Friday, April 20, 2007

But it's not my problem

Here is my issue with grass-roots activism: It is often organized around a single issue, and the activists are all people directly affected. IE women and feminism, people of color and the civil rights movement, the GLBTQ community and gay marriage, etc, etc. In these cases not only are the activists those directly involved, but it is often hard for people who aren't to help out. For instance, I was recently asked to explain what connection I had to the struggles of Jews of Color to gain acceptance within the Jewish community.

What? Do I need a connection? Apparently, to establish my authenticity, I do. I happen to have cousins who are of color, but that shouldn't matter. I am deeply upset by the idea that Jews are racist against other Jews, that a Jew of color can't enter a synagogue to pray without people asking him/her if he/she is Jewish, and how that came to be. That should be enough. No one should have to explain why they feel that an injustice is unjust, whether or not it personally affects them.

I think that this is most insidious within the context of feminism. Issues of equality for women are often seen as women's problem. It is our responsibility to find a working solution to the work/home conflict, to the desire to have both a life and a career. That seems just ridiculous to me. A man never has to choose between having a traditional family life and a challenging career. Why should a woman have to? Additionally, Arlie Hochschield's research has shown that even in families where both partners work full time, the woman is often responsible for the bulk of the housework and/or childcare.

Men need to be involved in the fight for women's equality, they need to see that the current system hurts us all. If more women are able to work in challenging careers, the more people we have providing services, and the more likely it is that the best person for the job will have the job. As it is, women are being shuffled into careers that are "family-friendly," and once a career becomes "feminized" (like teaching or nursing, formerly all-male preserves) not only does it lose respect, but its relative compensation falls.

Point being, men need to see that this isn't a women's issue, it is a community issue. Same with racism, or GLBTQ issues, or disability, or ageism, or class issues, they all detrimentally effect us. And obviously no one person can do everything, and it is unreasonable to expect that a person take action on every injustice, but as Pirkei Avot* says "It is not our responsibility to finish the work, but neither can we ignore it." So pick an issue, write a letter, or email me to ask about advocacy groups (I've met a lot recently) and educational programs.

Lets all work to make this community better in substantive ways. Today.

*Pirkei Avot is a work of rabbinic thought, often referred to as "The Sayings of the Fathers" and basically is comprised of different pieces of wisdom.

1 comment:

Liberal Jew said...


My mother is the bread winner. My father stayed at home to raise the children. I am currently in my mid-twenties. As a child my dad was the only dad who was coming into classes and on field trips. My mom was an attorney for a large company for which she is now a senior vice president. (we are talking world wide product recognition here)

My dad was a home business owner and then returned to school, became a teacher and now is an associate city planer; but this is after both my sister and I moved out and across the country.

I consider myself a feminist.

I have never had a homosexual experience but I consider myself an activist for GLBT rights - to the confusion of many friends. I am a white Jewish guy who fights for civil rights and have cut people out of my life because of their racism.

So why do I make myself look so good from far behind a computer monitor? Because it is important to remember that there are some heterosexual white privileged men who agree with these causes and we have just has hard of a time fighting for these rights because we need to be accepted into the group before we are real enough to be seen as caring. And then we have to fight.

I believe with everything that I am that the idea of B'tzelem Elohim (being created in the image of God) is something worth fighting for, regardless for whom we are fighting. Nice post.