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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A completely non-political question

First a little background:  Let's say you live in a neighborhood, province or country where violent crime (shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, and worse), has become a serious problem.  Not only that, but the perpetrators of these violent crimes tend to belong to a particular recognizable ethnicity.  For the sake of this discussion let's say that they are Hispanic.  The dangerous members of the latino community wear no distinguishing 'colors' or insignia, so it is impossible to tell a potentially violent assailant from a man or woman who is simply out for a walk.

More background:  Being the product of an enlightened liberal upbringing, you experience a certain amount of internal conflict between your natural tendency to fear/avoid members of this particular ethnic/racial group... and the ingrained humanist lessons of your upbringing telling you that most latinos/latinas or not violent criminals, and it is therefore the worst sort of racism to shun, fear or label them all as bad.

One last bit of background: You have learned to live for many years with this internal conflict through a complicated application of personal compromises, torturous rationalizations and carefully considered decisions about where and when you travel locally.  However, your children are now reaching an age where they are demanding more autonomy and wish to spend more time away from home.  You have carefully catechized them in all the liberal humanist values you hold near and dear.  But in order to provide them with the tools to protect themselves from potential predators and/or dangerous situations you are forced to introduce them to some of the personal compromises you have made over the years with a pure humanist approach to your fellow man.

Finally, the question:  Where do you strike the balance between teaching your kids to be prudent/cautious without teaching them it is OK to instinctively hate/fear Hispanics.  Remember, this isn't some theoretical classroom exercise.  If you err too far in one direction your kids end up racists.  Err too far the other way and your kids may end up in the morgue.

Oh... one more tiny bit of background before you answer:  We're not talking about Hispanics.


Posted by David Bogner on March 1, 2006 | Permalink


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David... are you dissing the "Freedonians" again?

Posted by: shabtai | Mar 1, 2006 1:03:16 PM

Before even getting into the issue, i don't think it's such a good idea to use an actual ethnic group for this allegory.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Mar 1, 2006 3:38:38 PM

Shabtai... G-d forbid! :-)

Steg... If you read through to the end of the post you'll see that I didn't. What I did do was temporarily invite people to think about a group other than the one they might imagine I am talking about (Arabs). I wanted people to set aside the typical stereotypes just long enough to honestly consider the question.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 1, 2006 4:08:10 PM

I think that this question is raised even at an earlier age. My preschooler asks me all the time how he should handle the kids that bully him in school. Do you teach them to be cautious by just using their mouths to respond to kids hitting thereby making them a punching bag for aggressive kids or do you teach them to hit back and not stand for being hit by other kids possibly turning them into bullies themselves.

Posted by: swiftthinker | Mar 1, 2006 4:18:12 PM

We know you are not talking about the Hispanics. We all know you are taking about the Danish people, especially when they armed with crayons.

Posted by: Mark | Mar 1, 2006 4:20:09 PM

Duck Soup is one of my favorite memories.


I think that you have posed an excellent question and it is one that I am currently wrestling with as we are teaching our five-year-old about strangers, and who is allowed to touch him.

Simultaneously he and I have had ongoing discussions this week about pharoah and Haman and why they "weren't nice."

I have been mulling over explaining this to him as that there are some people whose "souls are broken."

Someone with a "broken soul" can be of any color and background and because of this break they may not treat others the way that a person should be treated.

This is why we need to pay attentio to all people, blah, blah, blah.

The problem I have with this is twofold. One, is I don't want to instill a fear of all people and two I don't want to categorize one group.

I suspect that this is not so different from what you face. Although your children are older and can handle a more nuanced/sophisticated approach.

But maybe you can riff off of this and explain to them how some people are just missing that chip that prevents them from hurting others etc.

