I am a white Jewish American. My family escaped--often in a sprint, sometimes prostrate on the bottom of a rowboat—Cossacks and communists and Nazis so that I might be here today. Many of them didn’t make it.
I live in the middle of Los Angeles. Gay people are everywhere and considered as normal as anyone else. Black people too. Persians, Buddhists, Sikhs, astrologers and witches are ho-hum. My mechanic is Pakistani. I probably run into more Latinos everyday than I do white people. When I grew up, our mayor was black. Today our mayor is Hispanic. No one seems to notice.
It is a privilege to live like this. It is lovely.
And obviously I reside in La La Land because yesterday, Birth Certificate Day, punched me in the mouth. I was stricken, paralyzed with rage.
To see laid bare the brazen racial hatred coursing through the blood of so many millions of people who also call themselves American, well it actually made me cry. I’d thought, in 2011, that we were better than that. We aren’t. We are still desperately sick. And it made me ashamed before all of those that we continue to torment.
I should have known better. About ten years ago, I went to a wedding in Memphis, Tennessee, which included a preliminary lunch at the home of some fantastically polite and generous white people in the suburbs. They fed us lavishly. Laughed at our jokes. Expressed real interest in our pursuits and lives back home. They loaned us their car. They offered us a place to sleep “anytime.” They were basically the nicest people I had ever met in my life.
Then the 40-year-old woman who lived in this beautiful house asked what we had planned that night. “We’re going to check out Beale Street,” I answered like a typical tourist. Her face flinched a fraction in disappointment and concern. “Oh,” she said. “Don’t you think it’s a bit dark down there?” “Dark?” I smirked like an idiot. “The whole place is lit up like high noon in neon lights.”
And then we elected a black president.
I know racism persists. Arizona, “Ground Zero Mosque” and “Mau Mau” are ominous signs of this despicable cancer. But I was not prepared for this buffoon, this nauseating jester of unflagging privilege, to amplify this revolting malice. To feed his ugly sucking egomania, Donald Trump opted to speak for those people in Tennessee and so many others. Black people, he lied again and again, are not good enough to be president. Black people are not good enough for Harvard. Black people are lesser. Illegitimate. Frauds and Conmen. It is high time that these people relearned their place. In short, he raved, “The Blacks” are Not Us.
I have been rejected. I have lost. I have failed. But I cannot imagine what it must feel like to listen to this malignant rebuff, this dehumanizing talk essentially of elimination from the mix of America itself. I realize that at least some of this bile is opportunism. The opposition stokes racial animus not from conviction, but simply to tilt the balance of power. Many don’t mean it. It’s just Nixon and Rove’s amoral and effective tool.
But the nakedness of the hate disclosed by Trump and the birthers was stupefying. It floored me. I could not comprehend that at least half of GOP voters and who knows how many more were cheering him on, nodding their odious assent. I wanted to divorce myself from them, from this country that could harbor such repulsiveness on such a wide scale. And most of all, even if it’s meaningless and solely to make myself stop weeping for a second, I wanted to apologize to my fellow Americans whose pain I know I can never know.
I’m so sorry.
Because if this is how we treat a man as smart and gifted and dignified and accomplished as President Obama, imagine how we treat everyone else?
We must do better. The yellowing scrap that is my own birth certificate from Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood demands nothing less.