Tuesday, October 09, 2012


This past July, I wrote a piece for Kveller.com entitled "When to Hide Your Race and Religion."

Among the issues I addressed was:

When it comes to: Would we encourage our children to hide their heritage(s) in an effort to make life easier for themselves or us?

We agree that, under certain circumstances, the answer is: Absolutely yes.

I spent the first seven years of my life in Odessa, USSR (now Ukraine), and my husband his whole childhood in Harlem, NYC.

In Odessa, as in the entire Soviet Union, all citizens carried an internal passport, on which the infamous Fifth Line asked for “nationality.” And that nationality said: Jew. (And if your nationality said Jew, good luck with getting a place at a university or a high-ranking job or a non-communal apartment.) There was a way around it, however. Children of one Jewish and one ethnically Russian parent had a choice as to what they would put down (or have put down for them). They also had a choice between taking either parent’s last name. I don’t know anyone who opted for a Jewish name and a Jewish listing if they had an alternative. (On the other hand, a popular Russian saying was, “They don’t punch your passport, they punch your face,” suggesting you could wiggle bureaucratically all you like, it’s what you look like that ultimately matters.)

By the same token, my husband learned from an early age that, when applying for a job, it’s optimal not to be laid eyes upon until the very last minute. As late as 15 years ago, he was hired sight unseen by one company due to primarily phone and e-mail interviews, and he still sweated the first day, wondering if they’d suddenly decide they had made a mistake....

As noted in the “punching your face, rather than your passport” example, “passing” is easier for some people than others. Just like my husband looks exactly like what he is, anyone familiar with 20th Century Eastern European Jewry has no question regarding my origins, either.

But, our kids are a different story.

African-Americans recognize they’re Black, Hispanics tend to think they’re Hispanic, and white people assume they’re white. We’ve also been asked whether they might be Greek, Rumanian, Pakistani, Israeli, or Turkish.

In other words, my kids could “pass” for pretty much anything.

And that’s a good thing.

And that’s a bad thing....

I can easily imagine my kids sitting with a group of casual acquaintances at work, or in college or even high-school. Somebody makes a racist joke. Are my kids obliged to speak up? Are they duty-bound to “come out” as Black or Jewish (or both)?

There are those who would say yes, absolutely. How are widespread, bigoted attitudes supposed to change if those affected don’t speak up, if they don’t educate and chastise?

That’s a hell of a lot of pressure to put on any one person’s shoulders. Especially a child’s. Not to mention that it can get you into trouble. Big trouble.

You can read the entire assertion at: http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/when-to-hide-your-race-religion/

To say that the piece caused an uproar would be an understatement.  I got chastised and vilified - and periodically agreed with.  I was also asked to appear on National Public Radio to talk about the subject.

I did the interview over the summer, but the piece has only been scheduled to run today.  It will be part of Tell Me More with host Michel Martin on WNYC-AM at 2:40 in New York City.  Not sure about when/where in other parts of the country.  (To be honest, so much time had passed since I first taped it, that I assumed I hadn't lived up to expectations and the segment shelved.)  Edited to add: You can now listen to the broadcast at: http://www.npr.org/2012/10/09/162569153/should-you-hide-your-heritage

I hope that I was able to make my points in a clear and succinct manner.  And that I'm prepared for the reaction I'm bound to receive as a result.

And just in case you think I've learned my lesson about keeping my mouth shut about potentially incendiary topics, fear not!  Only lost week I contributed another piece, this one regarding my opinion that parents who teach their children to be color-blind (and to follow the Golden Rule) are actually doing them - and all of us - a disservice.

Read the entire heresy at: http://www.kveller.com/blog/parenting/all-people-are-not-the-same/

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