Monday, August 11, 2008

Thoughts on "isms"

My mother and I stumbled upon the Holocaust Center of Northern California last week. It is located the next street up from the Embarcadaro, on Steuart. From our parking space, we could see the Bay Bridge. The fog was beginning to lift and I could make out indigo patches of sky. The neighborhood, idyllic in an urban sense, has gone through a major facelift because of earthquake damage. Anyway, we intended to go to the Freida Kahlo exhibit at the SF Museum of Modern Art but were challenged by not only the crowds lining up around the block, but the long wait...so we decided to check out 121 Steuart Street. The building is nondiscript, also housing the Jewish Community Center. I pushed on the glass door and was greeted by two men who immediately asked what we were doing in the building; they were intimidating. After explaining our intent, we were asked to sign in, walk through a metal detector, and were escorted to the basement where an amazing library is located. What struck me was the level of security. Outside, were a number of ethnic eateries, a botique hotel, a pretty cool YMCA, the post office...Inside the door of this building were real, live, men in black! I thought back to the "isms" we discussed in New York and was reminded that for some, principles, beliefs, philosophies are above the law (big duh...World Trade Center...was at Ground Zero...), and that the people in this building, in this yuppie-type neighborhood, understand this truth and feel threatened enough to hire security. Is it just a hopeless wish...tolerance? peace? Are we past the point of opting for conscious dialogue to heal and learn from each other? Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a dark, depressing, black hole... that we will kill each other to protect our "isms." Hopefully, our efforts to promote tolerace will be embraced by the young people we teach. Hopefully, these young people will see beyond race, ethnicity, religion, politics, gender...

6 comments:

Danielle said...

I struggle with the same notion of ridding the world of "isms." I know that to focus on "curing" the entire world in one giant sweep would be ideal, but unrealistic. And when I stop to think about the one or two students I can change who will then go on to change others, I still think, is that enough? I find it's easy to be discouraged by the large goal at hand. So, I have to remain focused on the daily experiences and moments of change. The daily discussions with students, the teachable moments, and the varied perspectives I can provide - this is all I can give so I have to focus on those.

~Danielle

Ilka said...

I've come to think that one is enough. If each of us is one. And we influence one each year, even every other year. That one will influence their family, children, friends, business associates. It's like that movie Pay It Forward. Who knows what implication/results come from our little influence today? We may never be able to know what it will accomplish, but I have no doubt it will accomplish something.

Debi...very profound.

tmmaerke said...

Debi,
Thanks for writing. I miss listening to you.
I'm with you all the way when it comes to our existence in a black hole. I'm a firm believer in the fact that we live in a dark world, and sate ourselves with hope. Because of this belief, I'm convinced that we never will "cure" the world of all the isms; the depravity is built into our DNA. Just yesterday, here at school, I listened to a colleague who vacationed in New York complain that the "country is going to pot" because of all the foreign speaking non-White shop owners. After trying to explain my appreciation for riding on the subway, when often I wouldn't hear anyone speaking English, and how this best illustrates the idea of the U.S. as a melting pot, he admitted that he didn't “think” he was "that prejudiced but going there made me even more.” He accepted it! How despicable is that? This is why we do what we do, and this is when I go back to The Myth of Sysiphus, and try to follow Camus’ conclusion.

DebiEm said...

The level of acceptance is what gets me. It's more than despicable. How can one "think" they're not being prejudical when making the statement your collegue did. Yes, the lessons of The Myth of Sysiphus, the only certainty is uncertainty...that nothing we do really has any meaning, but I disagree with Camus' basic premise. I don't believe its fully possible to live a life of "ironic detachment" since we, as humans, tend to seek opportunities to build relationships with one another.

Valerie said...

In response to Thomas' colleague ... the issue is that some people are not at all trying to rid themselves of prejudice; some embrace it and are even proud of it. I just finished reading Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the "Little Rock Nine" who integrated Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957. Those students had to put with such horrors (constant name-calling as well as physical abuse -- being kicked, shoved, punched, etc.) and were not allowed to retaliate, or even protect themselves; otherwise, they'd be blamed and suspended or expelled. The adults in the school building did nothing to protect these students; even the Arkansas National Guard turned a blind eye because racism was acceptable -- applauded, in fact.

dfield said...

Debie: You and your cohorts have the ability to shine a light in this dark, cruel world and encourage your pupils to be tolerant and understanding.

Best regards,

David A. Field