I was very young. I suppose I was about the age when I wore one-piece pajamas with little feet on the bottom. There was a fire on the neighbor’s front lawn. This was something that I didn’t understand. I was too young to know how fires started. I was old enough to know what fire is. I knew that fire was dangerous and that someone could be burned or hurt.
However, this fire was different. This fire was set by someone. More importantly, this fire was in the shape of a small, almost waist high cross that was made out of wood. It was planted in the front yard of my next door neighbor, doused with gasoline and then set on fire.
I didn’t know why things like this happened. I had never heard or seen anything like this before. But again, I was young. I was too young to understand what racism is. I was old enough to know what the cross meant. I was old enough to understand that the cross meant something about God but I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand why anyone would light something like this on fire. I didn’t understand why someone would plant this on someone’s front yard and set the cross into flames. I didn’t know what hate was. But I learned.
I am not someone that says racism doesn’t exist. No, not at all. I am someone who experienced Anti-Semitism firsthand. I remember learning about the meaning of a Swastika. I knew about places like Auschwitz and Birkenau. I knew about places like Bergen Belson, Mauthausen and the ghettos like Warsaw. I knew that hatred existed at a young age, but yet, I was too young to understand why.
I can recall the night of the fire on my neighbor’s lawn. I can remember the look on the face of a man named Mr. Praus. I asked my father, why would someone do something like that?
The Old Man told me, “It’s because they’re stupid.”
I remember kids calling me names like Heeb, which is short for Hebrew. I remember hearing about racism and Anti-Semitism. And I always wondered why?
I never did anything to deserve this. I’ve seen racism on both sides. I’ve seen ignorance grow like a weed or like a vine, which does nothing else but suffocate and destroy our society. I’ve seen the promotion of resegregation and further distance our society in the ways of color guidelines and cultural differences. I have seen people plead that they are not part of the problem and yet, they do things to promote the problem.
When I was younger, I suppose I gave into this. I suppose I bought into the ignorance. I learned from the lessons of my surroundings on both sides. Not just from white people but from others as well. I learned that no matter what color I am and no matter who we are, difference creates tension. There was a line, which all people were to stand behind.
Stick with your own, they said. Stay away from the enemy, I was told. Meanwhile, in some circles, I was the enemy. Or wait, no. I was called a good Jew. I’ve also been told that I’m white but it’s not like I’m a real white boy or whatever that means. I reject this idea. I don’t care who says it or what the intention is.
I remember being told that I wasn’t like “The other” Jews. I never knew what this meant. I never saw myself as a religious identity. I certainly did not understand how someone’s beliefs could cause wars. And believe me, religion causes wars. Moreover, politics has become the new religion now, which means the holy wars are not about God anymore. It’s about who you voted for. This is why I chose to walk away from organized religions. This is why I will not identify myself as right wing or left. This why I call myself the heart of this country.
But still, I get it. I see the hate. I’ve seen the attacks on people that share my heritage and my upbringing. I have seen the attacks on people from the Asian culture. And I’ve seen the people who committed these acts. Why? Is this because of a virus that someone walking down the street in New York City had nothing to do with?
I am the father of a biracial girl. She is growing in this world. She is taking on challenges that I never had to face. However, she will not allow any challenge to prevent her from her goals. There are words that I forbid my daughter to use. To name one, I will say the word begins with the letter “N” next letters are “i,g,g,e” and the last letter is “r.”
I told my daughter that this word was used to destroy her heritage with shame. This was designed to keep her heritage down. This word does not promote you in any way.
Not at all.
I remind my child when she talks about white people that I am white too. When she talks about racism, I ask her what she means. I ask her to teach me about what she sees and as a father, all I can do is reassure her of this one important thing: I don’t care how she chooses to identify herself. I don’t care what color the person she dates is or who she marries. So long as there’s love and respect, I’m fine.
All I tell her is that the more we promote racism, the stronger it becomes. Therefore, we don’t use certain words because certain words contribute to ignorance. I don’t like ignorance. I don’t like bullies. And I don’t like people that promote a narrative to suit their own agenda.
I can’t stop anyone from hating me. I can’t stop anyone from hating you. And I certainly cannot stop racism. All I can do is refuse to allow anyone to have any restrictions on me. Therefore, I educate myself. I learn. I improve and I live regardless of anyone’s opinion or suggestion. I grow and so long as I have breath in my lungs and blood in my veins, I will not give into public rhetoric or fuel any fires to cause more hysteria. Instead, I will calculate and move. I will educate and grow. I will teach and inform. And above all, I will never surrender who I am or what I believe simply because my thoughts, opinions or beliefs do not fit a social narrative.
By the way, that night when they lit the cross on fire on my neighbor’s lawn, the police were there. The fire trucks were there. Mr. Praus lived in the home next door. He was a nice man. The Old Man grabbed me by the hand in my feetie pajamas and all. He took me passed the police and the firemen. He walked me passed the people that pulled over to see what was happening. The Old Man marched me up the walkway that led to the front door. He reached out to shake Mr. Praus’s hand. He said, “Not everyone feels this way!” I was proud. I didn’t know why at the time. But I was proud.
Someone told me that I am inherently racist because I am white.
Know what I think?
I think, go fuck yourself, pal.
See the world through my eyes, for a change.
I’m not racist. My daughter knows that. And as such, no one can tell me I am. I’ve been fighting battles of my own since I was a little kid. Plus, a big part of my family was butchered and exterminated in death camps. I know exactly what hate is. I’ve seen it my entire life and as much as we’ve evolved, I see that hate still has its place at the table.
Hate has been around for as long as people walked the earth. I am not going to allow this to be promoted on my watch. Not in my house and not at my doorstep.