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Socially aware

06/11/2020 10:00:18 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I continue to learn much from my dear friend Eric Manning, who is the Pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. When I asked him during our conversation broadcast through social media on Wednesday evening, June 10, “what worries you the most”, his response reverberated through my core. His greatest fear is when his son goes out at night, praying that he arrives home safely. At first blush we might think: all parents worry about their children. I can recall when my daughter would be out on a date. I would remain awake until she returned home safely, no matter the hour. But Pastor Manning was not referring to that sort of parental concern. His worry is founded in racism. What happens if his son is pulled over simply for DWB, Driving While Black?

A chill went through me again as I wrote these words. The benefit of white privilege is that I never have felt that way. There is no defense that Pastor Manning should ever feel this way, but he does. And now I understand in a way that I did not before. I have become socially aware, better understanding his experiences from his point of view, and reaffirming that racism is an insidious disease with daily, frequently scary, implications for the African-American community.

The murder of George Floyd is just one symptom of racism. Food insecurity, housing insecurity, job insecurity, access to a quality and affordable health care, access to a quality and affordable education are also symptoms. These examples continue to negatively impact the African-American community, and simultaneously seem insurmountable. “What to do?” I asked Pastor Manning.

We need to listen and to talk with each other. Too often people talk at each other, without listening to the other. There is a statement made in Pirkei Avot where a teacher asks his students what is the most important quality of a human being, and the answer that is preferred is “a good heart”. While I agree, I would emend that teaching to highlight “a listening ear”. An ear can hear, which is more a recognition of the physiological aspect of the ear, namely, sound enters, is transformed into electronic information that is sent to the brain and interpreted by us. Listening is more than just the physical component of hearing. It requires us to pay attention, carefully mull over what you are hearing, and recognizing that what you are hearing has value. I hear you is an insufficient response. I am listening to you is the minimum requirement.

I have learned over these past nineteen months that I must listen to the voices of the victims of 10.27. So too must I listen to the voices of victims of racism, especially the African-American community. These voices teach, inform and guide me. It would be rather arrogant of me to suggest that I, a white male, have the solution to the problems that the white people have created. And so, I will continue to listen to the voices of the victims and extend my hand to work together to excise racism from the American body. He and I both share hope for a better tomorrow. My hope, that I shared with him, is that one day a young African-American child, upon hearing the word racism, will have to look it up in a dictionary, and upon reading the definition, ask why the word exists, because racism does not. Insurmountable? Naïve? Only if you pre-determine our future. 

Sun, July 12 2020 20 Tammuz 5780