One of the great things about not being obsessed with racism is not having to go through the mental twisty turns required to see racism in everything. Of course not being obsessed with racism still allows me to understand that racism has played a sordid role in our country’s history. I can understand anger and the sting of discrimination because I, too, am a human being. But I don’t have to pretend moving from New Jersey to Manhattan to find a new job was for a free black man in the 19th century was the same thing an Irish immigrant underwent boarding a “coffin ship” hoping to survive the journey across the Atlantic knowing his only alternative was to die of starvation amidst the Potato Famine.
That unexpected example infiltrated my life a week ago because of an article
I wrote criticizing New York’s Tenement Museum for including an exhibit about a (black) person who was neither an immigrant nor lived in the tenement building the museum occupies, two of the criteria that kept the museum from telling the story of say any Haitians, Spaniards, Japanese, and blacks until now. The museum has told, magnificently, the stories of a handful of the 7,000 actual residents of its building on Orchard Street since 1988 — German, Irish, Jewish, and Italian families. I should know; I worked there as an educator in 2016, quitting after the Trump election turned the institution into some sort of woke bunker fighting imaginary fascism.