No Longer Can We Hear the Words ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and Do Nothing

George_Floyd_Memorial_Lorie Shaull

Mourners remember George Floyd in Minneapolis. Photo by Lorie Shaull, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

Tears

“Black America feels like it cannot breathe,” said Trymaine Lee, Host of NBC’s Into America podcast in a CNN interview.

On the same channel, Brooke Baldwin wept. “I’m so angry, and I cannot even begin….” As Andrea Jenkins, who represents Mr. Floyd’s ward on City Council, said, “What sparks so much outrage, is that there seemed no regard to humanity or for human life.”

And Bakari Sellers, author of My Vanishing Country, in another CNN interview sobbed as he said, “There’s so much pain…. It’s hard to be black in this country when your life is not valued. And people are worried about the protesters and the looters. It’s people who are frustrated, who for far too long have not had their voices heard.”

“It’s not an isolated incident. It is a continuum of cases and situations that has been going on for decades…. These are just chapters in a book. And the title of the book is ‘Continuing Injustice and Inequality in America.’ That’s why the outrage. It’s not about one situation. It’s about the same situation happening again and again and again and again.” Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York. He pointed out the systemic racism that has led to more minorities being affected by COVID-19 than anyone else. “Nobody sanctions the violence and destruction, he said, “but the protests, the fear, the anger, and frustration, yes. And they demand is for justice…. How repugnant to the concept of America.”

The sentiments of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy were similar. “George Floyd should be alive today—not just as a matter of principle or justice, but as a matter of human dignity,” he said. “Too many times, we’ve gotten a national wake-up call and done nothing. Justice for George means acknowledging our nation’s centuries-old stain of racism.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden held a briefing. “No longer can we hear the words ‘I can’t breathe’ and do nothing,” he said, adding that what happened to George Floyd was “an act of brutality so elemental … it denied him of his humanity, it denied him of his life.” It’s time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths. It’s time for us to face that deep open wound.

And yet…

One politician, the President, however, had a different view. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Donald Trump tweeted shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, May 29. And he added, “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter called the tweet out, adding that it violated the platform’s fules about glorifying violence.  Furthermore, the New York Times pointed out that the statement was unattributed quote of Walter Headley, Miami’s police chief in 1967, threatening citizens who were upset that police had terrorized a black teenager by holding him over a bridge.

 

A Gentle Giant

Christopher Harris, a close friend, remembered George Floyd as a gentle giant. “…You see he was like a big, soft teddy bear.”

“I’m never going to get my brother back,” said his brother, Philonise Floyd.

Like Bakari Sellers, mom and blogger Georgina Dukes thought about what the tragedy will mean for her young child. “When my beautiful black boy grows from cute to a threat” She spoke of having the Talk. “I wish I didn’t have to have this conversation with my brilliant son.”

 

We Can No Longer Do Nothing

Said John Pavlovitz in his blog, Stuff that Needs to Be Said, “As a white person, I am grieving how prolific the white hatred of people of color is right now, but more than that I’m grieving how comfortable white Americans have all made it, the unimpeded path we’ve provided it, the way we’ve cooperated with it.”

So, we must act. “It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets,” said Michelle Obama. “I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.”

Among them: Amadou Diallou, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor.

Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo had that dialogue. “And when [white people] see everyday racism, they don’t stand up for it. Imagine how that feels to people of color in this country,” said CNN host Don Lemon. “The only word I can use it ‘hurt.’ It all hurts. This is why Colin Kaepernick took a knee. That’s why people are protesting.” This, as Mr. Lemon pointed out, is in stark contrast with those groups shouting in state capitols, white guys who are armed, heavily armed. “I am so sick, as a person of color, a black man… my actions, whatever I do is seen as being more aggressive or somehow sinister, just because of this shell that I am in. I am sick of it…. And that is how people of color feel in this country.

Among “75 things white people can do for racial justice,” are organizations to join, African-American businesses to patronize, civil-rights charities to support, and issues to follow. And a storyteller offers ideas on how white people can be allies, such as important books to read to become more knowledgeable on institutional racism—and being an empathetic listener.

Four excellent organizations fighting systemic racism:

 

Seven must-read books addressing systemic racism:

  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
  • Ta-Nihisi Coates, Between the World and Me and We Were Eight Years in Power
  • Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
  • Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy
  • Ibrahim X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
  • Patrice Khan Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist, reviewed in this blog previously

    More books can be found in this article in British Vogue.

