|Web Magazine Online|
|By Dawn Miralle|
"Afflict the Comfortable"
Last night driving down Avenue of the Stars, I wondered what it would be like to have a right this simple -- driving down the street in my car-- taken away from me. And as I stressed over which route to take in working my way through rush hour traffic to get to campus, I realized how comfortable my life is. In worrying over my credit card bills, utilities, groceries, car insurance, last month's bounced rent check, my pending loans for the quarter, my meaningless job, and my often times meaningless and monotonous school work, I realized how lucky I am to have the opportunities I do and how easy it is to lose focus of the important things. Driving home from the Museum of Tolerance, I wondered how I ever forgot that. When I walked into the museum three hours earlier, I was prepared for what I had already been told was a very powerful exhibit. I know now that nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
I had heard about this museum and planned to go since high school, but of course I never got around to it. A lot of my friends have gone, and now I understand why they were unable to explain the experience to me except to tell me that I should go, as I found myself doing immediately after I went. I thought that the museum only focused on the Jewish Holocaust before and during World War II, but the first section of the museum focuses on the history of racism and prejudice in the U.S., in particular the L.A. Uprising of 1992 and the Civil Rights Movement. This is an extremely important aspect of the museum because it draws parallels between the intolerance and inhumanity in the U.S. and the rest of the world, with that experienced by the Jews in Nazi Germany. This museum is not simply for education and awareness of past events and present prejudice. The museum is taking preventive measures.
The first section of the museum is known as the Tolerancenter. It blatantly put in my face my own prejudice. This is not just a museum exhibit that you look at. This section is completely interactive. You can spend anywhere from one minute to two hours in the Tolerancenter. Some exhibits are like games that result in a higher consciousness of the choices made and force you to question why you made the choices you did. During the orientation upon beginning our tour, our guide stressed the need to draw our own conclusions. The individual interaction is meant to highten the consciousness of each individual. The tour is completely at your own pace and when ready to move on to the Holocaust section, you can join any tour beginning every ten minutes.
I spent about an hour in the Tolerancenter before moving on to the Holocaust section. What stands out in my mind the most were several screens where individuals could watch a timeline of the L.A. Uprising. I viewed one of these as well as one on the media coverage of the Uprising. Although I had not yet caught any prejudice in myself with the "game-like" exhibits, the media coverage exhibit of the L.A. Uprising in '92 made me think again about my consciousness. I watched clips of media coverage of the events: of the Rodney King beating, reactions to the King verdicts, the looters, the violence that followed. Although these clips were all familiar to me, I was repeatedly shocked and disgusted by what I saw. The only clips that were new to me were the shots of the Korean merchants shooting in the streets. It wasn't until I looked at several viewpoints of the media and the Uprising that I realized how significant my reaction to the Korean merchants was in becoming aware of my lack of consciousness in these events.
When the L.A. Riots happened in April of '92, I was a sophomore in high school, completely frightened by the prospect of the riots moving into my suburban neighbohood, and disgusted by the actions of the people I had seen on T.V., meaning I was disgusted with what I saw Black people, and only Black people, doing. This was the extent of what I had seen back in '92 and since then. It was not until the museum's video showed that Black people were far from the only participants in the looting that I realized the media had incorrectly portrayed the Uprising as strictly Black-influenced events. Then when I watched the viewpoint of a Korean community activist in reaction to the media coverage did I understand the importance of the way all the clips had been precisely cut to portray the event as a Black vs. Korean incident. The viewpoint left out the clips of the drive-by shots that preceded the returned gunfire of the Korean merchants I had seen earlier. Although I can't say that I generally condone this type of reaction, I'm sure that I would have felt more sympathetic to the Korean merchants' actions if I had known it was returned gunfire. But instead I was frightened by what I perceived to be predator-like Koreans. I felt angry towards them and conglomerated them in my mind as monsters that were shooting Black people in protection of their property. I was angry at them and although unconscious of it, I was siding with what I saw as the Black community's sentiment against the merchants (another media-influenced attitude). The different viewpoints were eye-opening, and I was impressed by the exhibits that taught me something so significant, believing that I was conscious of media influence, which obviously was not the case.
This was only the beginning of my tour. As I joined the next group into the Holocaust section, I felt that I would see things that I already knew about, but again my assumptions were wrong. I watched people herded into the Warsaw ghetto and forced to build a wall that would separate them from the rest of Germany. I saw the pictures and videos of body after body piled in gas chambers. People lined up and shot, thrown in ditches and buried alive. I watched people stripped and lied to as they walked to their own murders. I watched live babies and new-borns thrown from hospital windows into the trucks below. I watched as a mad man took over a country and attempted to slaughter an entire race of people while the rest of the world did nothing. I watched countries reject Jewish refugees fleeing from this torture and murder, sending them back to their deaths. Not until Hitler tried to take over their countries did they take action. I watched as this mad man attempted to take over the world, and was backed by the force of millions of people. The stories and the pain, however, were not displayed only in memorial of the more than five million Jews who were murdered.
The tour took us through pre-Nazi Germany where I saw that the attitudes of Germans towards the Nazis were fairly ambiguous and apathetic, much like the attitude of Americans today towards the oppression and daily wars fought by so many people. The exhibit repeatedly cautioned the familiar possibility of history repeating itself. Most Germans, including Jews, did not believe Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were much of a force to be reckoned with, nor had they ever imagined the massacre that the near future held for their country or the entire continent.
I left the museum with mixed feelings of disgust with and respect for humanity. I drove down Avenue of the Stars no longer able to cry and release the pain that I felt in the horror and disgust of the inhumanity of people but also the indescribeable joy of liberation tainted with the loss of loved ones of the Jews that survived. Recalling the exhibits of the museum brings back the pain and the tears that I experienced as a distant spectator to these long past events. As I drove further away, I became less engulfed in the shock and pain of the experience of the Holocaust, which turned into a nagging at my brain to think about what happened to me in the museum and afterwards. I will never feel the same about the Jewish Holocaust or its relation to the world again. My perception of these events and all others will never be quite the same. I have to say I feel like one afflicted out of my comfort. And so I tell everyone they need to go to this museum.
(Dawn Miralle is a junior majoring in American Literature.)