Coates and Tyfereth, Algren and Mobley (Beyond 33)

“Passover is a time of remembrance but also one of renewal — of looking ahead toward the spring and new growth that will sustain us through the seasons to come. Once we spent spring in the desert. It was harsh and difficult but from that journey grew a people who have endured for centuries. What would happen if we took that journey again, not alone in the wilderness but surrounded by friends and allies, leaving no one behind?”
— from JFREJ Haggadah

from Baltimore, 2015, and Chicago, mid-20th Century.
In stereo.
With no comment:


part 1: “Family Breakdown”

Jim Crow was one heck of a barrier to entry, but it hasn’t been legal for decades. If legal barriers are no longer restraining African-American wealth growth, then what is? A cycle of poverty, but why? Coates dismissed family breakdown, but I suspect that’s closer to the truth than white supremacy.
— “Tyfereth,” on-line commenter at Atlantic Magazine, responding 4/30/15 to “Nonviolence as Compliance” by Ta-Nahisi Coates
—- See “In the Wake of Baltimore” — scroll, past the picture of two-year-old Ta-Nehisi, down to Tyfereth’s comments

part 2: “Out-of-Wedlock”

…I’ll leave it to the commenter to define, specifically, what they mean by “family breakdown.” I assume the commenter means children born out of wedlock. As the product of such a family—and as a Dad who fathered his only child out of wedlock—I reject the label. Nonetheless, whatever we call it, the “out of wedlock” theory has a serious problem—the out of wedlock birthrate in the black community is at its lowest point since the CDC began keeping stats. Indeed the gap between black and white women has been shrinking for the last 15 years. (I suspect that much of that shrinkage is the result of the rapid decline in teenage pregnancy in the black community.)

If the main driver of black poverty is black out-of-wedlock birthrate, and yet that birthrate is in decline, what explains the yawning chasm between black and white America?
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, responding to Tyfereth (see above), 5/6/15


part 1: “Illegitimate…All and on Welfare”

These 200,000-plus fatherless children…equal the combined populations of [Chicago suburbs] Arlington Heights, Evanston, and Oak Park.

No records are kept of how many of these children become public charges. A conclusion may be drown, however, from welfare figures….

In the 1950s my work took me into the homes of many disadvantaged persons. It was common — and shocking and frightening — to walk into a living room and confront 8 or 10 children and women, representing four generations, all on welfare, and more on the way.

…Do men and women, in or or out of marriage, unable or unwilling to emotionally and financially support a child have a moral and legal right to produce that child?
— Columnist Jack Mabley
from a 1970s column in the Chicago Tribune, similar in content to Mabley columns in the long-gone Daily News and longer-gone Chicago American

part 2: “Like Guinea Pigs”

To say “Each man’s death diminishes me” today only rouses cries of “they’re like guinea pigs out there.”

WhoLostNot to be surpassed in public service, the Evening [Chicago] American offers a new crusade by Chicago’s most heavily decorated fink; one whose honors are all self-awarded. While keeping an eagle eye on the broken brutes of Skid Row’s broken walks, he also finds time to expose mothers of illegitimate children found in movie houses while receiving state aid. This Malthusian revisionist’s cry is, “They’re multiplying like guinea pigs out there!” Implying that his kind of people have hit upon a method of reproducing themselves different from that of guineas pigs.
— from Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make (1961 addendum, see also) and Who Lost an American? (NY: Macmillan, 1963)

“What would happen if we took that journey again, not alone in the wilderness but surrounded by friends and allies, leaving no one behind?”

We counted 33 on the evening of May 6. Tonight, we count….

Continue reading Coates and Tyfereth, Algren and Mobley (Beyond 33)

Conversing for Racial Justice (Beyond 32)

Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, brings a symbolic break in this 49-day journey from Passover to Shavuot. The 32-day plague wrought by disrespect among Rabbi Akiva’s students (see yesterday’s post) has ended. Lag B’Omer is a day of transition. We don’t necessarily cease mourning for who and what was lost, or stop analyzing how things went wrong. But, just as Akiva began anew with five students, it is time to for us to focus on rebuilding.

HeartThe plague story warns that a pretense of respect only obscures danger. It urges us to explore our own communities for places where similar hazards lurk, to engage in necessary conversations.

This break in the Omer is an opportunity to examine our journey, how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.

Now is a great time, too, to check in with others. It is not necessary to follow the same religious calendar in order to join together on a journey from oppression. Counting these days has its own peculiar set of commandments and its own set of benefits. But one need not count the Omer to make these days count.

