This picture shows something we found this week scrawled in our closet — a closet currently being built for us by contractors. As usual, the remarkable June Spence has the most appropriate response, but how could I fail to respond myself?
Passover starts Friday night, and we remind ourselves, as we do every year, that there’s always somebody looking to get rid of the Jews — and then instantly remind ourselves, as we do every year, that of course it’s not just the Jews at all: somebody is always looking for some Other to cite, to blame for their own problems, to place at the root of their own fears. Whether it’s the family of Trayvon Martin or anyone affected by North Carolina’s hellish Amendment One or for that matter anyone who ever wore a hoodie or looked or felt or believed in a way that someone else tried to crush by hatred or force, so many of us are all, always, fighting to prove that we count just as much as you, that you can’t just get rid of us by fiat, by weapon, by amendment. No matter how much you try.
So I look at this ugly slur, scrawled in Sharpie and then apparently painted over on the inside of a closet, as in a way a small blessing. How fortunate we are — with healthy children, a loving family and friends, a warm house, enough money to pay some people to build us a closet — that we have nothing more terrifying to face this Passover than this small, mean, cowardly expression of ugliness and hatred. We have, at the moment, laws to protect us, as much as laws can, from physical violence. We have safe and comfortable lives, in which a slur like this means only, “Heave a sigh and talk to the contractor,” not “Grab what you can carry and run.”
But the distance from here to there is short. And the journey starts with things like North Carolina’s Amendment One or Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, all of which propagate the lie that those others — the people who look different from you, the ones who believe or feel different from you, the ones who make you afraid or uncomfortable — they’re not the same. They are different, they are less, they can be the victims.
No they can’t. No we can’t. Or anyhow, we won’t, any of us. Again — a small blessing, this ugly scrawl on our closet. Well timed to remind us: We’ve got to look out for each other, because alone there’s always someone looking to do something stupid. The contractor, when I showed him the word, of course apologized. Too many subcontractors have been in and out for anybody to quickly assign blame. But he said: “We’ll take care of that. We’ll paint over that.”
Oh no, I said. No you won’t.
We’ll save that to remember.