I wonder if.....

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Neila Drasha 5774 - What if God would answer our prayers?

This is a drasha I shared with the Shira community in the moments before Neila, 5774. It imagines what prayer would be like if it was a dialogue, rather than a monologue. The following letter imagines how I would like God to respond to our prayers.

Imagining God’s Letter to the Jewish People

My Dear Children of Israel,
Over the past 24 hours, you have praised me, cried out to me, begged for forgiveness and sought atonement from me and your neighbours. What an honour to share this day with you. To be the address for your teshuva, for your desire to be a better a person.
Intoning and enumerating your sins, you have beaten your right fist into our left breast no fewer than 860 times. Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu…
But I say to you now, in the last hour of this shabbat shabtot, the holiest of holy days, enough.

No more guilt. For the last hour, abstain from guilt. True atonement has nothing to do with guilt, and everything to do with responsibility.
Please stop feeling guilty
For not being the parent you wanted to be,
For procrastinating too much before you achieved the things to you wanted to do
For criticising your friends and family without suggesting alternatives on how they could do better
For criticising your politicians with too many suggestions on how they could do better
And perhaps, for some of you, not taking the time to do teshuva seriously.
Instead of feeling guilty, please take this last hour on this most holy of days, to focus on responsibilities. Let the beautiful singing that pervades this room, be the backing track to your meditation and reflection on the responsibilities you’d like to take upon yourself in the coming year.
Will you take responsibility for being more generous in the way you give tzedakah?
Will you have more time for your family?
Will you speak less lashon hara?
Will you think more carefully about all of my 613 mitzvot before you accept or reject them?
Will you engage more honestly in your work?
Will you give more freely of your time to those who need it most?
These questions are for you to answer.
My Dear Children of Israel,
In the past year, far too many of my creations having been doing things in my name, which I am not happy about. In my name, people have advanced the cause of racism, intolerance, sexism, homophobia, war and xenophobia. Those who advance these causes in my name, forget that I have created all of you in my image. With equal rights, and equal dignity. Shaming your fellow human in my name, shames me. Loving your fellow creation, honours me.  
--
The siddur you are all holding in your hands, please use it wisely in the next hour. From what I have heard so far, this holy book is filled with adjectives about me. How great, wonderful, mighty and powerful I am.  So many times, I have heard you describe my 13 attributes of mercy
That I am gracious, compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon.
These words about my nature are true. I am forgiving and want you to succeed in doing teshuva.
-
However, I also wanted to let you know something else which isn’t included in the siddur. I know that your teshuva will be incomplete.
I know that many of the promises you will make today, will be broken. After all, why else would so many of you come to shule last night to annul your vows during Kol Nidre?
I created you in an imperfect way, with free choice, to choose good and to choose evil. To choose to kill and to choose to heal. To weep and to laugh, To mourn and to dance.
To acquire and to lose, to be silent and speak.
I gave you the ability to gas people in Syria, to be blind to the suffering of the asylum seekers and strangers in your midst, to ignore the hungry and the homeless, and to use violence on far too many occasions when words would have sufficed. I gave you the ability to commit unimaginable crimes and also to stop them. I have given you all the ability, on each and every day, to be a perpetrator, victim, bystander and upstander.
Every day, I look at the world and I see what’s going on. I don’t need google to find out. Because I am the only one who knows more than google.
I am acutely aware of your cognitive dissonance. Of the many occasions when your actions don’t match your ideas and beliefs. On this day, I forgive you for that too. As long as you can promise me that after today, we have an agreement, that you want to be better.
Better parents, better children, better partners, better citizens and better humans.
Whatever happens in the coming year, irrespective of whether you create more obstacles or making the choices necessary to overcome them, please remember, that I will always love you.
We are created in the same image. Sometimes broken, sometimes while, but always deserving of love.
-
I understand that many of you in this shule are fans of the Canadian prophet I sent you many years ago. One Mr Leonard Cohen. He was one of my better creations, so I can understand why you like him.
There is a song of his which I have heard from the floor of this room, which no other congregation has shared. If it be your will. If I could sing one line back to you, it would sound like this.
Now it is my will, that I speak no more
My voice will now be still, as it was before
From this broken Hill, all my praises you did ring
Now it is my will, for you to sing.

