Would I be left in the street for hours or sequestered away from the media for months? I get angry…because then I worry about the two of you.
We’re lucky to live in New York, we often times get included into the protection of White Privilege for being less brown than black. Outside of New York, we’d not be so lucky. Even on the playground, I watch you both play with the other little kids and I see how drastically not-white you are in comparison to the fair and pale children who will be your peers. Will you be tokens of brown-ness, included others, will you be Jews, will you be whites? Will you be blamed for every missing pencil and lost toy? I hope not, and I try to assuage my doubts.
When Trayvon Martin went without justice, I feared for you both as the brownest kids. My fears redoubled, and I wonder still if I can ever let you walk to the store without wondering if I’m saying good-bye. It’s a fearful thing. No matter how you divvy it up, our family is only white by our collars—another exclusive group that means we got educations and keep our hands soft—and I wonder are we too comfortable.
Are we somehow repeating an awful history by defining ourselves by our professions, our academic achievements, and our economic status—even our patriotism and nationality as Americans—rather than as Jews? Or a mixed ethnic family? I argued this with myself in the car driving home, trying to find a way to not be so disturbed by the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson.
I tried to stand in his shoes…and I wonder if would have blasted away. I have hopes, and doubts…but at the end of the day I’m not a police officer. I do know one thing though—it wouldn’t take much for it to be me in the street, just as it wouldn’t have been much for me to be in a cattle car or in an oven or a gas chamber. If our defnitions are so important…how do we prioritize ourselves? We exclude and we include and when one group typifies the other as “animals” or less than human we’re moments away from dead in the street for hours.
When there’s an us and a them we’re in trouble…
Of course, the problems in Ferguson, in America, in the world, go much deeper than one man shot and killed by a differently hued police officer. We can’t admit that we all subscribe to prejudices and clutch our belongings when the right (or wrong) persons shows up—dressed a way, hued a way, looking a way, believing a way, adhereing to our vilified fantasy adversary group.
Sometimes I want to scream “Just call me a spic already!” or “Just call me a kike!” I’ll live and I’ll know where we stand and we can work from there—be more savvy in our dealings. No surprises. No code words We tolerate each other and go about our business. Political correctness has buried the problem of prejudice not solved it. Code words pushed the hate underground, where it festers and explodes in riots, looting, frustration, and destruction. That same rioting that some do at sporting events, that same rioting that happens “just for fun” over pumpkins…but instead over oppression, repression, and misrepresentation. There’s no pill for inequity, we can’t forever suppress our inability to deal with race with innuendo and euphemism.
As always, I cannot offer you answers, only questions…and not always the right questions. I can only hope that when Jeremy is 25 and I am 50, when Ayla Grey is going gray that these problems will be a matter of the past…horrible recollections of a barbaric age where social constructs like race and ethnicity were of consequence. I can only hope…but I have my doubts. I’ll stick to my hopes as my frustrations meander and I try to prepare you for a world I cannot protect you from. A world without a Superman, but with Truth and Justice…and a real American Way.
PS- It is always my pleasure to watch you grow and watch you grow in understanding. As the holiday season descends upon us I am thankful for the opportunity to have you both in my life every day. To see you make sense of the world in the way that only children can, in the way only children will. I hope you will keep your sense of imagination, wonder, and joy in discovery for all your lives—that you will continue to pursue experimentation and knowledge seeking for its own merits, and that the world will hold joyous pearls of experience in every endeavor.