I am sitting in my coffee shop and two men have just walked in together. They are deep in conversation and I see that one insists on paying for both coffees while the other protests and then gratefully accepts. I sense they exchange this ritual regularly. One man is black and the other is white. This shouldn’t stand out to me living in the People’s Republic of Berkeley, but it does.
These two men, though they walk straight and fluidly, are both old. They must be in their late 70’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in their 80’s. They grew up in a different time, another age, when this scene would have drawn everyone’s attention in the coffee shop. Now, I suspect, it is just me.
These two men lived through segregation, the civil rights movement, and the general drive by mainstream American to create a non-racist, civil society. I know there are extremists out there, and I am aware that black people still face institutional racism. But when spotlighted, there is a consensus that such behavior is unacceptable.
I am writing this post a couple of days before the 4th of July. I am still not a citizen of the US, but I feel a part of this society because I believe in what it stands for: freedom and democracy for all. I know it is not perfect, but we are moving forward. I know that not everyone is on board, or swimming in the same direction, but I believe there is a dogged majority who embrace these principles. Jewish proverbs teach us that “It is not for us to finish the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”
My blog often criticizes members of our society, organizations and politicians. But today, July 4th, while we fire up the barbeque and chill the bud, lets focus on what we share in common.
I’ll leave you with a song by Janis Ian. Happy 4th everyone.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).