Past Injustices: The Silver Bullet is Education
The memes about 2020 being a terrible year would almost be funny if they were not so painfully true. Conversations about the global pandemic have been relegated to the back burner as the world discusses how racial bias that sits on a constant simmer has once again inflamed people and mindsets and has set the world on fire, figuratively and literally.
This past Friday night, the conversation at our Shabbat table turned to racial inequality and the injustices African Americans have suffered long after the Civil War emancipated them from slavery. My kids, like many youth today, understand that simply putting a black screen on Instagram does not suffice as an appropriate response. They would genuinely like to be educated about the raw and fraught issue dominating the current world news. My husband had downloaded and printed an old article by Ta Nehisi Coates that I started to read to them, knowing that I would probably need to explain each paragraph. Due to the article’s denseness, we didn’t get through much, and I anticipate that it will take quite a few Friday nights to get through the whole article.
My kids, our kids, want to be educated about the past injustices that are fuelling the current riots. We need to appreciate their capacity to comprehend complexity and nuance. They can grasp how racism has evolved and morphed into different forms, both detached from and within law. Mrs Russell is already tweaking the Year 10 unit on civil rights to be taught next term, as our students live through the perpetuation of disastrous history. It is our duty, as educators and as parents, to give context to the present through education, both in the classroom and around our dinner tables.
In re-reading the article on Friday night with my family, I was reminded once again of how education, a good education, is THE silver bullet, the path to true equality of peoples. Not only does education allow for future generations to upskill their knowledge with the aim of preventing further injustices, it allows for a more even playing field for individuals, the ultimate goal being that equality is achievable regardless of skin colour, faith or orientation.
The article introduces us to Clyde Ross, who had the misfortune to be born in 1923 in Mississippi, ground zero of Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow. Even after Mr Ross was able to flee the kleptocracy of the South and resettle in Chicago, vultures took advantage of his limited literacy and conned him into a financially devastating mortgage contract that excluded him from the benefits of rising property values. Mr Ross’s segregation from a good education, like so many of his brethren, meant that he could not access the law and was therefore unable to use it to protect himself and his family.
This reminded me of a shiur I read by Rabbi Sacks. When the Jews were standing at the foot of Mount Sinai, G-d blesses us that we will be a ‘treasured nation, a holy people and a kingdom of priests’. His interpretation of a ‘kingdom of priests’ is that we will be a people who are literate (in ancient times it was only the priestly cast who were afforded the luxury of being literate). Indeed, what a blessing it is to be able to read and use reading as a comfort, a defence and a driver. A blessing afforded to some but not all, even in today’s world.
We fool ourselves into believing that Australia, and indeed all Western countries, runs on a meritocracy. But so much of what we are able to achieve is a product of the family we are born into and the schools we are able to attend. There is a plethora of programs and scholarships that seek to identify underprivileged talent and then bestow that talent with high school or tertiary scholarships. I fear that these come too late. Early education, early intervention is what should be invested in and delivered if we are to truly strive for equality.
Making this investment will take sacrifice.
And so I conclude with some thoughts from Rav Yoni Rosensweig, a Rabbi I was privileged to work with for 4 years.
‘Western attitudes have always focused on rights. Judaism has always focused on responsibilities.
In every society there is a weaker element. In every society there are those who are less fortunate. In every society, despite everybody being equal - some people are more equal than others.
And in such a society, it is the obligation of those who are more fortunate, not only to not stand in the way of the other's aspiration for equality, but to actively boost their chances to reach a happy and fulfilling life. It is the obligation of those who are more fortunate to be extra sensitive to those people’s needs. And it is the obligation of those who are more fortunate to realise that it is only through their efforts to galvanise the nation towards these goals, that this can be achieved.’
As another week of unrest draws to a close and we prepare again for Shabbat dinner and the conversations that will unfold, I will again seek to engage my children in conversation about world affairs and how we might work together to improve outcomes. I encourage everyone to have these discussions in their circles and to grow our collective knowledge of the contemporary issues we face as members of the global population. It is my hope that as our children grow, they find themselves in a world that is more peaceful, equitable and caring; a kinder world that they have helped create.
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