    If you are buying a copy of any these books, please go to Bookshop.org and support a struggling independent bookseller.

 

Other things you can do:

Black Lives Matter has produced a comprehensive list. Please take a look. And there is Anguish and Action, The Obama Foundation

 

Not being a bystander – speaking out:

Moreover, as I discussed earlier, everyone must speak out when they see or hear any kind of bigotry. To recap review the Southern Poverty Law Center’s four-step model:

  1. Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
  2. Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
  3. Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
  4. Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful.

We Are Much Better with Immigrants than Without

Lady Liberty

 

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens. I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”

That’s what Donald J. Trump said in a tweet yesterday. This is yet another attempt by the current administration to use immigrants as a scapegoat, under the pretense of acting in the interest of public health. Speaking out against all forms of bigotry is a moral imperative. The following letter to the president explains why barring persons seeking to immigrate is a false narrative. Please feel free to copy the letter. (You will need to leave out the cited sources, as there is not enough space in the form.) As anyone who has written on behalf of Amnesty International knows, when writing to a head of state or elected official, it is very important to maintain a respectful tone.

 

Donald J. Trump
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

It was with grave concern I learned about your considering an Executive Order to close the United States to legal immigration. Most Americans are rightly worried about the novel coronavirus. However, if COVID-19 were the true reason for your action, a 14-day quarantine of persons entering the country would surely be the reasonable policy. This Executive order, therefore, strongly suggests that it is an anti-immigration policy, not public-health policy.

Reliable sources attest to the fact that immigrants are a net benefit to the country. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (2015), for each one immigrant, 1.2 jobs are created. An earlier NB.E.R. study (2010) finds that rather than costing American jobs, immigration “reduces the share of off-shored jobs.” Researchers at the Brookings Institute cite “…while immigrants represent about 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of entrepreneurs and a quarter of investors in the U.S.” Even the Cato Institute, a conservative organization, attests that “There are also enough differences between the skills of immigrants and natives, that most native-born workers’ wages end up going up. Almost all Americans workers are better off with immigration than without.”

I, therefore, urge you, Mr. President, to consider the net positive contributions immigrants bring to America and not pursue your Executive Order.

 

Sources:

Hoban, B. (2017). “Do Immigrants ‘Steal’ Jobs from American Workers?” Brookings Now.  Online at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2017/08/24/do-immigrants-steal-jobs-from-american-workers/

Hong, G. & McLaren, J. (2015). “Are Immigrants a Shot in the Arm for the Local Economy?”  NBER Working Paper, No. 21123. https://www.nber.org/papers/w21123.pdf

Lewis, E. (2017). “How Immigration Affects Workers: Two Wrong Models and One Right One.” Cato Journal, Vol. 37. No. 3, 461-472. https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2017/9/cato-journal-v37n3-3.pdf

Moobarak, A.M. (2017). “Does Immigration Create Jobs?” Yale Insights. Online at: https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/does-immigration-create-jobs

Ottaviano, G, Peri G. & Wright G. (2010). “Immigration, Offshoring and American Jobs.” NBER Working Paper, No. 16439. https://www.nber.org/papers/w16439

May We Find Light in Darkness this Passover

israels_escape_from_egypt

Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former U.K. Chief Rabbi, remarked on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then, there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he said, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

So, Rabbi Sacks asks, “What makes this year different from all other years?”

“We have never been more alone because the social distancing and the isolation that we’ve been practicing mean that we are unable to celebrate Pesach the way it should be
celebrated,” he says. “But at the same time, we have never been less alone.”

Most of all, he continues,  “We don’t only recall our suffering. We recall the suffering others.”

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, asks us to imagine Passover by connecting with today’s refugees throughout the world. The organization created a Haggadah to “hold out hope for the day when every person in search of refuge in every corner of the earth can recall a story of freedom, reflect on a journey to security from violence and persecution, and no longer yearn for a safe place to call home,” the more than 70 million displaced people around the world today.

At the end of World War II, surviving Jews were among refugees. She’repith hapletah – the Saved Remnant, the “few who escaped,” they were known. The Final Solution during the Holocaust was supposed to eradicate the Jewish population of Europe, literally roots and all, and it nearly succeeded. In the spring after World War II, in 1946, a group of these displaced persons met in Munich, Germany, to celebrate one of the most poignant and meaningful Passover Seders in history. In normal times, the theme of the holiday is the escaped from servitude and darkness, and looking with hope and deliverance in better times. Of course, this year, those themes would take on added meaning. The Haggadah used at that Seder reflected that in both traditional and novel ways.