Uh oh, I think that my response is getting a little wordy so I'll end it here.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 1, 2006 4:22:40 PM

Trep - Unfortunately, I think the "problem" of how to educate your kids to be both liberal and safe is a non-starter nowadays, at least for kids who see/hear news reports. My kids think of Arabs as potential suicide bombers and/or terrorists. They see that the workers in the yishuv (building houses) need to have an armed guard watching them. And since the second intifada started and there are no Arab delivery men, cleaning ladies, etc. coming here to work (because of both our safety and THEIRS - the terrorist community targets these people as collaborators)they don't see Arabs on a regular basis so that they can't even learn to trust them.

In short they are afraid already. And I sincerely mean that when I say "unfortunately".

Posted by: westbankmama | Mar 1, 2006 5:48:57 PM

I have to agree with Swiftthinker and Jack... it's a universal thing to have to teach our children and each child is going to interpret the lesson differently based on THEIR own life experienc and age, etc... It's a fine line and one of the more difficult aspects of parenting. Hopefully, just having any dialogue with the child is the first step, so that they know discussions are possible and then you go from there.
David - I'm a firm believer that kids 'learn' MUCH more from watching parents behavior then being lectured, though. So, Ari & Gilad may already know more than you think and just need a little explanation on some stuff. Ask them. You just might be surprised.

Posted by: Val | Mar 1, 2006 6:46:09 PM

How much different is it than teaching children not to trust anyone they don't know? (Not that that's easy.) Warn them not to trust strangers, but that not all strangers are "bad". Since we don't always know, it's better to be safe...

Posted by: Ezzie | Mar 1, 2006 8:55:13 PM

Sorry David can't help you. My religion is very NOT into compromising with other religions. The First Commandment is still very much in effect for us and Humanism is another people's religion.

Posted by: Scott | Mar 1, 2006 9:20:54 PM

Great question and I have actually been thinking recently about different analogies.
My oldest is only 4 so I am still at the stranger stage. Right now I just tell her that most strangers are OK but that Mommy or Daddy needs to check them out first so that we know that they are OK and then they are not strangers anymore. I want her to be careful but I don't want her to be obsessively afraid either.
I think honesty is the best policy, just exactly the way you explained it - most are fine but it is impossible to tell and at the moment the political situation makes it dicey. Teach common sense - that it is great to know other people one on one in a safe environment (college, clubs, even programs that allow different groups to interact) but not particularly wise to go running up on your own to a village full of unknown individuals, especially if you dress in a distinguishing fashion. Its the same way it is plain common sense to tell a young woman that it is not particularly bright to walk alone into a bar full of drunk men. Most men aren't rapists but some situations are just ripe for abuse.
I still like to go into the old city, but now keep to the main thoroughfares which are full of tourists and speak English. Once apon a time I had no problem even in the Muslim areas but now like to be sensible so I avoid back streets, and I am a raving liberal. Druze villages can be a nice place to visit to for a bit of cultural exposure in safety and so are bedouin villages (although a bit grubby to be honest).
I don't think there is any real conflict.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Mar 1, 2006 9:24:35 PM

Swift thinker... That's something that we've mostly dealt with. My question revolves around an entire subset of the human beings that my children will encounter in their adult lives. I'm honestly not sure how far to go in either direction.

Mark... OK, so my secret is out. :-)

Jack... As I said to Swiftthinker, this isn't about interacting with peers or people like them. It is an issue of potentially promoting xenophobia or dangerous vulnerability.

westbankmama... Yeah, I assumed most of what you've told me, but I had held out some hope that I could have some control over a tiny part of their worldview.

Val... Unfortunately, they don't get to see how I interact with Arabs and they have only a vague idea of how I feel about them. As my views shift from one extreme to the other I have been careful not to give my kids the unedited version of what's going on in my head.

Ezzie... This isn't about strangers. It is about a very specific threat that comes from a very specific subset of a very specific ethnic group.

Scott... What happened to 'turning the other cheek'? :-)

Lisoosh... So how do I deal with my two young adults so that they view all Arabs as humans but also with caution? How do they reconcile the contradiction?

