“Why do all Ethiopians look alike,” my daughter asked as we passed in front of a Hadera community center that I had always thought was intended for Sudanese refugees. The corner where I frequently walked to get to the closest fruit and vegetable stand had three of four corner stores dedicated as Afro-community centers, blaring music with heavy African rhythms, and usually filled with men drinking from green glass bottles. I had no idea why anyone would choose one center over the other, since they (ironically, it seemed) all had the same basic amenities and vibe to my untrained eyes and ears. Once I had been invited inside one for a drink, but I was in a hurry, and alone, and I couldn’t tear myself away from my world to cross over into theirs, even for just a few minutes.
Listening to my daughter’s innocent question, I could sense I was either on the edge of a parenting fail, or had already fallen off onto the wrong side of the fence. “Ethiopians don’t look alike, honey…and I think most of these people are Sudanese or Eritrean, or something. Plus, even if they did look alike…which they don’t, you shouldn’t say that out loud. Especially in front of them. That’s racist”
Definitely a parenting fail.
“Racist is when you think all people who look alike are the same.”
“I don’t think that.”
“You literally said they all look alike. That’s almost textbook racist.”
She thought about this quietly as we walked back to our apartment. Later that evening, I sought absolution from my boyfriend.
“I don’t get why what she said is so bad,” he told me. “She’s kind of right. Even you can’t tell Ethiopians apart. I remember you telling me you mistook one of your co-workers for the cleaning lady.”
I blushed. “That’s not the point. The point, is that you can’t say stuff like that!”
“People say Russian programmers look alike. I get that all the time.”
“You’re not Russian. You’re Ukrainian!”
We looked at each other and broke out laughing.
He continued, “I bet your company has at least one person in their programming team who looks like me.”
He was right. I pictured the guy immediately. Sometimes, I would even make him help me with stuff just because he reminds me of my boyfriend, right down to the hastily gathered ponytail and weird goatee. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and moved on. I spent the rest of the week wondering how I could be both raising and dating racists.
On Friday, I went to Tel Aviv to help my friend Jason with a project. He picked me up in his car and took me to the studio in the upscale Tel Aviv suburb of Givat Savyon where we would be recording. Unfortunately, at the exit we needed, there was a group of policemen who told us the road was closed because of a race. This meant we had to walk about 15 minutes to the studio.
Now, neither Jason nor I are paragons of physical perfection. We are however, perfect specimens of sarcasm. We walked, but inside we seethed with the anger that can only be experienced by the very lazy when forced into exertion. And when two very lazy, sarcastic people are made to walk together, more often than not their mouths are running at the same time. And so, we made fun of the huge houses, and joked about how the owners’ servants would be inconvenienced by the race.
Eventually, we started walking behind an elderly woman, who we didn’t pay much attention to. But after about five minutes, she turned to us and asked, “Why are you living here?!”
Jason thought he had found a kindred spirit, and went, “I know, right?! Basically, I married an Israeli and I can’t leave until I can buy her a house…or American citizenship…”
This was not the answer the woman wanted. “This race is in honor of someone who died in Tzuk Eitan! You should be ashamed!”
Now, in his defense, Jason had actually served in the Israeli army. But that’s all the defending I’m going to do, because he made IDF propaganda videos. As can be expected from a guy who subtitled porn for a living for years, he was not cowed in the slightest by the woman’s umbrage, and immediately began questioning loudly if having a race named after him made the soldier’s death worth it.
“Avromi, you can make it! You only have a nosebleed!”
“No, Yechiel… at least this way, I know that my death will not be in vain. Make sure to go back to Givat Savyon and tell them to create a race for me…. *cough *cough*”
The woman turned the corner with a huff, as we keep going forward.
“Dude,” I said. “That was harsh.”
“On the other hand, at least I feel better about myself right now,” I added.
“Well. I’ve been thinking that I was a bad person all week. But here you are, complaining about the runners, and the roads being closed and that poor guy who died. You know what that sounds like, right?”
He turned to me. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Yes, Jason. You… are a racist.”
And we looked at each other and broke out laughing.