Reading with Be’chol Lashon: Let’s Talk About Race
Be’chol Lashon Review
We all have many different elements to our story, from family, to name, to likes and dislikes. People often make assumptions about others based on the way they look, sound, or dress. Sometimes differences are visible and sometimes they aren’t. When we learn about difference, we develop a skill called “cultural competence,” which is the ability to relate to others across different races, cultures, and backgrounds. To know other people, you need to ask them questions about their story. Connecting with our own story helps us to better understand others.
A useful tool to better understand ourselves and others is a book called Let’s Talk About Race written by Julius Lester (1939-2018) and illustrated by Karen Barbour. A Jewish university professor and award-winning author, Julius Lester is known for a body of work focused on African-American culture, history, and folklore, as well as for his fierce advocacy for books for black children by black creators.
Lester converted to Judaism in 1982. He has said that his conversion journey began when he was seven and learned that his mother’s father was a Jewish immigrant from Germany who married a freed slave.
In his book Lester is outspoken about issues of race and identity. “I am a story,” he writes. “So are you. So is everyone. Our race is just one part of our story. To know my story, you have to put together everything I am.” Lester shares his own story and discusses how each individual’s story contains many different elements. In addition, Lester reminds us that there are often more commonalities than differences among people.
We are grateful that Judaism sees every person as holy and sacred, and that our tradition teaches us to value stories and storytelling. Be’chol Lashon values each person’s story and their value to the collective, encouraging conversations and celebrating differences between people as an asset. Jewish wisdom around the world, which has evolved over millennia, encourages asking questions and navigating difference, which is an essential part of Jewish identity.
What’s your story?
This activity allows us to explore our personal stories and take pride in our individuality, while also encouraging us to feel gratitude for being part of a diverse, global Jewish community. In our daily lives, every one of us, to greater and lesser degrees, learns to navigate different social and cultural settings, putting forward or concealing elements of who we are.
Within the American Jewish community, people of color are a small but growing percentage of the population. Skin color is often one of the first things people notice about people of color because it can be an obvious, surface part of their identity. Sometimes Jews of color are called upon to represent their entire race, whether they want to or not. Yet we all want to be seen as full and complex individuals who stand on our own.
Print the worksheet below for each participant
- Read the book Let’s Talk About Race aloud or watch the video. Even though it is a book for children, this activity works well for all ages as the topic is very complex.
- Print out the worksheet and fill out as It helps us to tell our story (about 10-15 min). Note: Children sometimes need to define and/or discuss “nationality” and “race.” This is a good opportunity to take the time to have a discussion. Nationality is the country you are from or live in. And since race is often a taboo subject, reinforce that it’s important that we all can acknowledge and talk about race.
- Discuss the answers on the worksheet using the discussion questions below. Reinforce that the best way to ask another person about themselves is to be willing to share your story.
- After Julius Lester told us more about himself, do you feel like you know him better? Did it make you feel more comfortable talking about yourself? What more would you want to know?
- When people see you, what do they know about you? What don’t they know about you? What are the things that make you unique and different from other people? What are the things that make you the same? What are the parts of your identity you are most grateful for?
- Is skin color a part of your story? What story does the color of your skin tell about your ethnic or racial identities? Why is race important? Does it define you? If so, why? If not, why not?