Tag Archives: Racism

Elie Wiesel

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.
Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
Elie Wiesel, NIght

Elie Wiesel died yesterday at the age of 87.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read the book, NIght, and these words about his first night in Auschwitz as a young boy. I only know that I have never read anything that has conveyed a moment in time as powerfully as this passage.

You don’t have to be of a certain faith or race to appreciate his life and words. You only have to be human.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Elie Wiesel

Among Mr. Wiesel’s many awards are the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He helped establish the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and has campaigned for victims of oppression all over the world, including those in South Africa, Nicaragua and Sudan, among many others.

There may be times  we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
Elie Wiesel

If you have never read the book, NIght, I encourage you to do so. It’s a very short book, but as we’ve learned, the most important lessons of life rarely require elaboration.

No human race is superior; no religious race is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.
Elie Wiesel

We should listen closely to his words today, because as much as the world has changed, nothing has really changed.

Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving; the child, too light, was still breathing…
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking; For God’s sake, where is God? And from within me I heard a voice answer: Where is he? This is where–hanging from this gallows…

That night, the soup tasted of corpses.
Elie Wiesel, NIght

God rest his soul.

 

Take The Damn Flag Down

I try awful hard on this blog to stay away from political or religious discussions, mainly because someone is going to be offended by what I write. Quite honestly, I don’t mind that because you can’t please everyone. But I prefer lighter writings laced with humor or questions that make you think about how you might handle or react to a situation.

But Charleston, S.C. has changed that for this post. For the purposes of full disclosure, I’m a 63-year-old white male who lives in New Jersey and has his entire life. I grew up in a pretty diversified town and have seen enough things, including race riots, so that nothing really surprises me.

The murder of nine African-Americans as they sat in their place of worship by a white man whose desire was to start a Civil War was horrific. The fact that the confederate flag ever had a place of honor in any state defies the logic of common decency. The fact that it is still flying today, after all that’s happened, leads me to think of words that I prefer not to use.

My purpose is not to engage in a history lesson here but it should be noted that this symbol was never the official flag of the Civil War. In fact, three different flags were used but the one that was generally considered the official flag of the confederacy was General Robert E. Lee’s army flag of Northern Virginia.
The confederate flag  that flies today was used at Veteran’s events following the Civil War but gained prominence in the 1940’s when used by the newly formed Dixiecrat Party as a symbol of segregation and whose motto was “segregation forever.”

Many people argue that this flag is a source of southern pride. I’ve always been curious about that statement because I’m not sure why this flag needs to be a source of pride. I’ve visited Charleston and other cities in South Carolina. The area is beautiful and the people have always been very friendly, even to this northerner. That should be your source of pride South Carolina, not a symbol that is associated with segregation and slavery; and make no mistake, this flag, is a symbol of a darker time in this country. If perception is indeed reality, there should be no discussion here.

The person who committed these murders, whose name I won’t mention here and whose face I prefer never to see again on any news show or paper, wanted to create civil unrest in this country. He believed the murder of these innocent people might create the type of riots he saw in Baltimore. Or worse. But that didn’t happen. Instead the families of those who were murdered forgave him of his crime and the church and community came together in prayer and hope for understanding and healing.

By law, only the government of South Carolina has the power to remove this flag. But the stronger message it will send to this murderer and anyone else who may have similar thoughts is this….

We don’t want this symbol of slavery and oppression to be a part of our lives any longer. We don’t want it associated with the state in which we live or the people we represent. We understand this move will not change the past but we also understand that we can’t move forward to a place of understanding unless we educate our children and own up to our mistakes. Because our only hope is that our children aren’t taught hate and fear. Our only hope is that our children will learn acceptance and understanding. The removal of this flag would be a small step in that direction so that future generations don’t have the false belief that this symbol is a source of pride.

Just take the damn flag down.

Hard To Explain This One

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you’re six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
Oscar Hammerstein

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I’m a white male who is a practicing Catholic. I went to Catholic grammar and high school. I was an altar boy for many years as well as a member of the CYO. So on many levels this story is embarrassing, disappointing and sad.

Last week, there was a high school basketball game played in New Jersey between Atlantic City High School, which has a very diverse population and Holy Spirit Catholic High School. While both teams have some white players, the majority of players are African-American. During the course of the game, in what was described as “team spirit”, Holy Spirit students hung a curtain on the floor, just behind the basket. Whenever an Atlantic City player went to the foul line, they opened a curtain to reveal two students dressed up as a monkey and a banana, taunting the African-American players who were shooting the foul shots. They proceeded to jump and dance in close proximity to the players on the court, or the monkey held the banana in his arms.

Think that’s bad? There’s more.

A Holy Spirit School official acknowledged the conduct violated league rules for sportsmanship and said it would not happen again but that no students would be punished because of the incident, according to the athletic director.He said, “I’m not going to kick anyone out of school or whip anybody. All I can do is apologize, I can’t take it back. The punishment is that it will not happen again. Really? That it will not happen again is a punishment?  How will our children ever learn?

The coach from Holy Spirit had this to say, “There’s absolutely nothing that was intended to be racial whatsoever. it was a group of kids trying to have fun with something they saw on television. There was no malice there whatsoever. If anyone wants to make it out to be that, it’s not. We have a respectable school community. We have four out of five starter  that are African-American kids. That’s not what this was about. It was just kids thinking through what their perception should be, but there was absolutely nothing racial and somebody is making something racial about it.” So having African-American players on your team justifies this type of action? 

