As a child I grew up in a predominantly Russian/ Jewish neighborhood and so the majority of children that attended my elementary school were Jewish. There were also some hispanic, asian and indian children. And I believe there was one african american boy in my class who was literally from Africa. As I recall, the hispanic kids always had to leave the classroom and attend resource room. Resource room was a special class for children with learning disabilities. So I remember thinking that hispanics were not so intelligent. The asians and indians however appeared super intelligent. They seemed to work very hard and get the best grades in class. Thus I believed that asians and indians had superior intelligence (or at least were smarter scholastically).
All of my doctors were white, asian and indian. All of the doormen at my apartment building were black and hispanic. I suppose this is how preconceived notions of race/ ethnicity begin. It starts with stereotypes based on what we experience as were growing up. These stereotypes are also perpetuated through television programming, movies, news and media. Stereotypes may lead to judgements which lead to prejudices and perhaps eventually lead to racism?... or so it seems. Ofcourse family members will also play a significant role in the way a child thinks about other races and ethnicities. If an individual's parents are racist, the child may in turn become a racist through learned thoughts and behaviors. But this is not always the case. Some children will rebel against their parent's views. Regardless, environmental factors have a huge influence on how we feel about other races and nationalities and this starts from a very young age.
In the summer time I attended Jewish summer camps. At the age of 10, I started going away to a Jewish sleep away camp. Most of the kids were Jewish ofcourse, but one summer there was a really cute Italian kid named Vinny who was at my camp. I believe he was catholic but somehow ended up with all us Jews! I had a crush on Vinny and soon we were dating. It wasn't anything too serious. I was around 10 or 11 years old at the time. But something terrible occurred that I will never forget. One of the male camp counselors came up to me and started asking me why I would date Vinny- a non Jew. He gave me the third degree and it was horrible and racist to say the very least. I was absolutely shocked. I believe this may have been my first experience with racism. Racism from my so-called people towards another ethnicity/ religion. I didn't feel very good about this.
Years later when I attended LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, I ran into all types of unique individuals, races and ethnicities from all over New York City. There was an african american girl in one of my classes who wore the most gorgeous braids in her hair. I had never seen anything so amazing. At that moment I wanted braids. So I went home and spent hours braiding my own hair. Ofcourse it didn't look as good as the african american girl's braids but it was something. I took it one step further and added beads on the ends of the braids. I proudly rode the subway to school with my head full of not so perfect braids. One african american lady complimented me on my braids. I was beyond happy. But then something terrible occurred!
I rode the train home from school and got off at my stop. I was walking home when a group of Russian Jewish teenage boys started screaming at me in a very derogatory way. They called me a “Nigger wanna be” or something to that effect. Then they started throwing stones at me. I was in absolute shock and horror. I walked as fast as I could away from them to get home. Thankfully they didn't follow me and I didn't get hit with any stones, but I was definitely shook up. My supposed own Jewish people had turned on me. Although in reality, I've always been pretty universal. I've never really thought of myself as primarily white or Jewish... more so just a human. I thought to myself, is this what racism feels like? Is this what it's like to be black/ african american? Or is it even worse then this? Perhaps I was just getting a mere glimpse of the horror inflicted upon african americans in this country. I wondered.
Another time during highschool I was asked out on a date by a young guy who worked at my orthodontist's office. He had been checking me out. He was cute. I believe he had blond hair and blues eyes. I decided to accept the date as long as it was a double date. So he had his friend and I had my friend. We were driving around the city together and then finally parked somewhere. We started kissing. After the kissing, we were all standing outside of the car talking and somehow a conversation about nationality and religion came up. I mentioned that I was raised Jewish. All of a sudden my date's friend starts making derogatory remarks about Jews and throws pennies at me telling me to pick them up, or something like that. I was in absolute awe. I didn't know what to say. I wasn't offended, just shocked. The stupidity of this friend was outrageous. My date turned to me and asked if my friend and I were ready to be driven home. I agreed and the date ended. We never did go out again. And things were a bit uncomfortable at my orthodontist's office after that. When my orthodontist asked how the date went, I just said that everything was great and left it at that.
My mother told me that when she was younger she invited her best friend and her best friend's family over for dinner. My grandmother slaved all day to prepare an amazing meal for this event. But all of a sudden no one showed up for the dinner. When my mother's best friend and family found out that my mother was Jewish they decided not to attend the dinner. Supposedly my grandmother was very upset and cried all night. Racism at it's finest.
I would like to point out though, that although racism plays a main role in all of my stories, true racism is way more insidious than my experiences. Racism is not just a dislike for a person of another race, nationality or religion. Racism is a system upon which our country has been founded. Racism is really a way of keeping a certain group of people down. None of my experiences with racism crippled me in any particular way. These experiences came and went and I learned about racist people. But true racism is crippling. Allow me to explain...
When a man or woman cannot get a job because of the color of their skin, language they speak, etc. racism is now impacting their ability to support themselves. When a man or woman cannot rent or own an apartment or house in a neighborhood they want to live in and they have to go live in a bad neighborhood, this affects their safety and security. Racism prevents even the wealthiest of african americans from purchasing businesses, especially in white neighborhoods. And racism gets millions of black men incarcerated yearly!
My own good friend, a black/ african american male, recently had to find a new office space since his current office building was sold. I watched his struggle first hand. He was trying to find a new office space in the same area of town which was controlled by Armenians. The armenian culture promotes racism against african americans...at least in Glendale California. So he would schedule an appointment to view an office and then as soon as he got there the office would already be leased. The only office he could get was one that was an hour away in a neighborhood that was all latino, a few blacks and controlled by asians. Finally, one of his white friends went to view an office and signed the lease for him. Pretty crazy! Now if that isn't the definition of racism then I don't know what is. Racism is a terrible system. If you truly want to understand what racism (white supremacy) is and how it works then google “Neely Fuller's definition of racism.” Things shouldn't be this way, but unfortunately even in this day and age, racism is stronger than ever. I believe it's time for things to change, however change begins with us. So if you have the power to make a positive racial difference in your community, I sincerely urge you to do so. Peace and Blessings!
Jennie Haiman is a Reiki Master Energy Healer, Co-Founder of Self Saviorz Society California Non-Profit 501(c)(3), Poet, Author and Entertainer with goals to help raise the vibration and consciousness of humanity!