Gmar Chatima Tova

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Moral Dilemma: Asylum Seekers

Here’s a question I have been thinking about since Kevin Rudd announced the PNG solution for asylum seekers who arrive on our shores seeking protection.
 
If a victim of violence came to you asking for help, would you?

A: Welcome and support them in the hope that they will never be a victim again

B: Tell them you can’t help them, because someone else is also suffering on the other side of the world

C: Send them to the poorest guy in the street, and tell them to ask for help there.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Eitan Reuven Flescher

Our son who was born at 12:20am on May 30 2012 / 9 Sivan 5772, is named after a biblical character who lived in the land of Judah some 3000 years ago. We only know four things about his name, and all four of them are attributes we want for our son.

The first is that he was a wise person. We learn this from the first Book of Kings where it says:

"וַיִּתֵּן אֱלֹהִים חָכְמָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה וּתְבוּנָה הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד וְרֹחַב לֵב כַּחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל שְׂפַת הַיָּם: וַתֵּרֶב חָכְמַת שְׁלֹמֹה מֵחָכְמַת כָּל בְּנֵי קֶדֶם וּמִכֹּל חָכְמַת מִצְרָיִם: וַיֶּחְכַּם מִכָּל הָאָדָם מֵאֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי וְהֵימָן וְכַלְכֹּל וְדַרְדַּע בְּנֵי מָחוֹל וַיְהִי שְׁמוֹ בְכָל הַגּוֹיִם סָבִיב:"
"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Eitan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about." (1 Kings 4:29-31)

The second is that he was a musician. We learn this from the account of the amazing ceremony arranged by King David when he first brought the Ark to Jerusalem, where Eitan is described as one of the Poets / Musicians who provided the soundtrack to this wondrous day.

 וְהַמְשֹׁרְרִים, הֵימָן אָסָף וְאֵיתָן--בִּמְצִלְתַּיִם נְחֹשֶׁת, לְהַשְׁמִיעַ.
And the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Eitan were appointed to play the cymbals of brass - 1 Chronicles 15:19

Eitan is also the author of Psalm 89.

The third is from the first Book of Kings 8:2, where it says:
 וַיִּקָּ֨הֲל֜וּ אֶל־הַמֶּ֤לֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה֙ כָּל־אִ֣ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּיֶ֥רַח הָאֵֽתָנִ֖ים בֶּחָ֑ג ה֖וּא הַחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִֽי
All the men of Israel gathered to King Solomon at the special feast in the seventh month, called Yerach Eitanim.

Today we call Yerach Eitanim the month of Tishrei, the month of the Hebrew calendar which has more festivals than any other, including Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkot to name but three. The festivals in Tishrei deal with our spiritual side, a time for reckoning and accounting of our deeds, followed by two festivals of great joy and dancing.
If every month in the life of Eitan is like that of Yerach Eitanim, we will be very happy for him.

In modern Hebrew, the word Eitan can mean any of the following words - constancy, firmness, safe, strong or enduring. In fact, when describing different types of streams of water in Hebrew, there are two adjectives.  Nachal Achzav (disappointment), which flows only during the winter months, and Nachal Eitan, which flows all year round, whose water source is usually from an underground spring, such as the river Jordan. 


The fourth is that his name is a description for social justice used on the book of Amos. Amos lived in the kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes were social justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgment. Under King Jeroboam II (793 BCE to 753 BCE) the kingdom of Israel was incredibly prosperous. The gulf between rich and poor widened at this time. Amos was called from his rural home to remind the rich and powerful of God's requirement for justice. He claimed that religion that is not accompanied by right action is anathema to God and prophesied that the kingdom of Israel would be destroyed. Amos' message was, perhaps understandably, unwelcome in Israel. Not only was he a foreigner from the southern kingdom, but his prophecies of doom were completely at odds with the prevailing political climate of hope and prosperity.


