It seems like the entire country is arguing about who is at fault for the recent election results. Who is more disconnected from America? Who is more self-righteous? Who understands the country least?
Meanwhile, I have been struggling to understand how ethnic or religious discriminatory rhetoric works. My go-to example has been the bankers. Why hate the bankers because “they’re Jewish” when you can hate them because they nearly destroyed the global economy? The first seems like a pathetic comparison to the latter. The latter cannot be denied and, more importantly, actively impacted every single person in this country in a negative fashion.
I have long known that my experiences growing up where markedly different than the “average” American experience, or, more correctly phrased, the “average” experience of any “native national” citizen.
I always begin with my elementary school education, but it begins before that; I grew up speaking two languages at home, Greek and English. And spent summers in a foreign country––one I nevertheless called “home”––amongst people who seemed to find me to be unheimlich, the familiar-strange. I did and didn’t speak like them, and looked and didn’t look like them, missing all the the wrong things to be the same, and all the right ones to be truly foreign.
Then my parents sent me to a French-American school, where not only did I learn another language, but we began to learn how to be French. The French education system is a marvel, a perfectly calibrated colonial machine that can destroy borders and turn even native-born American citizens into tiny French nationalists.
More importantly, of all the children in my class only two had parents who spoke only English, and of the “white” children, most came from families that would not be considered “American”. We were not diverse in racial distribution, but by age 8, I knew knew families hailing from more than one part of the Middle East, from a variety of places in north and west Africa, a Jewish family, a lesbian household, interracial parents, Muslim families, and any number of hyphenated Americans, and people who spoke more than English at home.
I was floored when a friend told me he didn’t meet a Black person until after he finished elementary school.
When I attempt to imagine getting to 18 without meeting someone Jewish, or Black, or bilingual, I am literally incapable of generating a workable facsimile of that experience. Never mind, living an entire lifetime like that.
It seems stupid to say it, but just as there are people who have no framework for what a Jewish person is, or says, or does, besides what they see on TV or hear in church, I have no framework for having never met a Jewish person. My life is sheltered and devoid of much conflict and difficulty, but it has always been replete with individual variety.
Growing up, my blond haired, blue eyed, male, English speaking, American best friend was the oddity. And I learned to get past it. Sure, it was odd that his parents couldn’t help him with his homework, and that they didn’t come from somewhere else, but people still learned to confuse us for siblings.
I’ve always lived in the melting pot of America. I don’t know how to live somewhere else.