By Rachie Lewis
What’s the definition of racism? With Boston-based AVODAH Alumni and members of Moishe Kavod House gathered around, Abigail Ortiz, Director of Community Health Programs at the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center began by defining racism as “a system of advantage based on race” – a system characterized not just by the intentions of individuals, but primarily by the impacts of individual and institutional actions. Abigail went further to illuminate the importance of tagging discussions about racism not just as about “anti-racism,” but about “racial justice.”
The AVODAH experience does not end when corps members move out of the Bayit. The AVODAH network continues to build skills in partnership with others wherever they end up around the world. In this case, supported by AVODAH, Boston-based alumni initiated a partnership with Moishe Kavod House and invited Abigail Ortiz to do a workshop on ‘racial justice’: the idea of a shared vision of restructuring policies that create the inequity that takes its form in resources white folks have access to that black and Latino folks often don’t.
As a group Alumni, and friends who are also working for a more just world, discussed how language (and narratives) are coded. How terms like “inner-city”, “urban,” and “at-risk,” are all code for black and brown folks. We have graduated racial terminology for these phrases so it seems like we are not talking about race, but of course, that is at the very foundation of the judgments we make and the way we convey them in public.
To illustrate this, our group looked at four versions of the same news story to see how those codes place blame and victimize different involved parties when things go wrong. Key to racial justice is gaining this awareness about how language impacts our assumptions and understandings as individuals, and on a more macro scale, how language can have practical policy outcomes that deny access to black and Latino folks.
The conversation begins with the awareness and will hopefully inspire action in Boston and in AVODAH communities beyond, as we seed these ideas around the country.
What codes do you notice in language? What have you read recently that challenged or reinforced racial injustice?
Rachie Lewis was an AVODAH corps member in New Orleans in 2009-2010 placed at Orleans Public Defenders. After her corps year, she studied Jewish traditional text at Yeshivat Hadar, a wonderful institution in NYC. After Hadar she participated in the Jewish Organizing Initiative, working as a community organizer for the Massachusetts Senior Action Council in Boston.