A Survivor's Haggadah Passover Pesach Haggadah Shoah Holocaust

A Survivor’s Haggadah. Front Cover, Dustjacket/.
Saul Touster, Ed. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 2000

Our book actually begins almost exactly a half century later, in the spring of 1996, when a Brandeis University professor named Saul Touster was going through one of his father’s files, when a most unusual booklet fell out. Beneath a simple letter A enclosed in red and blue circles were the words “Passover Service,” with the year 1946.

   This has been reproduced in a beautiful hardcover volume. Within the covers Dr. Touster found pages with Hebrew type surrounded with borders that contained striking images contrasting the symbols of the Holocaust with others of the Promised Land by a Polish survivor named Yosef Dov Scheinson, interspersed with striking woodcuts depicting the toil of enslavement by a Hungarian artist, Miklos Adler, all supplementing the usual visual representation one would expect to find in a Haggadah.

   The high quality of the A Haggadah is fascinating in its own right, but Dr. Touster’s insightful commentary provides an invaluable context, making this excellent volume much more than a coffee table book that is pretty to look at. Much more, it preserves – through retelling – the precious memory of a history that must be told, when Passover was truly a t’shuvah, a redemption, coming home, a passing from darkness to light.

Hagaddah page enslavement Nazi Germany Hitler Egypt Pharaoh Passover Shoah Holocaust

This is one of the woodcuts by Milkos Adler, which the author of the Haggadah, Yosef Dov Sheinson, selected to supplement his own illustrations and writing.

  As we keep each other in mind and work for one another, may there be a glimmer of light in this time of darkness. “Next year, in Jerusalem,” at home with family.

COVID-19. There’s no Excuse for Bigotry.

Summer Cloud Spectacle

 

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.” In 2015, in issuing guidelines  on naming new diseases and pathogens, WHO said that names matter; inaccurate or biased names can provoke backlashes against religious and ethnic groups, with serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

 

This is about the proliferation of such names for the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” and “the Wuhan virus,” loudly proclaimed by officials in the Federal government and segments of the media.

 

Among others, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) expressed the deep concern of “our leaders actually stoking the flames and encouraging people to scapegoat.” She added, “The only result that can happen from … xenophobic rhetoric is to hurt people and to scapegoat a particular ethnic group in this country.

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against using the term “Chinese virus.” In fact, the these dog-whistle terms already appearing online. This Washington Post article explains it well.

 

Chinese virus… Wuhan virus… These terms deliberately target Chinese people and other Asians who “look Chinese.” It’s racism. It’s bigotry. This is not open to question. “The coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist,” said Samantha Bee, the comedian. “Tying coronavirus to China and Chinese people isn’t just a racist dog whistle, it’s a whole racist orchestra.”

 

See or Hear Racism? Speak Up!

The Southern Poverty Law Center urges people to speak up. The organization’s Teaching Tolerance project recommends a four-step model:

  1. Interrupt the conversation. Express that you need to talk about racism before proceeding.
  2. Question the person and remark. “Why did you call it the Chinese virus” or “What made you say that?”
  3. Educate the speaker. Tell them that the name COVID-19 was chosen carefully to avoid associating the pathogen with a specific group of people.
  4. Echo when someone else speaks up. Acknowledge and amplify the message that these terms are wrong and hurtful. The Ohio State University Kirwan Institute offers online training on being an active bystander.

#IAmNotaVirus

 

It’s real. Racist attacks against people of Chinese ancestry and other southeast Asians have been reported around the world. “Not only do we need to be afraid of our health, now we also have to be afraid to be ourselves,” said one Chinese-American teenager. “Coronavirus infected my high school.” A young woman was yelled at, threatened, and spat on by. The same New York Times article cited many others, including other Asian-Americans, “who with families from Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, and other places — are facing threats, too, lumped together with Chinese-Americans by a bigotry that does not know the difference.” A Huffpost article echoes this news and urges bystanders to speak up.

 

This issue also affects political leadership around the world. Representatives from the Group of Seven nations met last Wednesday to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, but they couldn’t agree on a joint statement to release to the public afterwards. Why? Because U.S. Secretary of State insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus.”

 

More than 200 civil- and human-rights organizations have sounded the alarm, among them Human Rights Watch, the Anti Defamation League (ADL), the NAACP, and the Arab American Institute.

