Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Where are the Caucasians with gunshot wounds?

Recently I was involved in two conversations with fellow Caucasians that veered uncomfortably toward bigotry. The first was with a former admissions or guidance counselor (can’t recall which) at Heritage College, a now-defunct for-profit career college whose enrollment was predominantly black.

The former counselor told me how, after spelling out the rules and regulations, students would invariably tell her, “Well, that’s not how I roll” and / or “Hey. I’m a grown-a_s woman!” I was stunned that someone would generalize this way, but didn’t say anything. Whatever I would think of to say would come out sounding like I was accusing her of lying; after all, she was a credible person, and she was there; I wasn’t. So I said nothing.

Then I listened to another account, this one from the mother of a resident working in the ER of a city hospital serving a predominantly black area. She said her daughter, a physician, had told her that she saw several cases of gunshot wounds nightly, most of the patients with police records.
She said that after one patient that they’d tried to save had died, his family members almost rioted and she was compelled to ask for a security escort her to her car at the end of her shift. Another gunshot patient came in at 4 a.m. After treating him, she asked him, “What are you doing out this time of night? You know this is a rough neighborhood. Stay indoors.” Again: She was there; I wasn’t. I said nothing.

But I couldn’t let these two conversations go. I just didn’t like the direction they headed in and their subtext about blacks and the black community. Then I finally arrived at what might be an answer, what I wish I’d said: “Somewhere, there’s a career college serving a mostly poor white population, and you might hear the same things out of the mouths of the students there. Somewhere, there’s an ER serving a mostly poor white population, where the staff sees gunshot wounds [or hunting injuries?] on a regular basis. Like some of the black wound patients, some of them might even wear their wounds as a badge of pride." Of course that’s f_cked up. The difference is:

We don’t see poor whites – or any whites – as a group to be commentated on, analyzed, and / or victim-blamed. We don’t see poor whites as a threatening group with its own culture and codes, or as losers unable to extricate themselves from the cycle of poverty. We aren’t instantly suspicious of young poor white men. We don’t talk about white-on-white violence, or the alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy (that invariably results in poor mom-headed households on public assistance) that pervades poor white communities. Quite simply, we don’t see a "poor white problem", and we certainly don’t attribute these ills to their being white.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

No problem: Put me in Business Class אין בעיה: תנו לי לעבור למחלקת עסקים

Hi everyone. Back after a long hiatus. So, many of you have no doubt heard about the airplane seat-switching controversy involving ultra-Orthodox men and non-Orthodox women passengers. But instead of just getting riled up over the ultra-Orthodox attempt to control not only our lives on the ground, but airborne as well, let’s look at the phenomenon as part of a larger, meta-phenomenon that I call tiptoe-ing around, placating, and pretending to the Orthodox.

I know of at least three funerals where Orthodox people – either themselves mourners, or members of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] – compelled the primary mourners to engage in / refrain from engaging in, certain practices. In one case, everyone in attendance was compelled to engage in a strange ritual that originated generations back in some neck of the Diaspora woods with which none of them identified, much less had ever heard of. In another, distant Orthodox relatives of the deceased showed up and jogged behind the hearse, loudly chanting psalms in a way that, I found out later, horrified the children of the deceased. At another funeral, the deceased’s children, being daughters only, only began reciting kaddish after a male relative began doing so.

In addition, it calls to mind a recent bar mitzva I attended where the host edited her speech at the Shabbat dinner that mentioned the bar mitzva boy’s grandmothers having aliyas the following morning in shul, so as not to offend an Orthodox relative who wasn’t even going to be at the ceremony.

What do all three of these situations have in common? They all involve heightened anxiety, impatience, and being invested in everything going smoothly: a trifecta, or “perfect storm” if you wish, for the Orthodox individuals to exploit the non-Orthodox individuals’ (the stakeholders) vulnerability to compel the latter to accede to the will of the former. After all, boarding a plane, we all have the same goal: For the accursed thing to take off. Not having buried a parent, I’m assuming that the goal at a funeral is to just get through it intact and start the shiva. And as for the bar mitzva, I know how stressful it can be to host an event of that scope: You want so badly for it to go off without a hitch, and are thus willing to skirt anything that has even the slightest potential to “become a thing”, or what everyone’s going to remember about the event in which you and your child have invested so much.

Regarding the funeral and bar mitzva examples, since every case differs, it would be impossible to suggest a blanket policy. But you can be sure that if I’m ever asked to change seats pre-flight, I’ve got my answer ready: “Sure. I’d be happy to either upgrade to Business or higher; or get a voucher for a free round-trip flight of equal distance on this airline.” That way, I’m not holding up takeoff, but I obtain what I believe to be fair compensation for my inconvenience.

I actually don’t agree that the seat change request is anti-woman; I simply believe it to be pure chutzpa. Maybe if we all gave my suggested answer, the airlines would start printing on their ticketing conditions and posting signs at check-in (i.e., before passengers hand over their luggage) to the effect that no seat change requests will be honored beyond this point, we can make this chutzpa go away. How about it?