Thursday, August 27, 2020

Black Lives Matter

     The thing about Jews is, we don't like to go to synagogue, or practice the requirements of our faith. We recognize Judaism as the team we were born onto, but find life too short for saying prayers or following kosher or any of that stuff. That said, some of the rituals are cool. We do like challah, though matzo, not so much, unless its rendered into matzo brei—egg matzo—a breakfast dish, which we eat with sugar, never salt. Jews enjoy bacon and pork chops too, though we draw the line at those big pink glutenous canned hams. Yuck. 
    Oh wait, maybe that isn't Jews in general. Maybe that's just me. Yup, definitely me.
    See, I have trouble doing what so many individuals seem to do automatically: presenting themselves as the spokesmen, the embodiment and voice of their entire group. I know why they do it: it adds oomph to what is really their opinion. Me and all my friends, standing notionally behind me, nodding in agreement, in my fantasy world.
     But Jews are not me. Or you. They are this enormous range of people representing a wide spectrum of beliefs, from black-hats ticking off every single commandment, to Stephen Miller, the president's shadowy, serpentine Goebbels. Every group is enormously diverse and complicated. I don't see how anyone can argue that fact, and in reality, they don't. They just ignore it.
     Not only do people making statements pretend to be representative, but so do those who embrace them. Whom you accept as a spokesman for others says more about yourself than about the group you are trying to characterize.
    On social media, the act of sharing the voice of the member of a minority group is often a kind of tacit slur. For instance. Social media throbs with that video of Chicago Black Lives Matter organizer Ariel Atkins explaining why looting is okay.
    “That is reparations,” Atkins told NBC Chicago. “Anything they wanted to take, they can take it because these businesses have insurance.”
    That's dumb, and I imagine that most responsible people of all hues consider it dumb, and unhelpful, in that it allows folks to dismiss the entire movement as a rationale for stealing Gucci purses. 
     Sure, many are going to reject the message anyway, and if not with this they'd find someone else. Remember, many, maybe most people aren't looking to engage in the world in a meaningful way, but to cherry-pick facts that support exactly who they are and intend to always be. 
    But why make is so easy for them to do so?
     While against violence and chaos, I nevertheless support Black Lives Matter because I know both history and current events. I particularly like "Black Lives Matter" as a slogan, a rallying cry, exactly because it is so understated. Compared to "Gay Pride" or "Never again!" or "Black is beautiful," "Black Lives Matter" is so modest, so utterly unobjectionable. We have significance. Our lives have meaning. Who could argue with that?
     And the answer is, "Lots of people."  Those who hate seeing police held accountable counter with "Blue Lives Matter." White supremacists float "All Lives Matter," as a kind of code that the only lives that matter are their own. 
     "Black Lives Matter" is part of a fine tradition of setting a subtle snare. If you look at the key moments in the Civil Rights struggle, the line is drawn, not at something grand—the protests are never over the right of Black people to sit on the Supreme Court. But over something ordinary: riding on a bus, eating at a lunch counter, attending 2nd grade.
     A simple ask, that nevertheless draws out the haters, forces them to reveal themselves, to battle something prosaic. To oppose basic decency. To make them show up with their dogs and firehoses, then, or their pepper spray and batons now. And in that sense, BLM should do as much as it can to distance itself from the looting and riots that often follow their protests. If after his encounter with Alabama cop, John Lewis had led marchers to burn Selma, he would not have been as revered and effective as he became, nor would that encounter at the Edmund Pettus bridge be remembered the way it is. Not doing so hurts BLM and their cause.
     In my opinion. Of course I'm one guy, and a 60-year-old white guy at that. I am not speaking for all white folks, nor all 60-year-0lds, nor all Jews. Unfortunately.


  1. And I'm not speaking for all 78-year-old white Roman Catholics (probably not even for half of them), but I can't agree more with Neil's commonsensical remarks, although I do appreciate the rhetorical power of "they've looted us for hundreds of years, it's time to get even," which about matches the white mantra of "slavery has been over for 150 years and it's not my fault that Blacks are impoverished."


  2. While we mostly like to think of ourselves as incredibly unique truth is within groups , there are types. And because there really aren't that many traits and an enormous number of people , many people are very similar.

    While it is a bit of a stretch to try and speak even for a type it's possible to imagine that there are those subsets of a group that share some outlooks or opinions that can be expressed as representative of a common thread.

    There are those both in the BLM organization and outside of it that feel looting is warranted. Even necessary. Peaceful protest is going on throughout the country on a dailey basis. And being ignored. Yesterday athletes caused millions of dollars in damage. Everybody noticed. It's an effective strategy. There was no violence same as with the vast majority of looting. Why do people insist there is so much violence occuring? It's not accurate narrative. If anything most of the time it's the police being violent towards peaceful protesters and looters.

    The movement started on a knee. People decided to stand . Sorry if y'all don't like it. Things have to change. Peaceful protest isn't working. Watch out for violent revolution. And I'm NOT speaking for just one 60 year old white guy.

  3. I agree. As a slogan, or belief, or rallying cry BLM is good. As an organization, though, I don’t understand what the structure is and who speaks for them, who they are or what they’re doing. I worry that this plays into the idiot conspiracy theorists’ hands since they see nebulous threats everywhere. Biden will lead the BLM ninja army to destroy your suburb, you know.

