The best way to get to where you want to go is to appreciate how far you have already come.
Everyone should watch the movie “Hidden Figures.” It demonstrates, in no uncertain terms, what “systemic” truly means. But it also shows how intelligence, empathy, and determination can break down barriers (no violence required).
Show the world what you are capable of and the world will respond in kind. Walk with your head held high and you will naturally garner respect. Take ownership of your true power and worth and you will no longer depend on the “system” to make things right (yet, by default, that will become inevitable). But belittle yourself as a victim and you will only disempower yourself as you perpetuate the problem. Point the finger too many times and you will have no friends left. Hate does not eradicate hate. Only love can do that.
So, regardless of external factors, know that no one can ever truly take your dignity away. By giving them what they want (i.e., the reaction they expect) you will only feed their agenda even more. Playing into the trap will only create more of a trap. And enacting the stereotype will only escalate the issue even further. Instead, be the change from within, look in your own backyard to see what’s not working, and respect yourself enough to create the solutions you seek, because that is what will move mountains, not just for you, but for generations to come.
Be the example, not the statistic. Look for evolution, not just headlines. Be the exception, not the rule, and then make that the new rule. Appreciate where you’ve come from and respect the legacy that preceded you. Do not diminish your progress, for if you ignore the good, you will be at risk of history repeating. Focusing only on what’s missing will strip you of the celebration of how far you have already come, and all that you have already achieved. Do not ignore your strides. Acknowledge them and they will light the way forward.
In the systemically anti-Semitic Soviet Union from which my family and I fled, my mother had to work twice as hard and had to be twice as good in order to even get a chance to attend her home town university. When every excuse was given for Jews to be denied entry, she gave them no room to find any reason to reject her. She did not throw rocks at the university windows or threaten the professors. She did not act as a victim or complain about the injustice. No. She just worked twice as hard to be twice as good.
Jews who survived the Holocaust did not spend the rest of their lives crying oppression. They just worked twice as hard to be twice as good to make their way to a new and better life.
Women in the workforce did not allow themselves to be defeated by sexism or harassment. They worked twice as hard to be twice as good, even if the pay was disproportional to their male counterparts.
So I am sorry, but, when I hear people only complaining about how rough or unfair society is to them, playing that victim card over and over again (with no regard or appreciation for how far they have actually come), I say, work twice as hard to be twice as good to prove everyone wrong. Because when you are a victim, you stay a victim. And when you are a victim, you solely rely on outer conditions to change. But in doing so, you also ignore your inner power to create the life you truly desire.
I learned this lesson early on from my parents’ examples, whether it was my mom who worked twice as hard to be twice as good so that she wouldn’t give the anti-Semites any excuses not to admit her into the school of her choice, or it was my dad who stood up to the Russian army when he was not provided adequate medical care simply because he was a Jew, or it was both my parents whose courage brought us all to a new country to experience a better and supposedly freer life. But I also learned this lesson from stories from my ancestors who, when faced with insurmountable threats over and over again for no justified cause, still found ways to survive, and even thrive, as well as find joy despite all of their hardships.
The lesson? At some point we need to take life into our own hands and work twice as hard to be twice as good, even when all the odds seem to be stacked against us.
Yes, sometimes life is unfair and sometimes discrimination in all of its forms happens. But we cannot fight ignorance with more ignorance or hate with more hate. Sometimes we have to work harder to change perceptions, and sometimes we are going to have to do it from a place of disadvantage. But we are not doing it to gain anyone’s approval. We are doing it to demonstrate to ourselves how truly empowered we are from within, how resilient we are, and how worthy we are of true love and respect. Most of all, we do it in order to be an example to future generations so that they know that true change comes from being the change rather than attempting to squeeze it out of others through force and conflict.
Show up and life will show the way. Be the driver, not the driven. Don’t feed into the stereotype because that will only make things harder. Work twice as hard to be twice as good, even if it seems unfair that you even have to do that for, in doing so, you will leave no room for excuses. And know that working “harder” does not necessarily mean it needs to be hard for you. It just means that with a confident attitude you can look oppression in the eyes and say, “I am above this, and I know it. And soon you will know it too.”
The truth is, synagogues are still systemically vandalized. Women are still systemically marginalized. And yes, unfortunately, racism still exists in some ways. But in order to make changes to these systems, we all need to “fight” smartly. We need to enact change starting within our own communities. We need to collaborate in ways that teach us how to be the examples we want to show to the world. And we need to acknowledge all of the progress we have already made, even if it’s not yet complete. Change may not happen overnight, but at least we will be able to hold our heads up high knowing that we were part of the solution and not the problem.