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 1, 2006 9:25:03 PM

Hmm... I'm not really sure it's necessary to say all that much. Kids make up their own minds based on the interactions they observe in schools, on the streets. They listen to their parents talk, however inadvertently. They see the news. And frankly, whatever my parents told me about other people (my mother tried to raise me as a humanist, despite experiencing the very dissonane you describe), as a child I took with a grain of salt, because they couldn't always control what they were saying, and whenever something happened, they did have an emotional reaction... and I came away with my own conclusions. Eventually, going through public schools, I learned how to be flexible in not being ridiculously paranoid, but also watching my back. I think that in certain environments that attitude just emerges as children grow older.

Posted by: Irina | Mar 1, 2006 10:46:01 PM

Well after seventy times seven slaps I have decided not to throw my pearls before swine and I have shaken the dust of my shoes off against them.

Posted by: Scott | Mar 1, 2006 11:15:25 PM

westbankmama - wow, on your yishuv armed guards are on post at all sites where arabs are working? very impressive - around here they walk around unattended all day, walking wherever they wish, often carrying construction implements such as hammers, picks, shovels, etc. we have about 450 per-day working on over 30 sites, so a guard at each would be extremely difficult. lucky you!

oh - trep - your issue... hmmm...I'd say send the kids to martial arts. this way they can be humanitarian-minded yet prepared for trouble. sayonara!

Posted by: yonah | Mar 1, 2006 11:24:47 PM

David - let them get to know some Arabs. There are cross cultural programs in Israel. I think a lot are left wing but you might be able to find some that just focus on getting to know other cultures and that is a pretty safe environment. Hebrew U mechina is mixed (its a great melting pot - a real education), they are too young but the University might sponsor some programs for younger kids. Do they study Arabic at school? Learning some of the language would allow them to learn more about the people and it would also mean that if they were with a lot of Arabs in a dodgy situation they would be able to understand what is going on around them and deal with it better.
I don't really know how you view things. I know that you live in a very tense area, but how do you feel one on one with an Israeli Arab in an office environment? How are you in the old city? Using your analogy (but with African Americans) I have friends and coworkers who are black but I will feel uncomfortable if I am the only white face on the street. I don't know if this is racist or just discomfort at standing out. Personally I worked with and studied with Arabs and have had Arab friends but wouldn't necessarily go alone into an arab town or village that I don't know. Is this racist? I don't think so, but maybe. Then again I'm not about to put myself into a situation where the odds are against me - where I am a stranger or outnumbered. Maybe that is a good place to start.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Mar 2, 2006 12:12:20 AM

Jack... As I said to Swiftthinker, this isn't about interacting with peers or people like them. It is an issue of potentially promoting xenophobia or dangerous vulnerability.


If I understand the question it most certainly is an issue of how to teach your children to be safe without compromising their innocence and their ability to judge people based upon their actions and not upon their color/creed etc.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 2, 2006 12:44:38 AM

The mere fact that you are devoting so much agonizing to this issue bespeaks a vastly different attitude than many of the, er, "Hispanics" seem to possess.

Posted by: Elisson | Mar 2, 2006 12:54:02 AM

This isn't about strangers. It is about a very specific threat that comes from a very specific subset of a very specific ethnic group.

Is the approach any different? I don't think so.

I also think that kids understand this type of nuance better than we give them credit for: "There are some Arabs (strangers) that are bad. Not all of them are, but it's hard to tell them apart, so be safe and don't talk to/get too near any Arabs (strangers)."

Posted by: Ezzie | Mar 2, 2006 2:23:20 AM

So how do I deal with my two young adults so that they view all Arabs as humans but also with caution?

You teach them to do just that.

How do they reconcile the contradiction?

They don't. You haven't.

Perhaps bring this up not as a topic you wish to teach them, but rather one which you wish to discuss with them. Express your own internal conflict, ask them what they think, and such. Learn together with them.

You can let on that you don't have all the answers, even as you are firm and insistent about both not being racist and about being safe.

It's okay not to have the answer to the conflict; sometimes recognizing that there is a problematic contradiction is enough. The awareness is in the asking of the questions.

