Friday, August 10, 2012

Lines Straight and Crooked

Parshat Ekev
22 Av 5772
August 10th, 2012

I have to warn you that politics will be mentioned in this post. These days, politics are like the sex in the movies:  people should know before the feature so that they can take their kids and leave.

Anyways, NPR interviewed an unemployed man who blames the president for the economy. Such a conceit is reasonable, whether accurate or not. However, he went on to say that the President and his wife hate white people. This idea is not reasonable at all.

People forget that our President is bi-racial: half African, half Caucasian. To say he hates white people forgets that fully half his family, and his mother, are white. So from where does such a claim come?

The answer, I think, lies in the power of stories. The story of America is of racial divide. Despite all of our progress in the last century, black and white in this country do not yet trust each other. Racial divides remain, and the narrative of racial divide is so strong among us that circumstances which do not fit neatly into its categories are forced to conform. Thus any person who combines black and white is shunted fully to one side of the race debate regardless of inclination, and is slapped with the narrative that applies to African-Americans, no matter how specious.

The ultimate point is not about the president, nor our political furor. The point is that we are willing to sacrifice the identities of others to the needs of our own stories. Case in point: would any man or woman in this country who comes from both black and white parentage, and whose skin is noticeably dark, ever be called anything but black by the outside world?

One of my favorite images from the prophets is of the plumb line – ankh in Hebrew. A plumb line is a simple builder’s tool – a string with a weight at the end. By holding it out, one determines whether a building is truly vertical. Here’s the prophet Amos: “And HaShem said to me, ‘What do you see Amos?’ And I said ‘A plumb line.’ And my Lord said, ‘indeed I am placing a plumb line on my people Israel, and I will no longer let them off.’”

Our charge is to break through the insular circles of life with a plumb line. We should not suffer that which is crooked to remain.

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