It’s Saturday, midafternoon, and the latest reports are that the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was, in fact, an antisemite of the Nazi (vs. Islamist) variety. And I don’t have an opinion on the questions that so many are, or will be, opinioning on, both with respect to this and the mail (hoax) bomber, about incitement and where to draw the line between invigorating your supporters and inspiring them, or inciting them, to acts of violence — and by “don’t have an opinion” I mean that I just don’t know the answer.
But I’m going to share a few thoughts on a related issue, and I’m going to ask readers to be patient and opine after reading to the end, and take this in the spirit of “trying to think through an issue” rather than fault-finding.
It strikes me that most, or at least many, sorts of prejudice have their roots in stereotypes related to actual circumstances.
After all, when slavery began, Africans were less technologically advanced than Europeans. Regardless of the reasons for this (e.g., whether Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel‘s explanation, which is, as I recall, that Eurasia was advantaged by having a long stretch of traversable, similar-in-climate landmass that meant that cultural interchange could grow technology, whereas sub-Saharan Africa was cut off by the Sahara, is correct, or something else), there was a certain reasonableness, at the time, of people believing that Africans were less intelligent, and thus less deserving of basic human rights, if they were so far behind technologically.
As slavery continued, slaveholders had an incentive to continue to believe this. Others, even without a financial motivation, might have their stereotypes confirmed because, after all, those slaves were, by and large, fieldworkers without the ability to learn a skilled trade, let alone get an education. And, yes, even at a time with images much less a part of daily life than now, those images did serve to reinforce the idea that “black people look like monkeys.” Even Northerners who opposed slavery generally were of the belief that they should go back to Africa or, at any rate, not be a part of their own communities.
And in the year 2018, the image of the black “welfare queen” or gangbanger is reinforced anytime there’s an inner-city shooting in the news, especially when the mother, or the female victim, is a young unmarried woman with multiple children. It’s reinforced when, at work, management is white and support staff, black, and when, er, fashion styles are so different between those two groups of workers.
And with respect to Mexicans and Central American immigrants, again, stereotypes of inferiority are reinforced when, as a middle-class white person, one encounters Hispanic immigrants more often as one’s (next-door neighbor’s) lawn-mowers than in the workplace. When said lawn-mower has a pockmarked face, or when the women and girls are short and chubby. When, in looking for a product at the local Walmart or Target, you ask the Hispanic employee and she gives you a pained “I don’t speak English” look. When the Hispanic kids on the wall as “students of the quarter” are being recognized for great effort in their ESL, remedial, or vocational classes, in contrast to the white kids being recognized for outstanding Honors class work. When news reports, again, contain stories of gang violence, or when what’s meant to be a tragic story of a longtime resident being at risk of deportation comes off a little less tragic when that longtime, supposedly fully-integrated resident can’t even tell their tragic story in English, a language they haven’t learned even after 20 or 30 years of residence.
My point is just that one can feel that it’s somewhat natural to be prejudiced, seeing this, and that sometimes one must go against one’s instincts in order not to be.
“Why should I want black people living next to me? They’ll just bring crime into the neighborhood.”
“Why should I hire [the black candidate]? You can tell she won’t fit in here.”
“Why should we allow immigration from Central America? They won’t assimilate, they’ll just bring down wages for low-skill jobs, send all their money back to their home country, and put their children on welfare.”
Again, I am not saying that these claims are justified, but that I can comprehend how, given current circumstances, people would act this way.
But antisemitism makes no sense to me.
It’s just incomprehensibly stupid.
How can someone (especially a white American) possibly believe that Jews are secretly controlling the world when there are no visible signs of it? If globalists are Jews seeking — well, whatever it is they’re seeking — shouldn’t they be inexplicably wealthy? Heck, it seems to me that even Holocaust-denying antisemites concede that they were imprisoned in concentration camps — they just deny that there was an active killing program vs. “merely” deaths due to the “inevitable” harsh conditions of wartime, but how would world-dominating-Jewry have tolerated even that? How resentful can you be of communities which encourage education and who, by means of their education, benefit the wider society? When antisemites claim that “Jews dominate Hollywood,” even if it were true, what would be the harm in a century of producing entertainment for America?
What do you do with a prejudice so stupid that it’s almost in itself grounds for believing a person is not altogether mentally well?
And yes, I know all about the history of antisemitism, and the persecution of Jews in the Middle Ages, and the fact that they were confined to a narrow set of permissible occupations in many European countries, then resented as greedy moneylenders, etc. Intellectually I know the roots of antisemitism. But that doesn’t mean it’s not utterly stupid.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ReadingOfTheTorah.jpg; By Roylindman (Template:Roy Lindman) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons