Viewpoint: Israel, parenting, 'privilege' and 'The Lion King'
May 10, 2019
A few months back, I had the opportunity to attend a Shabbat community discussion about the Middle East. Being a new father, it had been a while since engaging in such meaningful dialogue.
As my wife and I take our seats with our 1-year-old, I notice a tired, gray-haired father sitting next to his daughter, a college freshman. I smile at the thought of that being us in 18 years.
The rabbi turns the topic to the age-old question of Israel’s geographic existence and its right to exist there in the future. He asks the participants to think about, “Why now more than ever, is Israel under scrutiny?” The daughter confidently mentions the word “privilege.”
I had certainly heard this word before, but not in the context of Israel, so I chime in, asking for clarification. The rabbi defines “privilege” as a sort of ‘pecking order’ based on identity in which white males take the top slot. A wave of negative emotion hits me as I realize that this kitschy word belittles so much individual sacrifice and oppression in recent history to make Israel a reality. It also enables her to so nonchalantly devalue herself in the midst of well-meaning intentions and sacrifices that her father has made to support her education and her personal achievements.
In 1988, Peggy McIntosh defined “white privilege” as “an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compasses, emergency gear, and blank checks.”
My parental duty is to guide my children to develop their “knapsack” of life tools such as responsibility, self-reliance, self-respect, respect for others and perseverance which lead to most of the McIntosh’s definition. These tools don’t work if just handed out. I have known many people with “blank checks” which hinder them from developing the rest of their life tools.
I was raised in the 80s and 90s where MLK’s message about judging the content of people’s character and not by the color of their skin resonated in me. I created my own habits to prevent such prejudgment. Today, “privilege” is the common message. “High privilege” individuals are undeserving of equal acknowledgement as the “less privileged,” no matter the person’s individual experiences and character. In order to not be labeled as a racist, the “high privilege” group would need to accept this ideology and routinely demean themselves in a diverse group.
These concepts are embedded in television shows, school systems, university education, workplace diversity training programs and politics, promoted by influential people, oftentimes to make themselves feel good or well-educated. They become embedded into the foundation of our youngest minds.
Will my child’s input be discounted by his teachers because of his “privilege”? Should I encourage my child to change his sexual identity to lower his spot on the “privilege” totem pole in hopes that he will be labeled “less privileged”? I encourage you to ask yourself what lies behind this new message? Is a certain agenda veiled in this message?
Before this ideology went mainstream, I recall a conversation with a friend who devoted nine years toward earning a Ph.D., moving every 1-2 years in hopes of finding a permanent position. In talking about her next opportunity, she felt that even if she had more qualifications and recommendations than a person of color, that they should be ranked first, despite their individual attributes, to receive the position. She had a disguised guilt of being from a white, upper class background and that no matter what sacrifices and challenges that she and her parents had made, she was lesser.
In Disney’s movie “The Lion King,” the righteous King Mufasa raises his son, Simba, to be the heir to the throne. Scar, Mufasa’s jealous brother, plots to break the bond between the two. First, he convinces Simba and his friend to explore a forbidden area, placing their lives at risk. Later, by subtle manipulation, and then frank inculcation of a lie, Scar convinces Simba that he himself is to blame for his father’s death. This leads him down a road of despair, guilt and aimlessness, despite the responsibilities and values his father brought unto him. Believing this lie drives a wedge between Simba and his community, preventing him from reaching his potential as a righteous leader. Luckily years later, Simba runs into a long-lost friend, Nala, who leads him back to save the community from Scar and his destructive rule.
Thank you Nala, “The Lion King” and most importantly, MLK!
Now, I can get back to raising my children so they can earn their knapsack, be successful and contribute to Tikkun Olam. Our children should not be raised to be preoccupied with identities, but rather focus on treating people based on their actions and character. If parents and children want to sacrifice their own equal opportunities to follow these concepts and feel better about themselves, that is their prerogative. But to sacrifice Israel’s legitimacy to make themselves feel better? That is another issue.
Michael Smith, former Orlando resident.