In chapter 5:21-24 Amos says to the people of Israel on behalf of God,
I loathe, I despise your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies. If you offer Me burnt offering- or your meal offerings- I will not accept them; I will pay no heed to your gifts of well-fed animals. Spare Me the sound of your songs, and let Me not hear the music of your harps. But let justice well up like water, righteousness like an ever-flowing/mighty stream.
עמוס פרק ה - וְיִגַּל כַּמַּיִם, מִשְׁפָּט; וּצְדָקָה, כְּנַחַל אֵיתָן

As a cultural Jew, these words of Amos, that justice righteousness should be like a Nachal Eitan, resonate with me more so than any other in the Tanach.  Noam Neusner explains that this passage in Amos is one of the most challenging in Tanach because it directly contradicts what God told us to do in Vayikra, Bamidar and Devarim, namely, celebrate festivals, kill cattle and offer them up as burnt offerings. Now God speaks through Amos and says not only are these acts inappropriate, but offensive if done with the wrong intention. What is the message of all this?

God does not want us to follow Jewish law, whilst forgetting the message and spirit behind the law. He does not want us to pay more attention to the kashrut of our food, than the words of gossip that comes out of our mouths whilst we are eating it.

Bottom line: True religion cannot be divorced from a just and moral society.
In his famous “I have a dream” speech of 1963, Martin Luther King famously applied this reference to the Nachal Eitan to his contemporary situation when he said:
“We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream

  
In conclusion, we learn from the Tanach that Eitan was a wise man, a poet and musician, whose name is both a description for the most joyous month in the Hebrew calendar and a description for the type of justice we need in this world. What more could we want for our son?
--
The second name we chose was Reuven after my late father, who on the 16th of May 1948, was one of the first children born in the state of Israel, just two days after her creation.

Reuven Flescher at the age of 15, Polishing Diamonds in Petach Tikva
From the age of 15, my Abba worked in the diamond industry in Ramat Gan, originally polishing diamonds on the factory floor, until he eventually became a gemmologist and was brought out to Australia where he launched the first Australian School of Gemmology, teaching people how to sort and value diamonds.

 Starting a new life in Australia at the age of 29 with a wife and two young children was not an easy task. Both my parents worked incredibly hard to ensure that my brother and I were able to attend Mount Scopus for our entire education.
When I reached Year 7, my father wanted me to join what was an experimental program at that time called the bilingual class, where all subjects would be taught in Hebrew. I was a bit sceptical about this because I thought
A: Why do I need Hebrew if I am going to live in Australia? And
B: Math and Science are complicated enough for me in English.

Ittay's Brit Mila in 1978
What he said to convince me to join this program was that every new language is like a new life. It is like a passport, which opens another door. And even though you may not need it now, one can never tell what the future may hold.

It was one of the best pieces of advice he gave me, as not only did the Bilingual program greatly improve my Hebrew, but it was also the springboard for my involvement and interest in studying Tanach, Israel and Jewish thought in the original language, which was far richer than studying these topics in translation.

This blessing of language is something I have passed onto Nava, as I now only speak with her in Hebrew, and will also pass onto Eitan. On our first Friday night at home, when Carm and I blessed Nava and Eitan together for the first time after Kiddush, I was struck about how the words for the male blessing are different from the female.
The source for blessing a male child that he should be as “Ephraim and Menashe” the source of which comes from Genesis 48:20 which reads:

וַיְבָ֨רֲכֵ֜ם בַּיֹּ֣ום הַהוּא֮ לֵאמֹור֒ בְּךָ֗ יְבָרֵ֤ךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱלֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־אֶפְרַ֖יִם לִפְנֵ֥י מְנַשֶּֽׁה
On that day Jacob blessed them, he said, "In time to come, the people of Israel will use you as a blessing. They will say, 'May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe'." (Genesis 48:20)
Many have wondered why Jacob chooses to bless his grandsons before blessing his 12 sons. Traditionally, the answer has been that Jacob chose to bless them because they are the first set of brothers who did not fight with each other. All the brothers who came before them in the Bible – Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers – had serious issues of sibling rivalry. By contrast, Ephraim and Menashe were friends known for their good deeds. And what parent wouldn’t wish for peace among their children? In the words of Psalms 133:1
הִנֵּ֣ה מַה־טֹּ֭וב וּמַה־נָּעִ֑ים שֶׁ֖בֶת אַחִ֣ים גַּם־יָֽחַד
"How good and pleasant is it for brothers to sit peacefully together."

The other interpretation for why we bless our sons to be like Ephraim and Menashe is that they were the first pair of siblings who grew up in the diaspora, in the land of Egypt, and maintained their Jewish identity.

