Living in your truth and “representing” for a group or groups in modern-day America can be a flat-out exhausting enterprise. In addition to the self-check internal dialogue that you are likely to engage in daily, based on your particular set of lived experiences and accepted norms, there is also the potential for a nearly endless verbal dance of justification and understanding you have to navigate as you move through places and spaces. From my Black friends with nearly White skin and straight hair, to my Latino friends who don’t speak much or any Spanish, to my Jewish friends who don’t keep kosher, how you self-identify and the qualifying criteria for group inclusion can be a bitch. Some people seem to see this as the Rules of Division, but I like to think that we all grapple with insecurities about belonging, and the penalties for being seen as an outsider.
My good friend Rev. Naomi once referred to the competitive way that some people engage the conversation about discrimination and injustice as “The Oppression Olympics.” What I am NOT gonna do is waste a bunch of energy trying to convince anyone that my suffering is, by default, more horrific than their own. On November 1 2005, The United Nations General Assembly declared January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in honor of the day that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army in 1945. During my trip to Ghana, our delegation was invited to the Israeli Ambassador’s commemorative event and I was immediately transported back 30 years to my time as a youth ambassador to Israel and our heart-wrenching visit to Yad Vashem.
Christian, Jew, agnostic, Black, White or something else along the ethnic spectrum, it is difficult to have no emotional reaction to the narratives and imagery salvaged from The Holocaust. I absolutely want the world to have a more empathetic connection to the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but that doesn’t prevent me from acknowledging and finding a sad communion in the way that Jews were targeted for their own genocide less than a century ago, and the many global leaders who turned their backs and stood silent as the Nazi Regime exterminated millions of people who fell outside of their Aryan ideal.
Atrocity. Torture. Extermination. These are not the aims or tools of an evolved society. There is no justification for any of it. Jews adopted the motto, “NEVER FORGET,” as their charge and motivation to prevent such hatred from ever again taking root. My visit to Yad Vashem exposed me to information and images that drew me into the circle of kinship for all of humanity to be better protected from the threat of such violence and death. I have no desire to compare numbers of those lost, or argue over the resultant discrimination and oppression our people have endured. Won’t change a thing. None of it should have happened. It is a regrettable legacy that many groups share, on some scale, because of supremacy and callousness. As much of it that can end with me, shall.
The image at the top of this blog, and the one immediately above, show my youth ambassador delegation planting trees at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Forest in Israel. Offering our toil to make things grow, provide beauty and replenish resources, in the name and spirit of a leader who understood better than most the challenge of balancing vision and sacrifice. Your blues may not be just like mine, but our suffering offers us uneasy kinship and a duty to eliminate suffering for others.
Never forget, and commit to doing the work.