Nosh, demolt ams (Yiddish: grub first, then we speak the truth)
The politics of silence
By Erez Zborowski
I returned home from a summer that was like chicken soup for the soul.
It had the bits I did like, and the bits that I didn’t like. You know, like sometimes you’re in it for the matzo ball, but there’s just too much parsley in there. No matter what, soup is soup, and after a bowl of it, no matter what bits you had to get through, nobody’s complaining about a good soup. That’s because it does something to you; it makes you feel full, warm. It gives you wholeness.
That’s the best way I can explain my summer to you. There were moments I still lament today, and moments I recount with a laugh and smile. When I found myself looking down at Cayuga Lake again in August, I felt more whole than ever.
Over the summer, I stood in the rain on the Serengeti, overcome with ineffable joy with my hands in the air, and I stood on my balcony in Jerusalem with my girlfriend, hearing the not-so-distant firefight that killed Israeli police officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan at the Temple Mount.
There’s the bits you enjoy, and the bits you don’t. (But don’t ever be that jerk who puts the pieces you don’t like on the soup dish.) Any chef would tell you, you have to eat something how it’s prepared. That’s perspective; that’s why Jews eat radish on Passover. (You do it the Ashkenazi way— you take on the whole plate.)
The terror attack in Las Vegas was hard to swallow. Hundreds scrambling, people carried on ladders to safety, children under fire. It’s the kind of thing, unfortunately, millennials have become familiar with. What didn’t make national news were the 272 other mass shootings in Las Vegas in the last year.
There’s a problem in this country with guns. There’s a problem in this country with racism and prejudice. Our president will not call a man who murdered 59 people from a hotel window with ten guns a terrorist, but in our country, you can be considered a terrorist for arbitrary suspicions, having never killed a single man.
Frankly, it’s all one problem: our culture.
We haven’t changed much since Davey Crocket and his brigade wiped out the Creek peoples with 900 other Tennessee troops; that is, 200 Creek fighters, civilians and children versus the raining gunfire of 900 men. Who do you think invented torture methods for slaves? Americans invented biological warfare when we gave the Seneca people smallpox blankets at Fort Pitt. No matter what you say, we didn’t start this country like they used to teach us as kids on Thanksgiving.
My inner optimist wants to say that we’re taking these acts more seriously, but we’re doing nothing. The President of the United States threw paper towel rolls into a crowd of Puerto Ricans, and his supporters loved it.
The current system of gun laws, the reaction (or lack thereof) to the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico, the statements given by the President’s Office regarding Charlottesville: these are all indications that there’s a disconnect. We can all love this country, but only if we love it honestly: we’ve got problems, and if we don’t deal with them quickly, the truly great things in this country will slowly come apart.
Even if a good amount of the national conflict is stemmed in ignorance (typically ignorant silence) it’s no quieter than blatant, roaring racism. More and more, racism has conjoined with the silent majority, giving us a silent majority of moderate racists.
Does that even sound like it makes sense? Not to me either, and that’s because it doesn’t. This is the Ultimate Grey Area, I call it, where most of us reside. Now, members of the UGA are not what most would consider typecast, boisterous racists. A typical UGA member never lets their thoughts stray far from the family Thanksgiving dinner table.
These people, the non-offenders, the non-swastika wearing kinda-racists, are the people you should blame the most for emboldening Nazism in America and perpetuating racism against Black America at-large.
It’s hard to hear the hatred if you’re white; it’s hard to see it, because there is a majority of our population that muddies the water. Depending on who they’re speaking with and where, their opinions may change.
If there’s one thing studying genocide can teach you, it’s that step number one in subjugation is to get your population of yes-men. John Doe can work in a multicultural setting and get along with his co-workers. But when he tells his kids the Pulse Nightclub shooting is a snowflake problem, he’s just warped his children’s sensibilities for perhaps a lifetime.
You know what’s louder than pulling the trigger? Millions of people simultaneously saying “No problem” as it’s happening.
Senators, congressmen and their constituents may mourn, but a great many of them will react with absolutely no reform. They would sooner reform hotel security than gun control.
Actually, the acceptance of violence has become so loud that it can become difficult to keep track of all the incidents. All of the killings of innocent civilians by police officers. School shootings, airport shootings, army base shootings, concert shootings, nightclub shootings—and the only thing that’s louder than all of it, is the silence of inaction.
I want to imprint that into your head forever. Whether you had your own term for the UGA or this is a new one, we all know members of this philosophy and identify with it from time to time. It comes from wanting to keep your hands clean in a butchery.
We debate on Facebook about gun laws, but today in this country, owning a gun is a right, while your healthcare is now a private privilege. The modern American will abandon their basic values for partisanship.
That part of the soup you don’t want to eat, and I don’t want to either. That’s called change, and it’s tough to chew on. We view gun violence, racism and white supremacy as three different problems, when they all derive from the same, single problem. It’s a cultural tendency to hate, not to love. It’s a commander-in-chief who may claim authority of a territory, but not responsibility for its safety.
You can’t ignore what you don’t like. Just like you can’t change what happened in Vegas if you turn the T.V. off. If you want wholesomeness, you need to take reality as it is, and that means coming to some uncomfortable conclusions for people.
For countless communities in America, including my own, racism and hatred is the broth of the soup itself. It’s part of my identity, part of my experience. It’s something you can’t bypass, and it’s something you get a spoon of all the time.
It’s seeing a cultural ethnocide of the African American community both right before our eyes and institutionally by the country at-large. It’s seeing Nazis (because the word ‘neo’ is irrelevant), march across the country, namely in Charlottesville where three people died and countless more were wounded. It’s happening now, in Puerto Rico, where we’ve claimed authority of an entire territory, but claim no responsibility for its relief and reconstruction.
I blame you, UGA members, probably the hundred million or more of you. Moderate racists or modern racists, whatever you’d like to call them. I blame you more than I blame the stereotypical American Nazi. While the American Nazi is clear, and honestly, easily distinguished, grey area people are in our classrooms, our dining halls and dormitories.
They are on our streets and most importantly they are in our government. They embolden the radicals. Their population size and geographic span serve as a sanctuary for these groups, and while many communities in America may not associate with Nazi groups, are identifying with them based on their fabricated “white identity” political platform.
I want to end by saying this: If none of this has resonated with you, Stephan Paddock killed more people than we lost in the Battle for Mogadishu. He wounded almost as many people as there were wounded in Operation Desert Storm. He did that in minutes, without material or known cause.
Are we ready to talk about this problem we have?