    1. of course its not too hard to find out :

    2. Is that on the so-called "internets?"

  4. Great commentary - thank you for posting!

  5. I agree that it's foolish to pick out statements, tweets, etc., by individuals and assert that they represent the views of everyone who shares that individual's race, religion or politics. It's only fair to do that with statements or actions that are unmistakably attributable to a group as a whole.

    Such as marching down a street chanting "Jews will not replace us." Or electing an utterly unqualified racist buffoon as President of the United States.

  6. The big elephant in the room is what is not in the room. Just as our country suffers from a lack of leadership, a voice that speaks to all of us, BLM too lacks a leader.
    The demonstrators in Portland have been at it for months yet we have yet to meet the face of that group. Let all of America know why they are there.
    MLK Jr. is not around any more. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are not taken seriously enough.
    I believe strides could be taken if there was someone who could come to the table and work with other leaders to create a path for change.
    BLM needs a voice. We need to listen.

    1. BLM functions as a decentralized organization with a collaborative leadership model rejecting a traditional top down organizational structure .

      Many of the groups and organizations in todays social justice movement operate this way . Working to insure that many disparate voices are heard.

    2. It also insures that nobody and everybody can speak for the group.


  7. I only use salt in matzo brei. Never heard of sugar in it. That's how my mom made it I just do the same.

  8. If you're a Jew, then Jews are the home team....and it's hard not to root for the home team. White yarmulkes for the home games, black ones on the road. It doesn't matter if the owner is a jerk and the manager stinks, or if the current roster is pathetic. They're the colors and the team you grew up with. I like to say I was born a Democrat, a Jew, and a Cub fan. I'm still a Democrat by choice and and a Cub fan by choice. That third one? It's like choosing brown eyes or the color of your skin. You are what you are.

    My origins are as Jewish as lox or gefilte fish. One grandmother was a Bolshevik who fled Russia because she ran with the terrorists and there was a price on her teen-aged head...the Bernadine Dohrn of 1905. The other grandmother emigrated at 17, from the town where "Fiddler on the Roof" was set. Twenty-five years later, all the ones who stayed behind went up the chimney. The family letters stopped coming to East Garfield Park. My mom was religious, and only spoke Yiddish until she started school. But my father had no use for all the mumbo-jumbo. I don't think he even learned any Hebrew.

    Me? I was shorted a few parts before I left the factory. The engine sputters and misses. Never wanted any kids. Grew up in a town that was Jewish and naturally I wanted to be an Italian greaser. Two years of Hebrew school, then I quit. Loved the language and was good at it, and loved learning the history of the Jewish people, but hated the circus...the fights and the screwing around.

    To read that 71 percent of non-Orthodox Jews marry non-Jews is to realize how much that figure has was a fraction of that figure when I was growing up. But I'm one of them. Not once, but twice over.

    Nu? So what does it all mean, boychik? That I'm a Jew, and always will be, but I'm not really Jew-ISH. One of the tribe, but non-observant. I come for the food and stay for the music...I happen to love matzo. And I eat it with Spam. Go figure, huh? And I love klezmer bands. It's all about ethnicity with me, and not the religion, even though I still say the Hanukkah blessings over the same menorah I've been lighting for sixty years. And the politics, natch. Took a left turn at twenty, never looked back. Third-generation pinko, and proud of it.

    The Jewish faith doesn't really agonize over an afterlife. We're just light bulbs. There's no light bulb heaven or light bulb hell. The light within goes out when the brain ceases to function, and the bulb begins to decompose and has to be disposed of.

    Religious belief appears to be merely a mental construct that people use to stave off the fear of nothingness, which gets more real as one ages. And a way of keeping at bay the realization that life will continue to proceed, just as it always has, only without you. No snow. No summer. No baseball. No beaches. In heaven, there is no beer.

    You walk through your wife's family cemetery, on a beautiful summer's day, and you realize that all who rest here were once so full of life, and had thoughts like your own. And you are all too aware that a summer will come that you will not be here to see. That's the saddest and hardest and scariest thought of all.

    If religion helps someone to deal with all that, then mazel tov. Good for you. Whatever gets you through the night. But it's definitely not everyone's glass of tea.

  9. I don’t really have a comment to make here, other than to say these are some of the most thoughtful comments to an article I’ve seen on the internet. I think it says a lot about the depth and thoughtfulness of Neil Steinberg’s writing and the people who follow it. So Kudos to you and to Neil! Wish the rest of the internet could be this civil.

  10. There are also baptized Catholics who grow up in the faith who do not practice it as adults. Same goes for many other religions. Jews are not alone in this.
    As far as Black Lives Matter, of course they do. Unfortunately, it’s the haters who make the headlines, not the good deed doers. It may not have been said like this before, but there are many cops who hate Blacks. I know this for a fact directly from a cop I know. Of, course that doesn’t mean there aren’t other cops who don’t feel that way. But it just takes one bad apple to ruin the whole barrel. Or one (or two or three . . . ) bad police departments to ruin it for all police departments.
    Change is definitely necessary, whether through police candidate selection — similar to jury selection — where potentially bad cops are weeded out or through diversity training or through better training. Teach an up-and-coming cop never to shoot anyone in the back or kneel on a neck, etc. Why can’t they figure it out? Makes ya think they don’t want to!


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