Racism & Me

Israel is advanced in many ways. Scientifically and technologically, it’s probably one of the most developed countries in the world. On the other hand, I feel Israeli society is rather backward in many ways. I think it’s mostly the religious community that keeps Israeli society from complete liberation. Although it’s the only democratic country in the midst of the chaoticoracy currently controlling the Middle East, same-sex couples are not recognized, there are no same-sex marriages, the equal rights that people of all religions and nationalities are entitled to remain theoretical, women issues are discarded and their rights are suppressed from every angle.

Recently, there are also reports of severe racism sprouting up like springtime ragweed. Aside from the African refugees infiltrating the country from Egypt and Jordan, the Ethiopian community is also feeling the heat.

When I was little, living in Beit Shean, I learned about tolerance and respect for minorities. Being a Jew in Montreal later on, I was also considered a minority, even a visible one, because people could always tell I was from somewhere in the Mediterranean region – Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, even Spanish. So I never considered myself racist.

But a few years ago, I discovered that while speaking Hebrew, I’ve been referring to black people as niggers, all this time. Ever since I was little, black people were always referred to as “kooshim.” Nobody told me that was derogatory. Our family never calls a chocolate cake by the main ingredient. Ever since I was little, it was called “uga kooshit” – nigger cake.

Even today, out on the streets, and even on TV, it’s completely PC to call a black person a nigger in Hebrew. That’s how we were brought up. And supposedly, it doesn’t make us racist.

But I feel it still makes us ignorant. I was ignorant before I found out that “kooshi” means nigger. But now that I did, I want to change that. I wouldn’t want people calling me a “kike” just because that’s how they were brought up. Being brought up one way or another does not justify prejudice and bigotry. And if an adult, who has reached a level of intelligence and freedom of expression, still uses the pejorative vocabulary they learned early in life, that makes this person a racist. Plain and simple.

At times, I still find myself using the word “kooshi” in Hebrew. Even more disturbing is when I catch myself asking my mom to make a nigger cake.

Just as I have enough self-discipline to say “black person” or “Ethiopian” or “African-American” in English, I should do the same in Hebrew. The first step is to acknowledge that I have been a racist all this time – ignorant or not is irrelevant. Whether or not my family continues to use derogatory words should not affect my efforts to break this ignorant vocabulary.

Deep down, I know I am not racist and I want my vocabulary to reflect that.

Peace, love and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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