Posted by: t | Mar 2, 2006 2:30:46 AM

Last thought. You could contrast the west bank with jaffa, ramle and haifa. Focus on the current political ambitions of and upheaval within a certain group in a certain area at a certain time. In that way the focus becomes less on race and more on current events, on tensions between Fatah and Hamas, on the current trend of kidnapping Westerners, events that do pertain to their safety and do require extra vigilance.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Mar 2, 2006 3:44:15 AM

My comment may not be as profound as others here, but I believe the best we can do is really talk to our kids not only about the subject itself, but also how we feel about it and how we struggle to maintain a balance. Life is hard. These situations are complex. Easy answers aren't available and, in my opinion, we do our children a diservice when we attempt to simplify the conflict too much. I think if our children (of course make this age-appropriate) see that we are wrestling with something, they realize that it IS something to be wrestled with and it's okay. There are some things that we will never come to a nice peaceful resolution in our lifetimes. In our family, we have strong beliefs about many things, but at the same time my kids know that not everyone shares those beliefs. I have tried to help them develop strong beliefs themselves without turning into judgemental people toward others. I think the fact that you are such a thoughtful person will (and has) made you a thoughtful parent and your children will benefit from that and emulate you more than you think.

I hope I've made sense in my comment. LOL

Posted by: Tracey | Mar 2, 2006 9:44:38 AM

I think that this is a topic that anyone who is determined to both preserve their life and not be a racist, must struggle with. Let me start by saying that I am definately no liberal. In reading the comments to your post, however, I must strongly disagree with those who say that the kids will just "pick it up". Society has a tendency to take the easiest path. For those who lean right, that usually means being racist. For those who lean left, that usually means ignoring the dangers posed by malicous individuals. Based on where you live (much like where I live), most of the people your children will be exposed to, will probably lean right, and therefore tend more to the racist side. That will be what you will be struggling against. I personally believe that however regrettable, there are certain descriminatory things that we must do in order to protect ourselves from malicious INDIVIDUALS (racial profiling at checkpoints and thoroughout the country in general). My approach is to try to emphasize to my children that I wish it didn't have to be this way, but that I see no better solution. I share with them the difficulty of our situation. There are a lot of bad people out there. We need to do things to protect ourselves, but I wish that we didn't have to do those things. In general, I think that this sensitivity is important. There are often times that people believe that they need to do something that will be for the best, but it hurts someone in the short-term (recieving an injection, checkpoints... etc.). The key is not to desist because it is hard, but rather to cry that you see no other choice than to do something that will cause pain. Only time will tell if this approach will be successful in my own children.

Posted by: DrSimcha | Mar 2, 2006 10:19:43 AM

Irina... I hope Zahava and I will have more of an influence than their friends at school. But then, every parent hopes that and most are sadly disappointed. :-)

Scott... Aw c'mon. I didn't figure you'd give up that easily. Are you saying there is no middle setting on your keyboard between rant and silence??? :-)

Yonah... Efrat also has such a rule (about armed guards accompanying any Arab workers in town), however depending on the day/week/month it may or may not be enforced. If it is being enforced, the contractor has to hire the guard(s) and usually passes the expense along to the person who hired him. As to your advice... very helpful. Yonah's advice = rent Karate Kid I, II and III and hope for the best. :-)

Lisoosh... I would encourage my kids to learn Arabic and even to interact with Arab kids their age if there were a safe setting. Unfortunately, these days that's hard to find. It's sad because as I've mentioned many times before, many of my neighbors talk with nostalgia about shopping in Arab stores, riding Arab buses and eating Arab produce. Nobody is winning right now.

Jack... Unfortunately, experience is not a very good teacher over here when one 'learning experience' can be fatal.

Elisson... The 'education' that the Arabs are giving their children is something I can't control (and about which nobody in the western world seems to care). It is the source of much of the current trouble, but I can only do right by my kids.

