And after all we're only ordinary men
God only knows it's not what we would choose to do
And the General sat, as the lines on the map moved from side to side
Black and Blue
And who knows which is which and who is who
And in the end it's only round and round and round...
Whether one believes the Torah to be written by God, human beings, Moses or some combination, the message of these texts is clear. There is an Us and there is a Them. Those labelled as Them are evil and against God. Those labelled as Us are good and are God's people. And yet the perhaps more subtle transformation of the image of Balaam and all of the Midianites from others who were allies or helpful to others who were evil and must be annihilated truly bothered me. For this kind of transformation is is something which has happened throughout history and still happens today.
We may teach that our society is based on the belief that all men (sic) are created equal. And this is a goal for which we must strive. But in truth, it is also based on a deeply ingrained Us/Them dichotomy, in which there cannot be true equality. Many whites don't like to acknowledge that there is such a thing as white privilege, nor do white men like to admit that there is such a thing as white male privilege. We also don't like to acknowledge that there is institutionalized racism which pervades our society and which we all need to fight against, especially if we are the ones who benefit from the inequalities of the system which we have inherited. The white people who marched in solidarity with people of color shouting “black lives matter” or “I can't breathe” this past summer and fall realized that, at least to some degree. But those of us who benefit from white privilege must acknowledge that we can never know what's it like for African-American parents who need to teach their children (especially sons) at an early age how to behave around police officers in order to avoid unwarranted arrests, harassment, and even death. We cannot know what it's like to be afraid that our sons might be killed for no reason on the streets of their city nor what it's like to simply not be able to hail a taxi on the streets of our cities because people fear us due to the color of our skin.