Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Old-Fashioned Anti-Semitism: Still on Public Display

Today’s post is a bit of a departure as it relates an anecdote rather that discussing a particular issue.

Let me set the scene: This past weekend, I spent Friday evening and Saturday morning at a bat mitzvah. In the meantime, my wife and kids drove to Atlanta so that my daughter could compete in a massive cheerleading competition (her team finished 3rd out of 11 or 5th out of 22, depending on how you want to categorize things…). I flew down to Atlanta after the bat mitzvah so that I could still see my daughter compete on the second day of her competition. We stayed at the Omni CNN Center which is adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center where the competition was held.

Anyway, I made it to the hotel around dinner time. We talked a little bit about the bat mitzvah. After dinner, the family decided to go up to the room and watch a movie (we don’t like to go out or do anything “active” when my daughter competes the next day). I, however, wasn’t in the mood to watch a movie. I was reading a good book (An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris, if you must know) and wanted to read instead. Trying to read a book in a small hotel room while the family is watching a movie is not really a great plan, so I decided to go down to the hotel lobby and see if I could find a quiet corner in which to read my book. Luckily, I found just such a place on one of the hotel’s mezzanine levels. And that’s when things got interesting.

While hunting for a place to sit, I walked by a couch and chair arrangement at which eight to ten women (obviously “cheer moms”) were sitting. I didn’t really pay any attention to them as I spotted the chair that I chose to sit in to read. Before picking up my book, though, I decided to catch up on my Twitter feed. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on those women, but as their conversation got a bit louder it became almost impossible to not hear at least some of what was being talked about.

My ears really began to perk up when I heard one of the women say “Catholics” quite loudly and in a tone that could only be called sneering or even angry. At that point I began to actually try to listen to see if I could hear more of what was being said (and without turning around to be obvious; they were about 20-30 feet away from me). I think that I was actually a bit shocked to be hearing someone so loudly denigrating Catholics. The next thing that I was able to hear was the same woman make several statements to another explaining why Catholicism was bad and why the target of her statement should consider leaving the Catholic church. At one point in this relatively brief diatribe, the speaker said that the Catholic church was “of the devil” and I also heard a reference to Satan. She also claimed that her evangelical church was “closer to G-d”.

I found this all rather interesting and so I posted several tweets. (You do follow me on Twitter, right?)

I’m in hotel lounge eavesdropping on woman explaining to another why Catholic Church is “of the devil” & evangelical church closer to G-d.

Catholic woman being proselytized has way, way more patience than I would. Patience of a saint perhaps? But I do expect eventual fireworks.

This is way more entertaining than my book about the Dreyfus affair. I just wish I could hear better.

I guess it would be bad to go sit with them or ask them to talk louder so that I could listen in more easily.

(Note that for some reason, I remain unable to embed tweets directly on this blog; I’m working on the problem, but so far I haven’t been able to figure it out…)

Now perhaps I was just tired. Perhaps I was in a somewhat hyper-sensitive mood. Perhaps I was just feeling sort of “hyper-Jewish” after having spent time at a bat mitzvah and given that I was reading a book about the Dreyfus Affair. In any event, I found myself almost in a state of alert or vigilance, waiting to see what was going to happen. And the conversation did quiet down for a moment or two until I heard, quite loudly, “No, of course you wouldn’t hear that on the news. Jews control the media!”

One of the women then said, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

My tweet:

And score! We just had our first “Jews control…” comment. “You don’t really believe that, do you?” says Ms. Catholic.

I didn’t hear what immediately followed, but after a very few quiet moments, the real anti-Semitism started flying (and not just from the woman who had been making statements about Catholicism; even the woman that I took to be Catholic offered some thoughts on Jews…). Included in what I could hear, were the following:

  • “Some Jews moved in near us. I went over to wish them a Merry Christmas and they said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me. You see, they really do want to take away Christmas.
  • “There were some Jews on our street, too. I went over one time to meet them. I thought I’d be nice. So I asked to borrow a Christmas tree cookie cutter. The lady said that she was Jewish and didn’t have a Christmas tree cookie cutter. I mean, how rude was that? What did her religion have to do with anything?”
  • In response to that statement, another woman said something like “Yeah, Jews are always throwing their religion in your face because they think they’re better than us.
  • Yet another voice claimed that Jews were “hateful” and seemed to link hate to the use of “Happy Holidays”.
  • Another woman sneered the term “chosen people” loudly, but the rest of her comment was too quiet to hear.
  • And, of course, one of the women, had to talk about Jews only caring about money (it sounded like she was linking money to friendship, but I couldn’t make out the details).