So if there was nothing wrong with this, why were the referees reprimanded, the students warned and “punished” and officials from Holy Spirit issuing apologies?
If this is a kids being kids excuse, which I’m tired of hearing, where were the adults to explain the insensitivity. How did they get into a gym wearing these costumes? Why didn’t the refs stop it immediately instead of letting it continue? Why didn’t school officials step in and someone with an ounce of intelligence suggest that this isn’t the image they want the school to project for their “respectable school community.”? At the very least, these students were in violation of multiple Spectator Code of Conduct rules governing high school sports in the state. And yet not one adult, stepped in and said, this is wrong. Not one. How sad and pathetic is that?

So these Catholic school officials didn’t see anything wrong with this action, huh? Just kids having fun? Well, let me be as harsh as I can be here since we’re using the kids being kids excuse and the adults seem to be clueless.

I wonder how the school officials from Holy Spirit would have reacted if a couple of Atlantic City High School students dressed up as a priest and ten-year old boy and the priest was holding the boy in his arms and dancing with him.

Not so funny now, is it? Need me to elaborate further on insensitivity?

No, I didn’t think so.

 

 

I Don’t Like Or Trust Middle Age White Men

                                             

Several years ago I went back to college when I was approaching fifty in order to finish what I had started decades before. It’s a long story that’s not relevant to this post but I was taking evening courses while continuing to work during the day. Needless to say, I was usually the oldest student in class. The university I attended was a state school about twenty minutes outside of New York City so the enrollment population was very diversified. When I took a course on Religions of the World, it was enlightening to hear from so many people speaking first hand about their beliefs and experiences. It made the course come to life for me.

I had been attending classes about three years when I took a course on Conflicts and Resolutions.   Not exactly part of the English/Creative Writing curriculum, but an elective requirement. About three weeks into the fall semester, the professor had us turn our chairs into a circle so that we all faced each other. Then she asked each one of us to tell the rest of the class about someone in their lives they had an issue with and how, or if, they resolved the problem. About half way through the exercise we came to a young African-American woman who didn’t hesitate to share her feelings. With a pronounced edge to her voice she spoke nine words I’d never forget , “I don’t like or trust middle age white men.” She didn’t look at me when she spoke and she didn’t have to. Everyone else did. I was the only one there who fit her description.

I can tell you it was an uncomfortable moment but I’m guessing you already figured that out. There were six or seven seconds that felt like several minutes where it seemed as if everyone stopped breathing. Or maybe it was just me.  The professor, to her credit, didn’t ask the young woman to explain herself. She simply announced that we should take a break.

As everyone filed out of the classroom, I followed the young woman. I didn’t know what I was going to say as I approached her but I don’t like pink elephants so I knew I couldn’t go through the rest of the semester like that. When I caught up to her I asked if we could speak  for a few minutes. She didn’t answer, she just tilted her head a bit and seemed to looked through me. Waiting. I didn’t ask her to explain why she said what she did or why she felt that way.  I would never presume to understand her past and the discriminations I’m sure witnessed first hand but I had an idea. I asked her where she was from and when she didn’t answer, I told her the name of the city where I grew up. She didn’t say anything but her head straightened up and I could see in her eyes she was surprised. Maybe in her mind middle age white men in a dress shirt and pants don’t come from those type of places. I told her I was never a victim of racism or discrimination but that on several occasions I’d seen my mother and father held at gunpoint by black men who were robbing the small grocery store they owned, how I was threatened with a meat cleaver over a baseball field and pulled out of bed at night because of gunshots outside our first floor apartment window that had bars on them to keep people from trying to break in.  Most times I was the only white kid at the playground basketball court but it never seemed to matter to me or the kids I was playing with at the time. We were all just looking for the same game. And I told her all of that meant nothing because I could still walk down the street that night and no one would cross to the other side of the road because they were afraid of me or be suspicious of me because of the color of my skin. I tried to explain that not every middle age white man is the same and that neither of us should assume to know each other without knowing each other. After a few moments she nodded, said “fair enough,” and walked back to class without another word. We had two or three very brief conversations the rest of that semester that didn’t last more than a minute or two. And when the final class ended we nodded to each other before walking out. I never ran into her again.

Racism is a difficult topic to discuss and I don’t pretend to have the answers or understand the complexities of this issue.  History and emotions are not easily dismissed and discrimination is ever-present.  I’ve always believed fear and ignorance play a large part in people’s perceptions of others. I’ve heard people say they’re not racist because they don’t see color. Of course they see color. We all do regardless of our race or ethnicity. We also see height and weight, hair style, glasses, looks, clothing, wealth, color and nationality in the moment someone walks in the door. If anyone tells you differently they’re not being honest. It’s human nature. We make initial evaluations based on what we see, to believe otherwise would be naive. However it’s the decisions we make following those evaluations that decide who we are and what we believe.

Racism and discrimination are a toxic complexity.  We need to have a serious discussion about race in this country and we need to do it honestly, directly and with respect for everyone’s position and opinion. I realize that human nature may never allow us to eliminate racism, but we can make it better. The truth is, there are too many people on both sides of the issue who will not forget, refuse to forgive and only see what they chose.  Complicated issues don’t have simple solutions and there is never one reason or one answer. But we have to start somewhere. We have to believe that even the most wounded will meet us halfway. Sometimes a simple conversation is a beginning. Sometimes that’s all you need.