With that in mind, May you my two children Eitan Reuven and Nava Shulamit, be just like Ephraim and Menashe, siblings with a great love for one another, and with a strong Jewish identity that I pass on to you, that I inherited from my parents, stemming from our language, culture and history. May these gifts lead you to do all that you can to leave this world in a better place than it is now, at the time you have arrived.
Thank You

Special Thanks to Dr Roni Magidov who was my supervisor at The Hebrew University in 2007-2008 who helped me write this speech.

Friday, January 06, 2012

How do you say Social Justice in Hebrew?

In December 2011, I was privileged to attend one of the most amazing events in the Jewish world known as Limmud. Held at the University of Warwick in England, Limmud brings together over 2,300 Jews to learn continually for 5 days. Each hour there are over 25 sessions on offer from some of the greatest minds in the Jewish world. This year I attended a number of sessions about the J14 social protests, presented by Ruth Calderon, Eetta Prince-Gibson and two of the first tent dwellers, Daphni Leef and Barak Segal.

The seed for these protests began in June 2011 when Israeli film student Daphni Leef received a notice to vacate the apartment that she had rented in Tel Aviv for the previous three years. After several weeks of searching to no avail for a new apartment within reach of her financial situation, Leef discovered that the rental prices in the entire Tel Aviv metropolitan area had doubled in the previous five years. At the time, Daphni was working 14 hours a day on a reality TV show ironically named “Your house is worth more.” In realising that even a person like herself, from a 'good' family with an honest job could not afford to live in Gush Dan where rents had risen by 49% in the past 5 years (42% of Israelis live in the Gush Dan region), she started a Facebook group inviting anyone else in the same situation to join her in a tent on Habima Square on July 14. (see www.J14.org.il).

These protests gradually grew larger until they peaked on the night of September 3rd where 460,000 Israelis marched for Social Justice. An opinion poll released by Channel 10 television showed that 88% of respondents said they supported the movement.

Daphni spoke of the idea in this TED Talk as being particularly significant in shaping her political philosophy. “You know, in the middle ages, in England, when you met a very poor person, that person would be described as an “unfortunate.” Literally, somebody who had not been blessed by fortune, an unfortunate. Nowadays, particularly in the United States, if you meet someone at the bottom of society, they may, unkindly, be described as a “loser.” There is a real difference between an unfortunate and a loser. And that shows 400 years of evolution in society, and our belief in who is responsible for our lives. It’s no longer the gods, it’s us. We’re in the driving seat. That’s exhilarating if you’re doing well, and very crushing if you’re not.” – Alain de Botton.

The demands of the protests were initially for the government to do something about housing prices. As more people joined their movement, they articulated further demands that were formed out of many dialogue circles and round tables.The round tables during the tent protests were conducted in a manner that is unlike any discussions I have ever had with Israelis. Inspired by the 15M movement which brought over 7 million Spaniards out to the streets in May 2011, they adopted and invented a number of unique hand signals in order facilitate up to 200 people being part of one discussion.These emoticons have now spread throughout the world through the occupy movement.

One of the best sessions I attended at Limmud was run by Daphni Leef and Barak Segal, where they broke with the traditional lecture style format and arranged all the chairs in the room into circles around ten. They then taught us the speaking legend:

Waiving your hands upwards – Agreeing

Waiving your hands downwards – Not agreeing

Crossing your hands – Veto (I will not participate in this initiative)

Rolling hands – Get on with it, I’m not getting any younger.

Raising your hand – I want to speak (the table instructor will note and write down)

Firing with Fingers – I have a brief comment – Only allowed with the permission of the speaker

Time out sign – Technical intervention

We then participated in a Round Table discussion which gave all involved a powerful taste of what direct democracy feels like. Under the rules of Round Table facilitation, all present must speak, which in itself is a big step forward from the far too passive approach many citizens around the world have towards their stake in democracy. Next, each person spoke to the person on their right for 5 minutes, after which their partner introduced them to the group. After this, each person turned to their left and shared an economic problem they had experienced. Topics that came up included the source of the London Riots, rises in student fees and the nature of capitalism. These problems were then shared back with the main circle, after which we again split into smaller groups to start researching solutions to each of these problems.

