Do you ever wonder what would happen, if instead of racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny and anti-semitism, being the language we choose to emphasize, we all tried to actually hear one another?

I’ve experienced, or been witness to, all of the above. I’m a first generation American Jewish woman of Russian/Polish decent.

I have friends who I love dearly from every background I can think of. I come from a family who after a lifetime of suffering through systemic anti-semitism, was all but kicked out of their country of origin, simply because they were Jewish.

I grew up hearing stories from my grandfathers about their families, who in one day were all murdered by a hoard of swastika waiving pieces of shit who thought they were ‘superior’ because their ‘leader’ told them they were.

My ‘privileged’ life was at the expense of my mother coming to a new country at the age of 21, learning what to her was a foreign language – English- and working three jobs while going to school, so her kids could want for nothing. She had to forgo many of the hopes and dreams she had for her life, so that I and my sister could live the lives we are living now. She dealt with xenophobia, anti-semetism, sexism and God knows what else, and she still works her ass off past the age where she should be enjoying her retirement because she spent every penny she ever made on making sure we had everything we both needed AND wanted. My ‘privilege’ comes from my mother being a badass and from her doing her best to instill those values in me and my sister. She would always tell us that no one is going to give us anything in this world. Not men, not strangers not anyone else. We have to do it ourselves.

And yes, I understand that the color of my skin may have helped me in some situations, like getting out of a traffic stop without being arrested or murdered. But I am a 40+ year old woman living in a one bedroom apartment with my boyfriend and his son. We aren’t rich, we aren’t poor. We are in that spot folks don’t even think about. The middle class. We can survive – if we stay employed. But if we miss more than one paycheck, we are screwed. My skin color won’t help me. I’ll lose my health benefits, my ability to buy food and pay my rent. But that’s beside the point of this post.

Both my grandfathers lost everyone they loved practically over night, their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and younger siblings – all murdered, and for what? Because of their religion.

My grandfathers managed to build lives for themselves, sure. But they both carried their pain and trauma to their deathbeds. No one on either side of my family could get full stories about their experiences because neither one of those strong, charismatic, loving, men, could get through their stories without crying and reliving the pain of that loss and the horror they suffered.

I know the history of my people, and as far back as biblical times, my people were held as slaves, tortured and murdered for refusing to convert from the religion they followed, and to this day are still seen by a huge swath of humanity as subhuman and scapegoats for all the ills of the world.

And that’s just the ‘being Jewish’ part of my experience.

Then there’s my gender.

As a woman, I’ve been condescended to, underestimated and treated as if my opinion was irrelevant because apparently having a vagina makes me less capable of forming coherent thoughts.

I’ve had my body scrutinized, touched inappropriately, and legislated by men who genuinely believed their rights are greater than mine simply because they were born with penises and I wasn’t.

And yet, I’m proud of my heritage, because despite over 2000 years of people trying to kill us off, my people have become resilient and strong.

I’m proud of being a woman because without women, humanity wouldn’t exist.

I know there are people who aren’t Jewish and aren’t female who are allies and who don’t believe all Jews need to be wiped off the planet and don’t believe that all women need shut up, push out babies, and cater to the needs of all men.

I don’t say this to diminish anything any other race, religion or orientation has been going through.

I do this to point out that there are so many experiences that unite us. And, that while our differences, whether it’s the color of our skin, religious or ethnic background, or sexual orientation may not be identical, the people who want us to continue to focus on all those differences are the ones who benefit the most from using those differences against us.

If you are black, brown, gay, straight, transgender, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, or in any way, not whatever they consider ‘normal,’ the people who benefit from using whatever they see as ‘different,’ want you to focus solely on all our differences because they know that if we do that, they stay in power.

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who I love dearly. This person works with underprivileged children and is probably one of the most open hearted people I know. And to paraphrase this persons words:

‘I am tired of being lumped in with racists and I am tired of being lumped in with a small group of extremists (Hasidic Jews). I’m tired of, after doing everything I can, be it spend extra time with other people’s kids, away from my own children, to make sure they understand their school work, or bring food for them, buy them their school supplies with money I barely have myself, only to have their parents spit on me and call me a ‘racist’ or a ‘Jewish bitch’ for things I can’t control.’

Hearing that hurt.

What also hurt me is knowing countless friends who have been stopped and harassed by police because of the color of their skin – stops I have witnessed personally, and others that I’ve heard of anecdotally.

Stories of my LGBTQ friends being beaten or fired from jobs because of their sexual orientation.

Or the women in my life, including myself, dealing with any form of sexual discrimination, and assault.

Or more recently, Asian friends and their families being physically and financially harmed because of a virus, the spread of which they had nothing to do with.

Maybe this isn’t the time to have this discussion. Or, maybe this IS the exact time to have it. I don’t know.

But I keep coming back to this notion that all this division isn’t going to help us progress as human beings. Not when the real minority in this country is so hell bent on keeping us divided. Because they know that if we actually did the unthinkable and united, with all our shared trauma and experiences being the catalyst, we can actually all thrive as nation and as a people and they’d be assed out of their undeserved lofty positions.

There will always be those who want to keep us at one another’s throats. Because if we are busy pointing fingers at each other, we aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing behind our backs.

You only need to look at who is out there protesting to know there are more of us than there are them.

So, the next time someone shows themselves to be an ally, instead of asking ‘what have you done for me lately,’ hear them out. Really pay attention to what they do in their day to day lives. Stop focusing on how much better their lives may appear to you, because no one knows the experiences of others. Most of what you think you know can very well be an assumption. And we ALL are guilty of that.

Most people will make an assumption about another person simply because of the color of their skin, their gender, their ethnic background at first glance. Once that assumption is made, even after knowing that person for years, there is always a nagging distrust that lingers in the back of your head, that harbors a tiny seed of distrust. It festers until tensions run high and can destroy any progress you make with another person.

We all need to be making a conscious effort to do better.

So be careful. Be mindful. Try to really listen instead of assuming that someone will live up to the worst thing you thought of them when you first met. You may find yourself surprised to know that despite all your differences, you are more alike than you may have ever dreamed of.

I am hopeful, yet trying to be realistic, that one day, maybe not in my lifetime, our little corner of the world can truly be ‘United.’