 

“Disease and prejudice have long gone hand in hand,” said the New York Times editorial board. “We can do better in 2020.”

Fighting Terror and Being Labeled a Terrorist: A Review of a How Black Lives Matter Memoir

when they call you a terrorist

This searing, critically important book has just been released as a paperback.

 

The news came on July 13, 2013. A young woman named Patrisse was outraged. The man who killed an unarmed 17-year-old African American boy in Miami Gardens, Florida, was exonerated in the name of self-defense. “In what f*** world does this make sense?” she cried out. And having grown up with and known other young black men, she cried. “We learn that the man believed he had to do what he did. A right to stand ground that wasn’t being challenged by a boy carrying iced tea and Skittles. He believed that his assumed rights superseded this child’s right to walk home to his own house to bring his little brother a treat.” And the jury agreed. Yet, what happened did not even make the news. Patrisse’s friend Alicia wrote these words in a Facebook post: “btw stop saying that we are not surprised, that’s a damn shame in itself. I continue to be surprised how little Black lives matter. And I will continue that … stop giving up on black life, black people. I will NEVER give up on us. NEVER. Patrice responded with a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

 

It did not take long for this movement to demand accountability from authorities who accept the systemic racism of police action against people of color, and the institutions of society that built and maintain that system. “Most middle-class whites have no idea what it feels like to be subjected to police who are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent, and brutal,” said Dr. Benjamin Spock, who Patrisse quotes. And it is critical to continue re-reading Dr. Martin Luther King’s criticism of white moderates in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. But things were to get much worse. Public discourse took a decidedly ugly turn when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News famously labeled Black Lives Matter a terrorist group. (Since then, that a charge that has since been echoed by others in the news.) Patrisse’s book addresses that spurious and racially charged label head on. She provides vivid examples from both her life growing up in a racially segregated neighborhood in California and articles in the news, especially the shootings of Michael Brown and other young black men. Especially searing is the life and fate of Monte, an elder sibling with a mental illness in a bleak jail, before Michelle Alexander publicized mass imprisonment in The New Jim Crow, and Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy

 

The work of Black Lives Matter continues. In the wake of the increased terrorism of White Supremacy, it must. Patrisse’s voice is one that must continue to be heard, and heeded.

 

Join the Interfaith Unity Vigil, Morris Area, New Jersey

Vigil

 

On Sunday, January 12, 2020, there will be an interfaith vigil at Temple Adath Shalom,
841 Mountain Way, Morris Plains, NJ 07950. The event was organized by the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization creating a bond between members of the Muslim and Jewish faiths. They seek “to build bridges and fight hate, negative stereotyping and prejudice.”

 

Members of both faiths, and others, will gather to affirm one other in a show of strength and courage.

 

“Join us as we reflect on our traditions and teachings and create a welcoming space for all. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Unity Vigil is an opportunity to affirm the harmony that we experience when we celebrate the dignity and diversity we see in one another. This vigil will be a call for prayer and readings to offer courage and hope to one another.”

 

For more information, please contact Rabbi Debra Smith of Or Ha Lev, Jewish Renewal Congregation, at 908-303-8374

 

 

On this Independence Day, Many Children Are not Free

Huntingdon Freedom Monument Eagle

An open letter to my three representatives in Congress:

As I write you, Independence Day fireworks are bursting in all their glory in New York City and Washington. Indeed, like you, I treasure the many freedoms of our great country with immense gratitude. However, it is hard to do so at this moment, when over 2,300 children are suffering from physical deprivation and emotional torture (a word I do not use lightly), illegal under both U.S. and international law. The New York Times recently reported a psychologist and a pediatrician who visited one of these deplorable border detention facilities noted that children are even being prohibited from giving one another physical comfort, not even a hug! Or, to quote an article in The Atlantic, “Children Cannot Parent Other Children.”

As such, I urge you to visit at least one of the Border Patrol detention camps and report what you have seen.

According to one civil rights group, RAICES, “Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Ayanna Pressley came because they want to hear more than just what Border Patrol agents have to say. We know that Customs & Border Protection (CBP) practice is to cover up their unjust practices. That’s why the Congresswomen joined immigrant rights groups in touring a Border Patrol facility.”

I now call on you to join Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley and visit these facilities to see for yourself and to hold CBP and all representatives accountable.

Sincerely,

Daniel L. Berek
New Jersey, USA