We live in a society that focuses on differences versus similarities. As a result there continues to be discrimination. In the 1970s racism was binary, white versus black, and a classic episode of Little House on the Prairie posed the question, “Would you rather be black and live to be 100, or white and live to be 50?”. In 2022 there continues to be discrimination based on differences in the form of racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and ableism. As a result, I have learned to flip discrimination by focusing on similarities rather than differences as told in these four stories.
When I graduated from my first master's degree, I was only able to find work at a supermarket. When my former mentor who experienced apartheid met with me, he hired me, and we worked in direct contact for eight years. In case you were not aware, apartheid was when the white minority in South Africa had control over the black majority in a caste system environment. For example, he was bright like me and was sent away to an elite school, which taught smart black people how to be farmers, thereby preserving the caste system. Fortunately, after year at school many people outsmarted the school and found a way to avoid being farmers. He later emigrated from South Africa to the United States to better his life and ended up being my first mentor. He was the first true Black friend and he taught me to be more empathetic towards people with color.
My granduncle, who was the baby of his family, lived on Long Island with his partner. He was well liked by his friends and family and used to be a member of the local garden club. His sister, who was my maternal grandmother, was very supportive of him and was a true humanitarian. My granduncle like me experienced some challenges earning his doctorate but ended up getting a second master's degree. I suspected he was gay, but it was never confirmed. He lived a long life and attended my sister’s wedding and made an impression with members of the event. He loved to dance and have a good time, yet he lived a very private life with no kids. Although I did not see him often, he taught me to be a supportive family member and to never stop being true to myself.
I was brought up a Christian but recognized that the Old Testament was like the Torah, meaning that I had a great appreciation of the Jewish religion. One of my favorite teachers was Jewish, and she taught me about Hanukkah and Passover and to appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity. Although I am not a practicing Jew, I recognize that it is a minority group that continues to be persecuted yet continues to prosper despite the struggles. I learned through my teacher about appreciating people’s differences and to find common ground. It is through overcoming hardship that hope of a brighter future exists.
When I was a teenager, I went to a high-end disability camp, which had a high population of Jewish people. What encouraged me to attend the camp was the Super Teens program where people were told to be waiters and apply for jobs helping to mentor younger kids, while paying for each position a wage of one dollar each week. Wednesday was our day off where we went off site and spent the money on activities. It was through this experience that I witnessed the struggles of being disabled. Many of the people there felt like outcasts and did not have the supportive family that they deserved. I learned the value of hard work, how to be a mentor to people with disabilities, and to avoid feeling entitled. I also learned more about the Jewish religion and tolerance for other people’s beliefs. I also met my first girlfriend at the camp, who was an inspiring influence in my life. She was the first person who had the courage of asking me out and we had a two-year relationship, which included going to California for three weeks. Unfortunately, I lost her phone number after she moved to a group home, so I have no way to reconnect with her for over twenty years. Although I do not keep in contact with fellow campers and staff the memories of going to this camp still are important to me in 2022.
In response to the question “Would you rather be black and live to be 100, or white and live to be 50?”, I respond that a life spent doing what you are passionate about and living a quality life is more important than the quantity of life.