Racial Reflections

After news of the Charleston shootings caught wind in Israel, countless emotions stirred within me as I read on about the racist attack on a black church killing 9 innocent lives.

One of my initial reactions was a little selfish, I must admit. Since I’ve been considering spending more time in Israel, I’ve dealt with a lot of questions (from myself and others) about my safety and well-being in this politically, religiously and racially charged area of the world. I’ve had to think about the consequences and dangers of being in a place that is known for routine bombings and terror attacks. And although there have been many tragedies in the US since my stay here in Israel, this one in Charleston, which is already so close to my home town, hit home. Acts of hate happen everywhere. Acts of racial hate happen everywhere and it confuses me to no end why people think that just because Israel is only reported on the news when there are bombings, Israel is a less safe place to live than America. This event reminded me that, tragically, I could die of a senseless act of violence anywhere.

I’ll also admit that I get most of my news of John Stewart (something I should probably change, but I enjoy his rendition of the news too much to let go). His latest on the Charleston shootings and the racial stigma that still exists in my home state brought tears to my eyes as I thought about the racial issues I have experienced this year in Israel.

“In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper.”

After hearing this, my mind went directly to the names of the Jewish Israeli leaders that line the streets of every city in Israel. I thought about the Arabs in this country that deal with the same issues that blacks in America deal with. It’s all racial wallpaper. I thought about my Ethiopian students, the only black people in my school, and how they deal with racist remarks on a daily basis. I thought about the video I showed my kids one day from Remember the Titans, and their snickers of ignorance after just seeing a black man on the computer screen. I thought about the countless conversations I’ve had with Israelis about Arabs and Bedouins and the tinge of antipathy in their voices.

So just as acts of hate happen everywhere, so does deep-seated racism. And yes, I agree with Stewart when he says that he is confident we will do nothing to change this and in fact, further try to slide this very obvious fact under the rug. So what does he suggest will break the cycle? Acknowledgement? Education? Great ideas in theory, but it’s hard to change what is so deeply engrained into not only human society but human nature. We are developed to classify things, put them into little boxes so that we can further to try understand the world around us. Race – both an external and internal concept in my mind – is another one of those boxes that will always be present. Of course, it’s just the matter of what we do with it.

We hope that with education, the minds of those who believe different races should be eliminated will, well, be eliminated. We hope that minorities will find ways to create a stronger, louder voice when decisions need to be made. And we hope that the majorities will keep their ears open to these calls for help, both in America and the rest of the world.