Facing History: What Do We Do About Injustice?

Facing History: What Do We Do About Injustice?

While in Boston last month for a book signing of Myopia, a memoir, I learned about an interesting organization called Facing History. It was started by a Boston elementary school teacher, and it has now become a global organization. Unfortunately, Albuquerque, New Mexico has no chapter.

My new friend, Dr. Anna Ornstein, goes into Boston schools and speaks to junior high school and high school students about the Holocaust, racism, prejudice and what we can do about this now and in the future. As a survivor, she delivers a powerful message.

She and her husband, the late Dr. Paul Ornstein, both survived the Holocaust with only one parent, she with her mother and Paul with his father. However, Paul was separated from his father for the duration of the war, and Anna’s mother never let go of her hand. The rest of their families perished.

Understanding fear and hatred

What is it about human beings that drives our fear and hatred of the other? Since I am an analyst with a Jewish background, I immediately go to projection as the enemy.

Because we are all human, we all have projection. When Germany finally had a leader who could convince a large portion of the population that the economic downturn of their country was a direct result of Jews taking over businesses and education, that hatred could be projected onto the Jews. If they would just go away, everything would be right again, he made them believe.

We see it today in many places as Muslims have been forced into immigration and even refugee status: We don’t want those people here. Why don’t they stay where they are or just go home? They are dirty and ignorant.

We see the same phenomenon within groups as well. In South Africa where the darkest color skin was once most persecuted, the darkest skin became the most powerful. This separates the “colored” from the “black” and maintains a different sort of Apartheid.

We see this now amongst certain Jews. Only the most religious are really Jewish, and if you happen to be Jewish and believe in a separate state for Palestinians and have the audacity to think that Jerusalem should become an international city, you can’t really be Jewish. You are stupid to think you can ever trust an Arab. A soon as he is able, he will shove a knife in your back.

A terrible injustice

A few years ago, I got into a discussion with a Palestinian man who related an incident to me that made me sad and distressed. One day, while just a teenager, he left his ID card allowing him to pass into Israel at home. It would have been a simple thing to send him back to get it. Instead, he was brutally beaten by Israeli border guards. Since I had become friendly with this man, the horror of this terrible injustice stayed with me. This does NOT mean I am not pro-Israel. I can be both, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. I can just be against injustice.

As a child, I believed that if someone in the government had lied to the American people, this was enough for them to be severely punished, to lose their position. Then there was Vietnam, the first really big lie I experienced. There was Watergate; there was Nixon; there was Reagan with the Iran-Contra scandal and the trickle-down economics. Even before this, although I did not yet know it, I had been lied to by the heroes of Massachusetts, where I was born and raised, by the perfect family, the Kennedys. They were revered in Massachusetts. But at least in those days, the office of the President of the United States was still respected.

And somehow along the way, it became normal to lie to the American people. The disappointment of discovering that our nation was as subject to propaganda as any other nation was as traumatic as if I had discovered that I’d been adopted, and my parents were not my real parents.

I grew up believing in America, even with slavery and lynching. Those were ignorant and bad people, a small enough group that did not represent (or so I believed) the American people. And the shift for me during Vietnam was frightening. By the time we got to Iraq, I was in tears.

A crossroad in our history

We are at another crossroads in history. As advanced as we have become, we, the human race, is still traveling the same hamster wheel, going ‘round and ‘round the easy political spin of they are the enemy.

blog32_northeasternOrnstein, an optimist and a brilliant woman, does not believe that anything like Nazi Germany could ever happen here. I so want to believe her. We have checks and balances. This is what the Turkish folks who’ve moved here to escape Erdogan say. But when we have someone leading this country who without a second thought announces that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and get away with it, I think we had best pay attention to those checks and balances. Are they still in place? Or have we already lost our place in history? We must look history in the eye and face it!

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