It was with a heavy heart that I read the devastating cover article in the December issue of Philadelphia magazine, titled, “Racial Profiling on the Main Line.” Steve Volk did an excellent job in reporting on the many incidents of black people being subjected to adverse scrutiny and manhandling– and not just by the police. All this during a new century when we have our first mixed-race president in the White House.
I was oblivious to the experience of my black neighbors and I feel ashamed of my ignorance and apathy. It’s not that as a Chinese American Orthodox Jew, I have not faced my share of bigotry and racial intolerance, but it’s not the same as what our black neighbors endure. (Note: it was only relatively recently that Jews were considered “white” in this country. Check out anthropologist Karen Brodkin’s 1998 book, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America.)
A while back, my daughter told me that we live in a Jewish bubble that has shielded us from the race dynamics of the Main Line. I know that I do feel at home in this community after 25 years. Not so the Friday family of the cover article whose twin sons encountered overt and subtle prejudice since arriving to the Main Line. The family’s professional achievements and wealth have not shielded their vulnerable sons and I cry over what they’ve endured.
My beloved Rabbi Emeritus once told me that all the troubles of the world are reflected in our little community and we could all do God’s work of healing right here at home. We can defend freedom and democracy all over the world, but have we ensured that our fellow Americans are able to live a life free of harassment for the color of their skin? My daughter’s Anthropology textbook clearly states that race is no longer a valid scientific label, but merely a social construct.
Most wars throughout history have been about power: the once-powerful fighting to protect what they once had or the greedy for more of the same. The U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that non-Hispanic whites will become the minority by 2043. People used to privilege based on skin color will indeed face dwindling power and influence. It is so sad that they cannot embrace our new multi-cultural identity, a cultural and racial “salad bowl.”
Note: Since writing the initial draft of this essay, I’ve been invited to serve on a community board on race relations. I pray that I can help mitigate racism in my home.