Monday, April 06, 2009

Passover is slamming me upside the head this year with a complete and total vengeance. I confess that I'm unprepared for the mass cleaning the rabbis have dictated must accompany the holiday: no bread, no yeast products, nothing in the house food-wise that doesn't say "kosher for Passover" on it unless it's a fruit or vegetable, not even the usage of regular cups, plates, utensils and cooking tools - separate ones must be brought out just for the seven-to-eight days of Passover. Since I will be in the northeast for most of the holiday, I can present the argument to my parents, who are visiting here the weekend of the French Quarter Festival once I am back in town, that if they are wondering why my home looks as though a bomb exploded within, it's because I could not tarry - I had to embark on my journey to my Promised Seat at my grandparents' seder table.

Yeah, yeah, they ought to buy that, right?

The area in which I am infinitely more prepared is in the mindset that the holiday always encourages, which is that we Jews remember a time when we were slaves, when we were made to work until we dropped and then work some more, and things were happening to us such as all the Israelite male infants being thrown into the Nile to drown and to supposedly help reduce the population. In the present day, a supposedly more enlightened time than in Biblical days, we are all still not quite out of the woods with regards to oppression of others, or the oppression many people out there still suffer daily in some way, shape, or form....which forms yet another thing to consider as we recall the ancient past while reclining in our chairs, drinking four cups of wine, and celebrating the Israelites' deliverance from bondage.

The following is a little food for thought from David K. Shipler's A Country of Strangers:

(Peggy) McIntosh is a rare sort of white person, for she actually thinks about the prerogatives of whiteness. In 1988, comparing her circumstances with those of African-American women whom she knew, she devised a list of forty-six conditions that she, but not her black acquaintances, could count on enjoying. "I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege," she wrote. "So I have begun an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege." Her resulting observations, while largely autobiographical, have struck a universal chord and are now routinely cited by scholars, diversity trainers, and others who write and teach on racial matters.

...(McIntosh's) list of unseen privileges (unseen by most whites, vividly visible to most blacks) illuminate, layer by layer, the acid coexistence of white benefit and black disadvantage. It includes the following:
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  • I can swear, or dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about 'civilization', I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to 'the person in charge', I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  • I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
  • I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  • I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
Thus do white Americans, as a group, enjoy the comfort of basic assuredness. As black Americans look at themselves, however, no such confidence accrues to them.

So, much as I would love for there to be a paradigm shift, it won't truly happen unless the unknowing, unseeing privileged all consider how they have been taught to be blind all these centuries...and how best they can unlearn it.

I could certainly use that kind of un-instruction.

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