Dismantling discrimination and cultivating kindness

Tamar Davis, Chief Executive Officer

Last week, I shared two PJ Library children’s book lists as part of the February theme of inclusion that we are celebrating through Black History Month and JDAIM, Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. This week, I want to reflect on some thoughts I had while reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist, also a fitting read for this month (for adults!).

I’m fascinated by Kendi’s approach to dismantling racism, where it’s not enough to simply say that we are against racism. Rather, we need to name racism wherever we see it, to actively reject racism, and to build a society that is inherently antiracist. I think about how we could apply Kendi’s approach to dismantling stigma around and discrimination of those with disabilities and mental health challenges. Can we remember a moment where we saw and understood that an act of discrimination was happening? What did we do in that moment? Or afterwards? What can we do today?

The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were both steps in the right direction, but we still have much to do to break down systemic inequity, discrimination, and racism. As Judy Heumann, a lifelong civil rights advocate who helped pave the way for the passage of the ADA, said recently:

“Speaking about oppression and discrimination is hard to do, and many people have difficulty listening and looking at what role they play in allowing discrimination to continue. But ableism, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination will only end when we, as a society, hold ourselves accountable and no longer make excuses that condone past and current practices. On a daily basis, I try to be aware and take action to make changes in my life that advance justice and equity for all people.”

We are reminded of that idea this Shabbat, the week before Purim, when we are called upon as Jews to remember what Amalek did to us on the way from Egypt, and to wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Some commentaries say that Amalek is no longer a physical nation, rather it represents the forces of evil and injustice in this world. The commandment to wipe out Amalek is a stark and clear reminder that it is not enough to recognize and remember acts of injustice—but we must actively eradicate these acts and prevent them from occurring again, today and in generations to come.

Let us model for our children how to actively advocate against all forms of discrimination—racism, ableism, antisemitism, and so on. And let us continue cultivating kindness and compassion, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation.”

Notes:

  • Continue the conversation about cultivating kindness by joining us for Parenting with Purpose, "The Power of Collaboration: Raising Human Beings" with speaker Ross Greene, next Thursday, February 25th. Register here!
  • Judy Heumann, whom I quoted above and who featured in the acclaimed film Crip Camp, will be interviewed by Temple Emanuel on February 28th, in a program co-sponsored by Gateways. Register for the session here.

Category: Reflections & Perspectives

Tagged under: inclusion, anti-discrimination, activism