Identity, Justice

Racism is big, but it is not bigger than all of us

This is a guest post by Yavilah McCoy and ninth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race, and the events in Ferguson. 
The Call to Action….
 “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
My daughter spoke before a crowd of over 350 mostly White Jews who gathered in Brookline last evening to march, affirm and say together the simple slogan that has been sweeping our country: “Black Lives Matter.” My daughter, with tears in her eyes and a voice filled with emotion, shared what was at stake for her in a world where increasingly militarized police forces in our communities feel free to target unarmed people of color not just with guns but with deadly stereotypes and assumptions around what constitutes a criminal in our country.  She spoke of not wanting to continue being scared for her brother and father’s safety.  She talked about how much she worries about them walking home alone through the wealthy, White suburban communities of Boston that we live in to be in close proximity to other Orthodox Jews. As we have been asked, by the youth leaders of Ferguson, I stood behind by daughter last evening and supported the use of her voice.  I listened while my heart was breaking, to my child describe and decry the failure of our community and country to make a space where all our children can feel safe.  I felt proud, but I also felt a deep and compelling question emerging in my breast: What now?  Hadn’t I been working for most of her lifetime to open the doors and minds of our community to a broader consciousness of the multiracial and multicultural constitution of our membership? Hadn’t I surrounded her with role models of family, people and leaders, who lived justice with their lives and hearts, and that she could call “uncle” and “auntie” and mean it, whether she was related to them by blood or not?  Hadn’t I spent tireless hours working with the schools and institutions that she and her siblings navigate revealing the nuances of racism and providing tools for them to race forward and not backward in the way we educate and provide services to an increasingly diverse constituency of our people?
Listening to Atarah last night, I was forced to admit to myself that I have not managed to create a safe communal container for the beauty, brilliance, and power of my eldest daughter to flourish without worry over the possibility of her, or her siblings, life force being snuffed out by the lethal combination of guns and racism.  As I’ve listened over the last several months to the young leaders of Color cry out from Ferguson and from communities across our country, I must also admit that Atarah is not alone and that I am sitting with the question of what it will take for us to create a world where all our children can feel safe and have the resource and support they need to thrive and flourish.  I ask this question, with the clear understanding that in this moment we are being called to answer regarding our personal and institutional policies on race, policing, and guns that kill, and to focus on these life and death issues without distraction. Yet, I believe that if we can stay firm in pursuing change on these issues, we will also be laying a vital foundation for our country to address related issues that are not just killing our kids but killing our planet as well.  As I adjust my lens daily and try to focus, my own child’s face looms up and fills my lens. I don’t just know that we must do better, I have to do better. Marching and stopping traffic in Brookline with over three hundred mostly White Jews to state our commitment to safekeeping Black Lives was a wonderful start but unless something happened in people’s hearts last night that made them start to ask what’s next for them, even this beautiful and brilliant act remains token and symbolic.
So, I woke up this morning, as is my usual, thinking about what I need to do, and wanting to ask you, my community to join me in an exercise of intellectual honesty.  I woke up wanting to ask you, what I have been asking myself since this movement started: What’s at stake for you?  If you have been out there standing up for Black lives, What is inspiring YOU, in particular, to do this? Are you sharing with friends, colleagues and your families what your journey to this point has been like and what YOU are willing to do to make breathing, flourishing, and sustainable black lives a reality?  Have you taken the time to get in closer with people of color and explore how best White People and People of Color can work together to decry a system that is hurting us all? I realize that my deepest hope is for this reality to come true not just for black people that have so often, across history, been targeted for destruction, but for all people in our world that are suffering under the weight of our global inability to adequately share, protect and sustain life on this planet. I know that racism is in the way, and in order to get it out of our way that we are going to need to support the leadership of people of color, especially young people of color, while also building awareness of the ways that racism is both privileging and hurting White people and White communities and getting in the way for them as well. When we left the march last night, I asked my youngest son Yoni what he thought of the experience and he said that he was 1) happy he went 2) eager to get home to eat the brisket and latkes I had made for us at home, and 3) really surprised to see how many White people cared that much about what was happening to people of color.  It felt good he said.
Racism is big, but it is not bigger than all of us. If we want to erase its stain and consequences, we are going to have to yes, lift up people and communities of color, but also build the biggest and fiercest band of White Allies to humanity that this world has ever seen.  As I walked past two policemen of color last night, who locked eyes with me and nodded as I passed, I realized how proud I was to be doing this work in community with White Jews who I know will be leading the way to the day when Black people and all humanity will get to leave the tyranny of oppression behind them and just breathe.

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