In the tent protest, the suggestions of these teams went on to become part of a detailed report by a committee of 60 economists led by Yossi Yonah, professor of education at Ben-Gurion University, and Avia Spivak, professor of economics at Ben-Gurion University and former deputy governor of the Bank of Israel. As opposed to the Trachtenberg Committee established by the government, the recommendations of the Spivak-Yonah Committee were very much by the people, for the people.The use of round tables has now spread throughout Israel through organisations such as Arvut.org and the Israel 2021.

Another one of my favourite presenters at Limmud was Ruth Calderon from Alma, the Secular Yeshiva in Tel-Aviv, who spoke movingly about the place of humanistic Jewish ideals in the slogans of the tent protestors. To see her point, compare the slogans of the many social justice campaigns around the world.

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” – Patrick Henry, American Revolutionary War, 1775

“Libertie Egalitie Fraternitie” – French Revolution 1789

“We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers” – M15 Protests in Spain

“Action for Australia” – GetUp (Australia)

“We Are the 99%” - Occupy Movement (Global)

Noting that the similarity between the concerns of these other social justice movements and the tent protestors, it was amazing to see the Israelis use decidedly Jewish language to make their point with slogans such as: The nation demands social justice העם דורש צדק חברתי”, “We want justice, not charity רוצים צדק לא רוצים צדקה” and finally “ כל ישראל אוהלים זה לזהAll of Israel are tents for one another,” a play on words from the famous Talmudic quote, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.” (BT Shavuot 39a).

In addition to these highly prophetic slogans that would seem for more at home in the mouths of Amos, Jeremiah or Isaiah than the streets of secular Tel-Aviv, Calderon spoke proudly of the many Talmud study sessions facilitated by Alma in between the tents and the Kabbalat Shabbat services held each Friday night.

In reflecting on the remarkable events of Summer 2011 in Israel, many have decried the protesters as being naive idealists in calling for a welfare state that Israel can’t afford, whose protest will not achieve anything until they can form a political party and win big in an election. But Daphni doesn’t see it this way. She sees the goal of this protest as not changing the government, because she knows that this is not a right- left issue. What she is trying to do is to make sure that the concerns of the protesters are at the core of every decision made in the Knesset, no matter which side is in power. Acknowledging that the change she is advocating for will take a generation, the protest movement has recently created a new non-parliamentary movement תנועה called ב' זה אוהל that will continue the struggle over the cost of living and the values of Israeli culture and democracy. The movement will form a non-profit company in which the public will be able to buy shares and which will act as a lobbying group for social affairs.

Together with a number of the first tent protestors, the movement will be headed up by Major (res) Tomer Bohadana, a company commander in the reserves, who was seriously wounded in the Summer of 2006, fighting in the Second Lebanon War. He was evacuated to Rambam hospital in Haifa, and then rushed from the helicopter on a stretcher, with a doctor pressing his neck so he would not bleed to death. Before losing consciousness he saw a group of television crews and photographers, and signalled V for victory with his hand. This became the symbol of the war.

At the launch of the new movement, they read out the following statement, “The foundation of this movement is the understanding that being a citizen in a democracy is not a responsibility that ends with a ballot at election time. This movement will strive to bring about a public debate around the hot topics that were strengthened by Herzl’s response on the eve of the First Zionist Congress in Basel to those who criticised him by saying that “the Zionist movement is entirely a racket, no more!” Herzl replied angrily: “Yes of course! But all politics is bustle. The whole of world history is nothing but tumult: tumult of new ideas advancing. ”

Echoing the words of Herzl, I fervently hope that the new ideas that are being advanced by this movement will be the saviour of Zionism. By combining the best Jewish humanistic ideals epitomised in the direct democracy of the round tables, combined with the ancient vision of the prophets for a more just society, these young Israelis are showing the world how one should say Social Justice in Hebrew.

Behatzlacha!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Stuff White People Like – The Melbourne Edition

Most of you have probably read the American Stuff White People Like blog by now and laughed about it at many dinner parties which have also been fundraisers for various causes. In writing this entry, please note that in describing the group of people below, ‘white’ is probably not the best choice of word in Melbourne and should probably be replaced with ‘inner city middle class.’ After you read through the list, give yourself a score out of 80 to determine how ‘white’ you really are.





