Growing up in Detroit while it was entrenched in its long slide towards bankruptcy, I never thought much about the race of people who made it into the public eye through misbehavior. Despite Detroit’s well-deserved reputation for being racially divided, when it comes to miscreants, the city is populated by equal opportunity offenders. It wasn’t until shortly after my first marriage when I moved to a less diverse town (I mean, come on, they’re still proud of being the childhood home of General “Women and Children make great targets” Custer) that I realized that not only were other people eagerly playing crime demographics lacrosse, but that they had already assigned me a team.
I spent several years working at the local chain bookstore located in the town’s mall, which in mall terms is two-thirds of the way towards having a graduate degree. In June of 1994, I was pressed into service as the regional spokesperson for the “Black” opinion on O.J. Simpson’s memorable slow-speed chase down the L.A. freeway system, the catalyst for the multiple trials which stretched out through the rest of the decade. By the end of the first week, I was sincerely hoping he didn’t do it, because, let’s face it, it’s embarrassing to be identifiably connected to a person who has done something wrong, even with no other connection.
I became adept at championing the rights of African-Americans accused of crimes, carefully balancing my personal beliefs of their guilt or blamelessness against calls to examine the evidence, or reminders the suspects are innocent until proven guilty. But my main impetus was to keep myself, as much as possible, from being one of “them” (i.e., a criminal) just because I am one of them (Black).
When I converted to Judaism, I gained yet another group to apologize for; thanks a lot, Bernie Madoff and Aaron Rubashkin! When high profile crimes were exposed, I would cross my fingers and hope that it would be anybody besides someone Black and/or Jewish.
And that’s why I empathize with the Muslim community, especially Israeli Arabs, who, compared to others in the Middle East, have a good thing going, and judging from their lack of interest in giving up their Israeli passports, they seem to know it. Do reports of Muslims involved in synagogue stabbings in Jerusalem and car attacks in Gush Etzion and France make them cringe as I did when I read the account of the police officers stabbed by a Black Muslim in New York? Are they disappointed and embarrassed when other Muslims worldwide commit criminal acts, even when it’s not done in the name of religion?
I wonder who else feels this kind of pain when a member of their community behaves improperly, and how tenuous of a connection triggers this reaction. Do mainstream Mormons feel ashamed when unauthorized splinter groups marry off 12 year-old girls to 60 year-old men? Do people from Portugal get self-conscious if a Brazilian crime boss is captured on camera speaking Portuguese?
This is why Tiger Woods was such a disappointment to America. As the face of Caublasia, when his serial philandering was exposed he managed to embarrass three different races at once. That’s got to be some kind of a record. I’ve already told my kids that they’d better not misbehave enough to end up on the news, because I don’t have the time or energy to say sorry to every group that is a part of their genetic mix. I’m too busy reading the crime headlines and saying to myself, “Please don’t be Black or Jewish!”