I was talking to a good friend, a man of color, a leader in the field of diversity, intercultural competence, engagement and inclusion. He told a moving story of being inspired as a child by his dad, who jumped to enlist in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but then faced spitting in his face and other venom when he would march in uniform, because of the color of his skin.
“It never deterred my father. His pride in this county remained strong,” my colleague said. “It showed me that I, too, could work for equality and stand up for change in the world,” he added, referring to his own long and growing history, leadership and world-renown for his ideas and activism.
I, white and Jewish, am listening, and all I can see is a vision of Horshak from Welcome Back Carter, raising hand and saying “Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh…” When finally called upon, I say, “Um, when I was 10, I got two pet fish, one gold and one black, and I named them Golda My-Fish and Martin Luther Fish.”
Depth, substance, power of real life experience that feeds a credibility to teach others and lead major corporations on international inclusion campaigns, versus…what did you say?
Because of my own work and interest in interculturalism and speaking other languages, people often ask what inspired my interest. I always feel obligated to provide an epiphany or event that set me on my path.
For the most part it’s just always been there. In fact, the only two anti-Semitic things that happened in my life didn’t actually happen to me, but to two non-Jewish family members: My Brazilian husband was ostracized at a job once after they discovered his wife was Jewish; my Catholic nephew ended a budding relationship after the woman in question said she hated Jews.
My question is, does there need to be a why/how, a life-changing event for someone to strive to be anti-racist? Shouldn’t that actually be the norm?
It’s just that USAmerican culture likes when people overcome adversity to achieve fame and fortune. It’s the American Dream. We celebrate actors who are recovering addicts, victims of crimes spurred on to help others; the more profound the original pain or injustice, the better.
When I start to get anxious about this, I like to think of my hero in this area…Shakespeare. Not because he is an enduring, insightful, amazing writer, but because from what I understand, he led a pretty boring life, middle class, mostly suffering from a boring marriage.
In that sense, maybe I’m not overdue a life-changing tragedy. Maybe it’s innate. You play the flute. I have a sixth sense for unconscious bias.
What inspires you to do what you do? Was it an event…or an essence?