1.Living in North Fitzroy (According to Christian Lander, this is the whitest suburb in Melbourne)
2. The TED Conference

3. Farmer’s Markets

4. Hating Andrew Bolt

5. Answering “Jedi” to the religion question on the census

6. Beanies

7. Having breakfast at Monk Bodhi Dharma, lunch at the Oasis Bakery and dinner at the Moroccan Soup bar

8. Political Prisoners

9. Facebook

10. Being Offended

11. ABC Radio National

12. Any event sponsored by The Wheeler Centre

13. New Balance Shoes

14. Music Piracy

15. Ceres

16. Dinner Parties

17. Having Gay Friends

18. Putumayo World Music Collection

19. Events put on by the local council

20. Bartering

21. Hating Corporations

22. The Greens (see here and here)

23. Op Shops

24. Breastfeeding

25. Multilingual Children

26. Sophie

27. Camping

28. Lentil as Anything

29. Cassette tapes

30. Coming to places on time

31. Muslims

32. Knowing What’s Best for Poor People

33. Leonard Cohen (I’m offering a prize for anyone who can spot a non-white person in the audience at his Hanging Rock concert)

34. Go the F*#k to Sleep

35. Bicycles (especially the fixed gear variety which are the most authentic)

36. Toyota Prius

37. Apologies (especially the one by Kevin Rudd)

38. Irony

39. Confest

40. Whole Foods and Grocery Co-ops

41. Self-deprecating humour

42. Arts Degrees (especially when they lead to writing PhD’s you can angst about at dinner parties)

43. The Age (with a special mention to the Good Weekend)

44. Indie Music

45. Couchsurfing

46. Advocating for Public Education whilst sending your own kids to Private Schools (especially one’s that enhance your child’s uniqueness like Preshil or Rudolph Steiner Schools.)

47. Collingwood Children’s Farm

48. Lucas’ Paw Paw Ointment

49. Masterchef (Especially the Eco Challenge/Dalai Lama episodes)

50. Apple Products

51. Zara

52. Bragging about unique furniture you found in a hard rubbish collection

53. The Chaser

54. Acknowledging the Wurundjeri

55. The Daily Show/Colbert Report

56. Marijuana

57. Vegan/Vegetarianism

58. Flash Mobs

59. St Kilda Night market

60. Kath and Kim (This entire show is made for the benefit of inner city people who wish to laugh at outer suburbs folk)

61. 80’s Nights

62. Asylum Seekers

63. Awareness

64. Walking over a Bridge for Reconciliation

65. Hating their Parents

66. Gifted Children

67. Astor Theatre Posters

68. John Safran

69. Having tweets appear on Q&A

70. Yoga

71. Barack Obama

72. Royal Weddings

73. The Dalai Lama

74. Slutwalk and F#ckwalk

75. Diversity

76. Religions your parents don’t belong to

77. SBS Documentaries that validate your own view of the world

78. Coffee

79. The UN

80. Giving themselves scores on lists (With thanks to Ben)


So, how white are you? My score was 65/80.

Samitha Mukhopadhyay writes that SWPL is primarily a place for white people to chortle at the oddities of race and class and then congratulate themselves for having done so, thus neatly avoiding the need to delve any deeper. Or, conversely, they may like the blog because it allows them to disassociate themselves and laugh at those white yuppies. The core message is that it's OK to be rich and white, as long as you laugh about it. No further analysis required. It's a message that, unsurprisingly, rich, white people love to hear.” If that is true for you, stop reading here. But if you scored more than 60/80, the following statements may be true for you.


1. You are a confident person

The “right” kind of white people are supremely confident in their own superiority. Their self-esteem and sense of entitlement are rock solid. The right kind of white people believe that (1) all other human beings aspire to be just like them, and (2) they will always remain in power and able to secure and perpetuate their values.


2. You are a marketing agents dream

Due to their likes being so predictable, the right kind of white people are highly susceptible to greenwashing campaigns and purchasing anything that’s advertised in free indie music mags like X-Press to clothing advertised in the Good Weekend. Whites are also far more likely to support causes with accessories like expensive T-Shirts, wrist bracelets, and various coloured ribbons. Whites are also particularly susceptible to social cause marketing which sometime do far more damage than good.


