Don’t try to get together with all your Jewish friends at the People of Color Conference in San Diego this year. Unless they brought their carry-on menorahs with them. That’s right, it’s taking place over Chanukah.
Perhaps you weren’t planning on going to the People of Color Conference. This does not mean you are not a Person of Color; it probably means you are not a teacher or administrator in an independent (private) school. Because that’s who goes. As my friend said recently, the conference is about half white.
If the planners of the conference did not want white people to come, this is an interesting way to accomplish this goal. Because it only gets at one segment of the white population: the Jewish one. Is it a bad thing not to want white people to come? Not necessarily. Whose conference is it, anyway?
When white people come to the conference that’s for people of color, then it’s about people of color, whether you are one or not.
When people of color are at the conference for people of color, no one has to talk about the experience of being one, because you are one and you know what the experience is. Isn’t it nice to be able to skip over that part and just talk about the issues?
Perhaps the planners of the conference felt they had to do something drastic—something that uses the calendar, and the physical restrictions of the individual’s false conception of control over time, to control the population.
Jews are sensitive to this sort of thing. Systematic population control is a bit of a trigger. All Jews suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, whether they think they do or not.
As my Jewish friend from Morocco once said, “I’m not that white.” Lots and lots of Jews are only part Jewish. Lots and lots of Jews are not that white. Which part of them gets to go to the conference this year, their left hand? That is, unless they are left-handed menorah lighters. And how important is Chanukah, anyway?
Many Jews will tell you that it’s not that important, that it’s no Passover, that it’s for the kids. And what business does another holiday have starting before the turkey is all cleaned up from Thanksgiving, anyway?
Sorry. Chanukah falls according to a different calendar. Back to that calendar thing again.
Here’s the thing: if we are not sensitive to the nuance of the calendar, then we are not sensitive to the role of holidays in the minds of our children. If we are not sensitive to that, then before you know it, they are only one-quarter Jewish, and then one-eighth, and then someone used to be Jewish but I forgot on which side.
It’s not that it’s about population control, but every High Holiday Jew, every Cindy Lou Jew (a Jew’s a Jew, no matter how small) knows about their temple’s policy on interfaith marriage: it’s the end of Judaism as we know it. And when conference planners get on board, making sure that somewhere in New Jersey some Jewish Diversity Coordinator can’t do her job because she can’t go to the conference, then they are being models of efficiency, aren’t they?
Here’s another question: what do they care? It’s not the People of Israel Conference, damnit, it’s not for them.
Here’s why they care. No one knows better than the people at that conference what it means to be left out, judged, and compartmentalized. These days, objectification in the independent school world often means seeing students of color as objects, not as problematic ones, but as trophies. Look who we got! And we even have one on our faculty!
Yeats asked, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?” This not only means how can we know where one thing ends and the next begins, but also, how can we know which is the thing and which is the person doing the thing?
At a conference, the conference is the thing. The people are the people. So next year, plan on having the people you want there, so they can all do the thing. That is, unless you already did.