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After hearing/reading several discussions of “the talk” I have some thoughts about the issue.

For those who haven’t been following these discussions, they were triggered by the shooting of Travon Martin down in Florida. Basically, “the talk” is when a family member sits an adolescent black male down and explains them what to do and not do to avoid being hassled by the cops: how to dress, how to walk, how to talk, and on and on. It’s disgusting that this is still a necessary rite of passage for black men.

Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not, I also heard an interview with a black New Haven cop who regularly meets with groups of black teens in various forums. He asked a group to describe a typical shooting victim, and it came down to a young black man wearing black pants and a black hoodie. Then he asked them to describe a typical shooter, and the answer was the same: a young black man wearing black pants and a black hoodie. The final question was, is it racial profiling for the police to focus on young black men wearing black pants and black hoodies?

All of this got me wondering about whether my father had gotten any version of “the talk” when they were young. My family is Jewish, and there was an enormous amount of prejudice against Jews (and still was, in my adult life). Nonetheless there was no similar “talk,” perhaps because most Jews aren’t identifiable at a glance. Also, my father grew up in an area of New York City where even the Italian green-grocers spoke Yiddish.

My father has never mentioned any incidents of anti-Semitism that he encountered, although I’m sure there were plenty. There were certain occupations that were open to Jews: accounting, medicine, trade, and so forth. There other fields that were closed: insurance, banking (to some degree), and above all engineering. You won’t find any engineers my father’s age named Finkelstein or Rosenblum. They all changed their names.

Even in the ’70s there were still places where Jewish white collar workers weren’t welcome. One of my contemporaries, who had an unusual but vaguely German-Jewish sounding name, interviewed at Ford when he got out of school. As he was being shown out the door the HR person said to him “So, …. – is that a German name”?

At roughly the same time (around 1972) I had a co-worker tell me to my face that “This is a Christian country” and I was expected to conform.

And, of course, in 2007 Ann Coulter opined on national TV that the country would be better off if everyone were Christian, and that Jews should become Christians and that heaven will look like the Republican National Convention. You can see a transcript of those rather unbelievable comments on the Fox News web site.

It seems like some battles are never won — but we knew that, didn’t we.