I Just Realized I May Be a Bigot
And I really hate this realization
Every time we turn on the news now, we see the devastation of Ukraine — buildings, entire cities, the people. Mostly the people. What can we do but cry over the utter destruction of a nation? We watch as Ukrainians — children, old people and everyone in between — are torn from their homes and families with sometimes nothing but the clothes on their backs. It is a heartbreaking scenario.
And then I think back on Afghanistan. We watched the news and saw the devastation of this country — buildings, entire cities, the people. Mostly the people. We watched as Afghanis — children, old people and everyone in between — were torn from their homes and families with sometimes nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was a heartbreaking scenario.
But I didn’t cry. I felt sad for them but not as anguished as I feel now. The people of the Middle East did nothing to deserve the horrible treatment they received from their oppressors, just as the people of Ukraine did nothing to deserve what they are now experiencing. And yet, I can’t muster the same grief.
I don’t see anything I can do in either instance to make things easier for the people. I’m a 72 year old, not so healthy, woman who can’t go fight a war or even offer my small home as refuge. To be honest, I thought of that for the Ukrainians, but never for the Arab people I saw suffering.
So, this made me try to figure why I am so blasé to the misery of the people of the Middle East and so upset by the same misery of the Ukrainians. I puzzled over this and talked to friends and I haven’t come up with a satisfying explanation. These are some of the thoughts we have come up with:
All my life, I have been indoctrinated to think that Arabs hate the Jews and therefore, it is alright to hate the Arabs. I never thought that was my feeling. (Is it?) I was infuriated and hurt and frightened by September 11, but I never blamed ALL the Arab people. (Did I?) I think the Palestinians have gotten a pretty raw deal from the Israelis, which proves that I can see the negative on both sides. (Doesn’t it?) I would really hate to think that my heritage has made me blind to the suffering of others simply because they were born in a country that has issues (rightly or not) with the “Jewish state.”
My ancestors came from Eastern Europe, perhaps even Ukraine.
I am by heritage an Eastern European Jew. Borders were more fluid for my ancestors and countries that existed once no longer exist. My maternal grandfather’s family came from Bessarabia, which doesn’t exist any longer but once included parts of Ukraine. So, I might be, in part, of Ukrainian descent. I’ve never thought of myself as such, placing my lineage more in the area of Poland, Austria and Romania. And, I’m not sure being Ukrainian is anything to be proud of, thinking historically. The non-Jewish population was brutal to the Jews during World War II, many being complicit with the Nazis. Babi Yar, the mass extermination pit, is in Ukraine. My family would have been the ones to be executed or turned over to the Nazis, so I can’t summon any sympathy for the Ukrainians of old. However, I don’t hold the current peoples responsible for the actions of those of the past.
The media is focusing on Ukraine
Of course, they are. This is the news now. But, wasn’t it also the case that, when the Taliban took over (or retook) Afghanistan, that was the news? When families were losing their homes and their relatives, wasn’t that also the news? Didn’t we hear the heartbreaking stories of families selling their pre-pubescent daughters so that the rest of the family could eat? What is making me enraged at Putin and hurt to my marrow for the Ukranians but feel only sadness for the Afghanis but not anger at the perpetrators of the misery?
I don’t know if any of the reasons for the difference in the intensity of my feelings are true and valid. But I don’t like what I’m seeing in myself. And I bet you don’t like me much either.