Today was the 9th of Elul, which is 3 days before I officially become a Jew.
Today’s theme was “see.” I suppose that follows on from yesterday’s “hear,” right?
I started out writing about literal seeing, but that’s not really what I should talk about tonight.
I gave my first classes of the semester today. Part of my syllabus says clearly, “if this class does not make you uncomfortable, then you are not learning.” I’ll get to what that has to do with seeing in a moment.
This morning I saw this on Facebook. Watch it and then read on.
Have you watched it? Did you get it?
Because you see, Michael Kimmel didn’t see anything until it was brought to his attention. He thought he was just a human being. He didn’t realize he was a white, straight, middle-aged, well-off man. He just saw a person.
And when the black woman brought it to his attention, for the first time, he saw it. And I’ll bet that from now on, when he looks in the mirror, he sees a white, middle-aged, straight man. Not just a human being.
It wasn’t just that he didn’t see them. He didn’t see HIMSELF either. He was invisible to himself.
On Quora, there was a woman who talked about how she taught a class which was all black kids, and she was white. She was subbing. To get them to write, she had them do the “20 Things About Me” exercise. Every single one of them wrote down “black” as one of the words to identify themselves. They wanted to hear her list.
“White” was not on her list. Why? Because being white is invisible to whites. Just like being male is invisible to males. It took her a long, long time to get it across to them that no, she doesn’t think about being white all the time. (What finally did it was when she asked them if any of them had put down a sexual orientation and all the straight kids in the room went “Ohhhhh….”)
I told my students today that it is my job to make them uncomfortable. And part of the way I’m going to make them uncomfortable is to see things they didn’t see before. To look at things they may not want to look at. To view the world through their neighbor’s eyes. Or their enemy’s eyes.
It’s also my job to make them see the things that, right now, are invisible to them. To notice things that they may not see or want to see.
My black students have things to teach me about what I do and do not see. My Latino/a students do too. But they also have things to teach each other.
When you looked in the mirror this morning, what did you see? Because when I did, I didn’t see a white man. I saw a Jewish gay man. I saw my differences – not my privileges.
But I see the white man now, too.
Look in the mirror. Really see what’s there.
Now look at someone else, and see what’s really there.
Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – but we have to see in order to pursue justice.