Rebuilding Tools

Race Forward provides an array of materials designed to educate individuals and groups and facilitate conversations around racial justice. This post includes handy links to a number of their resources, including their relatively new series of videos on systemic racism — all intended for a wide-ranging audience.

Showing Up for Racial Justice works, more specifically, “with white people who are already in motion.” SURJ endeavors to avoid “the culture of shame and blame” which can be found in some activist circles, instead seeking “to bring as many white people into taking action for racial justice as possible.”

SURF offers resources, including suggestions for launching house parties and other conversational activities. Special Mothers Day materials speak to teachers, parents, and others working with children.

Many other groups work to unite people in action and/or further necessary conversations. If you have other resources to share, please post in comments or email me (songeveryday at gmail).

It will enhance our individual journeys to know others are with us. So, please consider using the comment section here to let everyone know you’re committing to begin the conversations we need, or just “like” this post (see star at far bottom of post). In addition, please share this post or the “Conversing for Racial Justice” image to help engage others.

We counted 32 on the evening of May 5. Tonight, we count….

Continue reading Conversing for Racial Justice (Beyond 32)

Death by Disrespect (Beyond 31)

How can we end the plague of disrespect around race-related topics that threatens our country with disaster? Perhaps the Omer journey shows us a way to begin.

Rabbi Akiva, a key player in the story of four who visited Paradise (see yesterday’s post), is also central to a narrative linked with the Omer period. The Talmud relates how 24,000 of Akiva’s students “died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect.”

Later tradition identifies the “same time” as the first 32 days of the Omer and the proximate cause as a divine plague. (More below on Akiva and the Omer.)

Rampant, Unacknowledged Disrespect: Then…

The Talmud speaks of plague victims as “twelve thousand pairs of students,” referencing the practice of learning with a partner. Among the many questions this brief, symbolic tale raises is one of awareness: Did Rabbi Akiva realize his students were disrespecting one another and fail to intervene? Or did he somehow not notice the disaster brewing among ALL 12,000 pairs of students? How could anyone be that oblivious?

One explanation is that Akiva’s students outwardly gave the impression that all was well, pretending to respect one another’s opinions and learning.

Are we behaving any differently in this country today?

…and Now

How many of us have been vaguely aware that we live in a nation divided by White privilege but failed — whether through indifference, despair, or confusion — to address it, opting instead to go along to get along? And when an uprising occurs in Ferguson or Baltimore, how many of us find the whole thing too painful to consider in any serious way?

from JFREJ in NYC May 2
from JFREJ in NYC May 2

How many of us have engaged, however unconsciously, in the variety of mental gymnastics that help maintain the “all is well” impression, with any suggestion to the contrary attributed to isolated incidents and (usually “outside”) individual agitators?

How often have perspectives of people of color been dismissed as “extreme” by media, and individual consumers of it, instead of taken seriously?

And how often have we dismissed every perspective but our own, often using labeling — “liberal,” “Tea Party,” “Right,” “Left” — to define others as unworthy of consideration?

Ending the Plague

According to legend, there are 32 days of plague followed by 17 more days in the Omer. The Hebrew numbers “32” and “17” can be read as equivalent to the Hebrew words “lev [heart]” and “tov [good].”**

It is the “good heart” that seems to have been missing from Akiva’s learning community and that is all too often missing from discourse in our country today.

Perhaps we can begin to turn this around by consciously chipping away at the veneer of “all well” and pursuing real respect in its place.

What if each one of us committed to having one difficult, but honest and respectful, conversation about race?

Suppose 12,000 of us engaged in such a conversation, yielding 24,000 people with a slightly broader understanding! And if each of those 24,000 engaged someone else….

Imagine our experience of Revelation, at the end of the omer period, encompassing the many new perspectives gained during this journey. If we approach Sinai this year with hearts each a tiny bit more attuned to the neighbors surrounding us, what more might be revealed?

**lamed + bet = lev/heart (32) and tet + vav + bet = tov/good(17).

Who’s ready? And how might we share our commitments to this effort?

We counted 31 on the evening of May 4. Tonight, we count….

Continue reading Death by Disrespect (Beyond 31)

Cucumber Magic, Cucumber Illusion

some notes/resources on the planting and reaping of cucumbers (by magic or illusion), “worship of stars,” R. Eliezer, and Christianity. (posted here for Temple Micah’s Hebrew Poetry group and anyone else interested — and to make use of WordPress’ memory, which is better than mine).
Continue reading Cucumber Magic, Cucumber Illusion