Ezzie... So you are suggesting that I tell my kids that not all Arabs are bad... but just to be on the safe side don't go near any of them? That's going to send a fairly blunt message, don't you think? I'm not criticising you (since I don;t have a better suggestion)... I'm just thinking out loud here. :-)

t... Good point. We have told our children many times how conflicted we are about how to view/treat Arabs (as individuals and as a group). Unfortunately that only goes so far. They are going to be spending more and more time away from home with friends... at the mall... on field trips... army... university. What I tell them now will set the sage for how they manage later on.

Lisoosh... the only problem with the last suggestion is that local history is taught very differently here and in North Tel Aviv. I won't say that either of them is 100% right or accurate... but I would rather not use a history lesson as a formula for future interactions with Arabs.

Tracey... We try not to over-simplify the conflict. But we also spend a lot of time combating the oversimplification they get at youth groups and school. It's an up-hill battle.

Dr. Simcha... CLAP... CLAP... CLAP! I'm nominating you for 'Best Comment' in next year's JIBs. That was an extremely well-reasoned and helpful comment. Thank you!.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 2, 2006 11:42:28 AM

I wasn't referring to history, rather to areas where Jews and Arabs currently coexist with far less friction than where you live. No neighbourhood is perfect, but you can shop in Arab markets in Jaffa, eat at an Arab shwarma restaurant in Haifa and wander around Daliat e Carmel and be as safe as you would be on a West Jerusalem street.

Posted by: Lisoosh | Mar 2, 2006 3:41:21 PM

Lisoosh... "as safe as you would be on a West Jerusalem street" Given what's been going on the past couple of days I wouldn't call anywhere in Israel particularly safe.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 2, 2006 4:04:39 PM

This is very difficult. We want to teach our kids to protect themselves, but we don't all live where you live. I am teaching my children to protect themselves in very different ways than you have to. The only common denominator I see is the racial issue. My parents are not, um, so open-minded when it comes to people of color. Yet I live in a neighborhood that is heavily mixed (actually an interesting mix between being about 50% Orthodox Jewish and 50% everything else - seriously). My kids have friends in the neighborhood that are both Orthodox, Reconstructionist, East Indian from Bombay, and Black. Unfortunately, the crime rate leans towards people of color. My parents have made "off" comments in front of my kids, and we have had to figure out how to communicate that there are bad people of every race and culture, without passing on the bigotry. But, again, my kids and I do not live where you live. We tend to take the tack that Jack mentioned as well as talking to them about who can touch them (which seems to be a huge issue here in the USA), who they can go with, the difference between a stranger and a policeman or fireman, etc. We try to take the approach of "There are people in this world who believe all Jews are bad because of the actions of a few bad ones - we know this is not true. So when you hear on the news or from relatives that a Black person killed someone or robbed someone, don't assume that all Black people do this." Obviously watered down for our kids' ages, but that is the tack we take. But, I don't live where you live. What a difficult position to be in. I think trying to engage in some cross-cultural activities is always mind-expanding for everyone. Oy. What a world we live in. Sorry this is so long!

Posted by: Ezer Knegdo | Mar 2, 2006 7:25:43 PM

It is tough and I know that there have been some nasty incidents recently which have to be frightening. Unfortunately the reality of the area is that either you take some carefully calculated (and as minimal as possible) risks or you lock yourself up in a bubble and let fear take over.
Why don't you contact someone such as Lisa Goldman who does have contact with Arabs on a regular basis and see if she has some practical suggestions?

Posted by: Lisoosh | Mar 2, 2006 8:01:48 PM

We live in what is left of rural Florida. My wife and I have five kids, our oldest just left for Armor School in Ft Knox, having learned from his paratrooper Dad that "walking" into a combat zone is vastly overrated. The kids are growing up with blacks and hispanics and we have tried to teach them how the different cultures effect each other and try have to explain, in as straightforward and value neutral a manner as we can, how they effect each other as life plays out before their eyes. If they understand what motivates the different tribes, they understand the risks. We teach them from the get go that people have much in common, but that they are individuals who tend to draw nearer to folks they have the most things in common with. Some groups are trouble, with exceptions of course, and to look for the good in all of them, but, but keep both eyes open. Your in my prayers.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 6, 2006 4:50:08 PM

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