This week, a white man killed a bunch of black people because he said they were rapists and taking over the country. Wow. I think that certain people are being pushed over the edge because we have a black President. Obamacare is working, his popularity is going up, and those of the racist bent are beside themselves. What are we to do?
As a Jew and practitioner of Mussar, it is insufficient to simply avoid doing bad things – we are called upon to proactively do good things, including standing up for the powerless, and standing against injustice.
When Rabbi Sidney Akselrod, the first Rabbi at my synagogue, arrived for his first week of work in 1965, he told the board “I’m sorry, I have to go to Selma.” He jumped on a plane, and marched with Dr. King. Few of us would do that, which is why R. Akselrod is so highly revered as a great person. While I’m not jumping on a plane, I will dedicate this letter to speaking out in hopes that together we can change the climate that fosters hatred and intolerance.
The statement that “blacks are taking over the country” does not come in a vacuum. Rudi Giuliani’s recent comments that President Obama is not “one of us” is a softer way of saying the same thing. In addition, I was puzzled about Donald Trumps’s fixation on where President Obama was born. He seemed to go on and on about the birth certificate. Why? Now, with Trump’s diatribe that Mexico is sending rapists and drug dealers to the US, I understand. Trump is a racist. Giuliani is a racist too.
Do you know any racists? Not the white supremacist kind, but the gentler kind who make disparaging comments. When I was kid in summer camp, the instructor was scolding the class, and out of the blue he said “and this includes you too, Greg.” I was astounded – what had I done wrong? It must have been something. Some gentle racist out there needs you to remind them that what they are saying is not ok.
When it comes to racism, it is not enough to not do anything wrong; we need to look for opportunities to do something right. You will have a chance to do something to prevent another Charleston Massacre. For example, you could:
• Demand that the confederate flag come down in S. Carolina. If you think it is a matter of heritage not racism, you are rationalizing. Sign a petition.
• Don’t click or share any stories about Trump – less attention and they’ll s top covering him in the media
• Speak up if you hear something intolerant.
The Talmud teaches that words are more powerful than knives, because they can kill at a distance. While we can’t control many things, we can control what we say, and what we don’t say.
It’s clear to me that electing a black President does not mean that we are beyond racism, merely that there are not enough racists to prevent a black man from becoming President. When the people of South Carolina and other states choose to stop displaying the Stars and Bars, then we’ll know that hearts are truly changing.
How do you think we can use words to end racism? Of course words along won’t do the job. Some people are beyond changing, and all we can do is to keep them from having power. But words are a good place to start.