Loss of Heritage Can Lead to Racism

I recently attended the North American White Ashkenazi Jews Eliminating White Racism Workshop led by Dvora Slavin. [For more on this workshop, see page 74 of the January 2019 Present Time.]

Dvora referred to our lineages. I have little information about mine. My father’s parents left Przemyśl, Poland, in the 1880s to live in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. About the same time, my mother’s parents left Kobrin, Russia, and settled in Augusta, Georgia, USA. I do not know why my grandparents left their Polish and Russian homes, if or how they were religious, what traditions (religious or cultural) they practiced, or much else.

In sessions I’ve cried and shook noticing how little I know about my family’s past. I’ve felt as if not knowing is my personal failing. However, immigrants to the United States have had their language and culture devalued and replaced by U.S. English and mainstream U.S. ways. To be favored here by the people in power, they have learned to eschew the foundations of who they are. This has had survival value—there is a temporary acceptance, and some economic opportunities—but it has also left the pain of disconnection from their heritages and themselves.

Lighter-skinned immigrant groups, like us white Ashkenazi Jews, have acquired the privileges of a white identity. But we’ve also dropped languages and cultural foundations in order to fit in. We’ve heard messages like, “You don’t belong here. Gesturing like that, speaking like that, hanging your laundry like that, dancing like that, caring about what you value, makes you unacceptable.” These messages have conditioned us to stop showing our true selves. The behaviors I’ve unwittingly acquired have obscured who and how I would have been. As with my forebears, overt and subtle acts of oppression have steered me toward hiding my true self.

All of this fosters racism and other oppressive behaviors. My Jewish grandparents and parents and I, to help us survive, took on [adopted] behaviors that were racist, sexist, classist, and so on. Being aware of all that has impacted my people, my family, and me helps me replace the alienating and isolating ways with those of mutually shared humanity.

Harvey Pillersdorf

Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
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Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00