3. You think poor people want what you have

Due to their colonial past, white people have enormous guilt towards people in the third world which they try to fix by assuming that if only the third world was whiter, they wouldn’t be in poverty. This leads to ridiculous Whites in Shining Armour aid projects like One million T-Shirts for Haiti or Socks for Japan. Good Intentions are not enough is an excellent blog which responds to these well-intentioned, yet stupid ideas. For example, the very trendy Tom’s Shoes company recently wrote the following in its advertising for the A Day without Shoes initiative (the video clip is one of the whitest pieces of marketing I have ever seen). “The great thing about an event like One Day Without Shoes is that it's so easy to participate. We've had some supporters go barefoot for 20 minutes and others have gone barefoot for months!” The clip made by good intentions in response to Tom’s Shoes is called “A Day without Dignity.”


4. You are possibly quite well off and have a great deal of spare time

One of the whitest functions on facebook is the “Like” button, in that it allows white people to demonstrate they are supporting the right kind of everything from humour to political positions. Bolstering your white credentials on facebook or in other places often takes a great deal of time, and may be quite expensive. And by the way, how many of you are reading this blog at work?


5. You are not unique

To quote Christian Lander “But a closer look reveals that from Austin to Australia, from L.A. to the U.K., indigenous white people are as different from one another as 1 percent rBGH-free milk is different from 2 percent.”


6. You are middle class

Christian Lander writes on the blog “It’s partially about race, but it’s fundamentally about class. It’s about a generation and class that values authenticity and credibility more than monetary wealth.”


7. You are the beneficiary of positive stereotypes

Though most ethnic stereotypes are negative, different racial groups also hold some positive stereotypes of white people. A 1972 study found that, in general, whites were stereotyped with positive traits and minority groups with negative traits. Positively, whites are stereotyped as intelligent, socially diverse, and generally non-dangerous and unlikely to commit crime. However, they are all considered racist, prejudiced, or biased and scared or uneasy around minorities.


8. Most Films and TV shows are often created with you in mind

Samitha Mukhopadhyay writes that “what makes Stuff White People Like special is that it describes relatively wealthy white Americans, and in doing so, recognizes that their particular culture has been mainstreamed and presented by Hollywood as the norm.”

Filmmakers know that due to white people having more spare time and disposable income, they are more likely to watch films. Below is just a small list of film themes that attract white people

*Car trips to wineries (Eg: Sideways, Road Trip)

* White boys trying to lose their virginity on campus (Eg: American Pie, The Social Network)

* Films about therapy (Analyse This, In treatment, Prime)

* Inspiring white people changing the world (Good Will Hunting, Erin Brockovich, Patch Adams, Dangerous Minds, The Power of One, Pay it Forward – Teachers LOVE these types of films)

* Films about white post-modern angst (When Harry Met Sally, Garden State, Juno, Rachel’s getting married, 500 days of summer, Up in the Air)

* Films about prejudice (Invictus, anything by Michael Moore)


9. You were raised to be middle class

From the moment you were born in a midwife led, doula assisted, drug free, home birth, it is quite likely that you were breastfeed, read to every night, and that your toys were made of organic materials and/or had the word “Baby Einstein” on them somewhere due to your inherent giftedness. If you get nothing else from this blog, next time you are having a discussion about what’s best for poor people, note that the reason you are not poor relates directly to the daily effects of white privilege.


10. You are the product of immense privilege

Matthew Miller writes, “Stuff White People Like is, to be blunt, something that very few people seem to get. It's not just an attack on hipsters, and it's certainly not racist, but rather, it's an attack on privilege. The 20 and 30-something upper-middle class kids Lander mocks benefit tremendously from their positions as children of the elite, and have created their own "culture" that reflects their pretensions by affirming their own uniqueness and artistic merit without requiring any real effort. It's also an attack on class, and repeatedly points out that in order to advance in a society controlled by the "right kind of white people," you have to parrot their views and affirm their (well-meaning, but sill patronizing) stereotypes, which is ironic considering how tolerant and open-minded they claim to be.”


Personal Note

I have spent several weeks trying to put together this blog post in manner that best articulates my thoughts on this complex issue of class in Australia. If you feel guilty or offended, that is not my intention. My purpose of posting it here is to add depth to the inevitable conversations I often have about SWPL on Sunday mornings in vegan cafes.

If this blog prompts discussions about

-how and why you donate money to various causes,

-why you buy the clothes you do,

-what motivates you to write certain things online, and

-what makes you happy

Then my purpose has been achieved.

Looking forward to the conversation.