Countless workshops on liberal politics, cultural/racial identity, sensitivity trainings, patient explanations, and angry reprimands have taught me that empowering solutions are the only lasting ones, I'm extremely privileged, and to never discount the experiences of another person. Especially if they're a minority. And never, NEVER out loud in their presence. Ask someone/them about it or google it later.
Incidentally, when I make the “well-trained” joke around men/white people, they usually chuckle understandably. We all share a moment in our honorable attempts to get along and pat ourselves on the back. We work hard to meet the intense demands of women/people of color in our life. When I make the joke around women/folks of color, eyes roll like they're all thirteen again. As if my attempts were anywhere near comparable to the difficulties of dealing with an existing patriarchy and hegemony. It's like when my grandfather used to harp on how he was the one preparing lunch so my grandmother ought to do the dishes. Never mind the fact that every other day she cooks and does the dishes for lunch and dinner. And also, all the other household chores.
I think it's important to scrutinize why things are funny (so often they're at the expense others) and so I've been thinking about why I might this joke is funny. One could argue that it's funny because I'm being sarcastic. That by telling this joke I'm pointing out the ridiculousness of those folks who often use the statement seriously. It's funny in the same way that my lamentation, “my life is sooooo hard,” is funny. So in that case, maybe it's ok for me to tell this joke, so long as we know what I'm making fun of.
But I realize that it's funny in another way, and one that is more disturbing to me because I think part of me fell into this trap. It's funny because it makes it seem like being politically correct is an exercise, a pretense, that we all must go through just to get along. In this way, it equates it to a form of lip service. Our actions and words are outwardly sensitive because we've been taught that's how to behave, but our minds have not totally bought into it.
And so I should come clean: I've realized that I do this with anti-semitism.
I've avoided being called out on this for years because I am well trained. Never would I utter the words, “Yea, but being Jewish really isn't that bad this day and age,” not even to myself. But if I'm honest with myself, something in my heart whispered it.
The privileged person in me claims it's not my fault. Just like a white person might claim, “How was I to know there was still racism? I never saw any in my life!” I grew up in the northeast. Being Chinese, I was quickly accepted in Jewish circles (It's close enough anyway) and learned the phrase Jewish American Princess. All seemed fine with the world for Jewish people. Sure, there was a horrific world history, but we were all moving on now... Sometimes we choose to see what we want to see.
It's embarrassing to realize that I could secretly feel this way while thinking myself so savvy about other, such similar issues. Interestingly enough, what opened my eyes was bell hooks writing about her own surprise over the interactions between black folks and Jewish folks in the North. Growing up in the South, black folks were allies with Jewish folks. They were both targets of the Klan. But it seemed that up North, there was no such allegiance. And it all suddenly became very clear to me. All this time, a part of me had been dismissing the experience of anti-Semitism.
Even more disturbing to me is how all of this plays out in world politics. I'm not shy about the fact that I'm sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. I don't think that any of the players involved have immaculate records, but I do believe that ultimately, the Palestinian people feel disempowered and disrespected. If I were in their situation, I'm not sure that I would feel any differently. Until that ends, there will be no peace. No amount of “righteous” military action from Israel will change this.
However, I believe in taking responsibility for our actions and thoughts. I will admit that until recently, much of my disdain for the Israeli cause has been colored by my disbelief in Jewish disempowerment. That was wrong. And while I've never voiced those thoughts directly, I'm sure the ill-placed scorn was always detectable in my conversations.
If I am to believe that Palestinian's need to be truly validated and re-empowered, it occurs to me that I also must recognize, not just intellectually, but truly internalize, the hurt, anger, and disempowerment that hundreds of years of anti-semitism has produced.