Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No Horns. Don't Look So Surprised.

Can you sum up your thoughts about race in six words?  

NPR's RACE CARD PROJECT asks you to write your story about race in six words. Then it lets you provide some back up material, if you have something else to say. I heard this on NPR, and immediately wanted to participate. 

Here is my six word race card story:
No horns. Don't look so surprised.

I was moved to participate in this project after reading a story about a museum in Germany housing a "Jew in a Box" display. Every day during the exhibit, a Jewish person sits in a glass box for two hours, so that passersby can look at him or her, and ask questions about Jews. Today there are only about 200,000 Jews in all of Germany, since the Holocaust cleared most of us out. Many Germans have never seen a Jew.  This exhibit triggered memories of growing up in Kansas, where I was generally the token Jewish kid in my classes, and the same later in Arizona. The Jewish population of Arizona is fairly substantial now, but when I first moved out here, the city was much smaller, and so was my Jewish community. I've been peppered with questions like "You don't have horns?" and "Can I learn the things Jews know about money, or would I have to convert?" and "I thought all Jewish women were loud and bosomy" (ouch at two levels!). This might sound like the stuff of Catskills humor, but taken to its extreme, the lack of awareness about Jews has enabled entire populations to believe we do horrible, crazy, cultish things like killing children to use their blood for making Matzah and wine (blood libel). These claims that have been - and still are being - used to instigate hatred and violence toward Jews throughout history. But, you ask, who could believe that? Well, why not believe it? There are religious societies practicing animal sacrifice. There is a cannibalistic tribe or two out there somewhere. Why not believe this about those exotic Jews? And it's also hit close to home. I once bit my tongue when a neighbor, who came by to borrow sugar, stood telling me how much she and her husband hated their Jewish tenant. I bit my tongue. I was a single mom living alone with two toddlers. Her hatred was palpable and it frightened me. It was hard to explain this hatred to my children, who wondered why we only decorated for Chanukah inside our house, not outside like our Christian neighbors. Some will ask, even so, is this about race? "Jew" is not a box you can check on the census race form. Many people see Jewish as a religion. I could argue it either way. If you want to convert, it's not a racial thing, and I welcome you in. If you're my nephew, who suffers a rare double recessive Jewish genetic disease called ML4, it is a racial thing. But the real reason to participate is because of what the "other" person thinks. He thinks I should have horns. That can only be true for him if he sees "Jew" as a race. Come get to know me. I'm more normal than you might think.

Most of you leave your posts on my Facebook wall, but this time, I hope you'll tell me what six words would be on your race card.

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