:לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ
Do not stand upon the blood of your neighbor. – Lev. 19:16
Yesterday, I posted a link to a blog post by Michael W. Twitty from Afroculinaria.com. He titled it #Ferguson: My Thoughts on an American Flashpoint, and it is a moving piece. It began with an image someone sent via Twitter to him: a racist manipulation of the image of Michael Brown’s dead body lying on the pavement.
I’ve received a share of hate messages via social media. They were nasty bits of Jew-hatred, woman-hatred, or fat-hatred, and occasionally a rancid mix of the three. But none were as violent, as personal, as those sent to my friend. I deleted them and blocked the source, if I could. Then I tried to push the image, or the words out of my head: easier said than done.
But Michael Twitty took this ugly, hateful, personal image and used it as a starting point to talk about the dignity of human beings. He made use of his own experience as an illustration, but it wasn’t “all about him.” He took a very personal attack and turned it into a lesson on social justice. It was a raw, truthful piece of writing, his hurt and anger quite visible in it, and it moved me to some serious thinking about what I was going to do about the dignity of human beings.
Tonight I learned that in the first 24 hours after posting the piece, Michael Twitty has received death threats in response. One message suggested that he should be lynched.
What has happened to us?
The names keep piling up: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, on and on and on. What they have in common is that they were unarmed and unresisting when they were executed. They had no due process, no trial, no appeals. They were assumed dangerous because they were African American males.
Fifteen years ago, in Oakland, California, I attended a meeting about a couple of break-ins on my street. My neighbors, mostly elderly and white, talked nervously about “those kids from the high school.” The police had given us no idea whom to blame for the burglaries; the assumption was that “those kids” were to blame. No one needed to say “black kids” – that was a given. We discussed the pros and cons of hiring a security service, since the Oakland cops were never seen on our street.
I was on the fence – private security? really? – when an elderly gent leaned over to me and whispered, “Don’t you worry, honey, I see any of those black boys on our street and I’ll shoot them before they get to your house.” My stomach twisted. My sons had friends that came and went from our house, some of them African American.
“Don’t you dare,” I hissed. “They’re my sons’ friends. I swear I will testify against you if any such thing happens.”
That decided my vote. Naively, I thought it was better to have a private security service than to have Mr. Green running around playing vigilante. In retrospect, I see that instead I was voting to PAY someone to play vigilante. They were still going to be a danger to any young dark-skinned man who came our way. The sickness in our society runs very deep.
[Added note: At the time, I thought I was being a nice liberal person, pretending not to notice that everyone in the room was talking about black men, until someone said “black.” I knew darn well what they were talking about, and I didn’t say anything until it was unavoidable. By making that choice I was complicit in their racist talk and behavior. Mea culpa. That was wrong. I will not do that again.]
News flash, America: you cannot tell if a man is dangerous by the color of his skin. And even if he IS “dangerous” in your opinion, he has the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that every other person has. Until he breaks the law, under the law he’s exactly like you and me. And if he does something to break the law, then he’s still innocent until proven guilty.
We in the US seem to be able to hold onto those ideas when a person has fair skin. We seem totally incapable of it when a person has dark skin. Heck, we don’t even want a dark skinned man to express an OPINION. Hence the horrible mail that Mr. Twitty has been getting since he wrote that post.
The Holiness Code in Leviticus 19 tells me that I may not stand upon the blood of my neighbor. Look where we are standing, America: our shoes are covered in blood.
10 thoughts on “Blogging While Black: Yeah, It’s a Thing.”
Yes. Thank you for Michael Twitty’s post. fifteen years ago, when I was in teacher training, I attended a racism seminar at Oakland Tech, where I was a student teacher. When the seminar moderator asked anyone who had personally experienced racism to stand on the right side of the room, every teacher and administrator of color, including my mentor, stood on that side of the room.
All of them had been humiliated at one time or another because they were breathing while black or brown.
Ferguson reminds me of the sixties: whites do as they like to people of color, and any unrest is met with a law ‘n order crackdown, usually resulting in beatings and death, often for children.
I’m sure my peers found it a rude awakening when they dropped out, and thus were beyond the Pale, and targets for the police, as African Americans still are. Certainly, I did.
Anne, what do you think individuals can do to bring about change?
Dear Rabbi Ruth,
I do three things. First, I vote. Second, I read what people of color say about themselves, and third, if someone says questionable words about them, I disagree. For example, a certain woman posted on a blog I used to subscribe to, that families of African American students did not care about their families, were irresponsible, and blamed their children’s teachers for problems with grades and behavior. I argued with her. As I write, the one set of parents I am in contact with these days is white, and they do not want to hear anything about their older boy, unless it is that he is a model student. This, apparently includes behavior where he bites his fellow students.so, such attitudes are not limited to African Americans, who, in fact, expect their children to show respect to adults, and to learn how to handle themselves in a basically hostile world, where young men especially can end up dead if they do not know how to handle themselves with the police. this, by the way, has often been true of young women.
This may sound odd to you, but I also cook. You can understand a lot better what drives people, when you understand why, for example, African Americans consider greens and grits comfort food. You can literally understand where they came from, and how their point of origin has determined how we in America nourish ourselves.
The best way of all to solve bad blood between our communities is to work and live next to each other. I was lucky to work for six years as a substitute for Head Start. That is how I met working class African American, Latino and Muslim families, as well as teachers from these communities. This helped a lot to allow me to see them as fellow human beings.
I have spoken.
Reblogged this on Afroculinaria and commented:
From my friend, Rabbi Ruth Adar…an essay of support and solidarity. B’shalom!
Important words, and important ideas. Too many people still do not understand that this is the reality for people of color in this country, especially African Americans. Too many people still do not realize that it must change. Too many people still think we have no class divisions and that we’re a post-racial society. Too many people are unaware.
Thank you for raising awareness, Rabbi.
Thank you, Adam!
With Elul approaching, we have the perfect opportunity to work on this issue. It’s a great time to think about what can change and how to change it.
I agree so much with all of this. I have chosen to participate in the #blogelul meme this year, and it came as a natural thing to do to write about racism in the entry for “act”. If I can change things by not staying silent, and if writing is my tool, I should write and not find excuses not to lift my voice against injustice.
I am just starting to read through about ten blog entries by different bloggers re events in Ferguson. If I find that WordPress is showing us the story from the point of view of African Americans, I will praise them.
Carolyn, if you spot some “must reads” I hope you will let me know.