Wassily Kandinsky, Black Strokes I
Do you remember the time we entered the Moscow subway, and I rushed to sit at the only available spot, only to have you pull me back because there was a black person sitting next to it? You said something along the lines of him being dirty. I was seven.
Do you remember one of my first friends in the United States? I was thirteen, and had befriended a hijabi Pakistani girl who had moved at the same time we did. You wouldn’t let her into our house.
Do you remember how anytime you saw something about Muslims on the news, you would say that they’re all terrorists? And when I would point out that you can’t make blanket statements about people based on the actions of one, you’d ignore me.
Do you remember the time you started spewing hateful things about President Obama in my house, with my two small kids present? I asked you to stop saying that he is a Muslim and therefore can’t be trusted. I asked you to stop saying that because he’s African-American, his brain doesn’t have the capacity for complex thinking. You blew up, stormed out. Our subsequent phone conversation went something like this:
Me: “Please refrain from speaking like this in my house.”
You: “It’s a free country. I’ll speak however I want to speak.”
Me: “I won’t let you teach my kids to be racists. If you can’t stop, you can’t come over.”
You: “Only terrorists like Hamas and Hezbollah hide behind children.”
You stewed for a couple of days, but we’ve had lots of peaceful visits since. What it means, though, is that we can’t have an amiable “agree-to-disagree” political discussion, either. You can’t make a political statement of opinion without allowing your racism and your anti-Muslim bigotry to seep through. And I can’t allow my children to learn to hate.
Here’s the thing, papa. I’ll be forever grateful to you and mama for bringing our family here. We came in the mid-1990s, after the main waves of Soviet Jewish emigration. Somehow, I was young enough to absorb fundamental American values: equality, justice, democracy, human rights for all, protection of minorities.
I have never been able to understand why you follow the lessons of the Soviet Union, which singled out and excluded you just for being Jewish. You treat people who aren’t like you in the same way you were treated. Is that some sort of post-Soviet PTSD? You don’t know them and yet you hate them. You haven’t ever made an effort to get to know the objects of your hate.
How do I reconcile this attitude with the man who never told me to limit myself to “women’s work”? You always said that I could be anything I wanted to be. You fought for our family to come to America because you believed in the ideals of freedom and that we’d have many more opportunities here than in Russia. You were right: The doors open to me in America would never have been open in Russia.
The question is: are those ideals not the same for everyone, regardless of color, creed or country of origin? Isn’t that why our family came here rather than stay mired in the racism and culturally ingrained anti-Semitism of modern-day Russia?