There was more, but it was hard to get the full content of most of the other statements, other than hearing the word “Jews” tossed about in the tone that one might hear men in white hoods use when talking about “niggers”. I tried to tweet what I was hearing, but it was hard to capture the full flavor and context in 140 characters and it was even harder to keep up with the rapid-fire delivery of the anti-Semitic statements. Thus, all I managed was:

Ms. Evangelical now explaining how hateful it is to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that each voice in this discussion had a pronounced southern accent. Make of that what you will.

And the bigoted statements continued, for several minutes at least. It was almost like each woman, in sharing her “experiences” with Jews, was trying to outdo the last. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a bunch of women bragging about their kids and trying to top the achievements of their friends’ children; rather this group of women was trying to top each other with stories of just how bad Jews are.

Finally, I’d enough. I’m not sure exactly which statement it was that set me off or whether it was just overhearing so many anti-Semitic stereotypes being repeated ad nauseum. So, as I said on Twitter:

Now we’ve launched into a full blown anti-Semitic diatribe. I’ve had enough.

Walked over & said, “As the Jew in the room, I want you to know that I don't appreciate the anti-Semitic comments I can’t help overhearing.”

Told them it was wrong to judge or stereotype people on the basis of their religion, national origin, sexuality, or skin color.

As I mentioned skin color I looked straight at the African-American & Southeast Asian women in the group.

And then I walked away.

Eventually, I found another quiet place to sit and from there I tweeted about the incident (the tweets above plus those that follow):

To say that they appeared to be stunned would be an understatement. Jaws on floor.

I suspect several of these women are unrepentant bigots who’ve never been called out for their bigotry.

I further suspect that the two women of color, who had been silent during the entire exchange, are too cowed to speak up for themselves.

Or it could be that they don’t object to bigotry so long as they’re not the target.

But if we don’t call out overt bigotry - publicly shame those who express bigotry like that - then we’ll never rid society of this evil.

I wonder what these charming ladies have to say about the large contingent of gay cheerleaders, cheer coaches, and cheer judges.

I’m not sure if I shamed them or if they think there was nothing wrong with the views they were expressing and that I was the “bad guy”.

It just sickens me that in this day & age people are still comfortable spouting off that sort of bigoted, hateful speech loudly in public.

It makes you wonder how much worse their private comments are. More troubling: What are they teaching their children?

There were also a number of other tweets as I interacted with others who were following along and asked me questions about what had happened.

After asking my rhetorical question about what the women are teaching their children, I thought of (and tweeted) a stanza from the song “We’re Not in Kansas” by Big Country:

What did you learn at home today?
Did you learn to hate in the proper way?
Did your liberated parents patronize your friends
Cos they had enough money cos they had the right skin?

I’m not really sure that I have much to add at this point. I guess I’m still a bit shocked, not that people still harbor these sorts of sentiments, but rather that they feel comfortable displaying their anti-Semitism in public. I’m a bit shocked that the Catholic woman (at least I presume that the woman to whom the proselytization seemed to be directed was Catholic) didn’t stand up for herself more vocally (or perhaps she did and I couldn’t hear her). And I guess I’m a bit shocked that the two women of color (one was African-American and the other appeared to be Indian or Pakistani) remained silent during the exchange … at least as far as I can tell. Of course, perhaps I’m stereotyping those women by presuming that people of color are more sensitive to overt bigotry.

We still hear racism from many different sources, directed primarily at African Americans and Latinos. We still hear nativism and xenophobia. We still see religious bigotry directed at Muslims and others. And I continue to see lots of anti-Semitism expressed across the web, sometimes related to Israel, but oftentimes not. However, it has been a while since I’ve heard this sort of anti-Semitic drivel (or anti-Catholic for that matter) expressed so publicly, so vehemently, and by so many people (instead of just a lone bigot).

I don’t know that I’m able draw any conclusions from any of this other than to note that bigotry remains alive and well and that it remains the obligation of society when confronted with these sorts of statements to stand up and call out those who continue to harbor and share such bigoted ideas. To quote myself:

But if we don’t call out overt bigotry - publicly shame those who express bigotry like that - then we’ll never rid society of this evil.

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2 Comments:

At Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9:19:00 AM , OpenID shouldhavezagged said...

Holy crap, good on you for confronting them. Wow.

Like you, I'm always appalled to hear people talking this way publicly. I am hardly ever the subject of their bigotry (unless they are talking about women or Democrats) but I am sickened at the thought of what it must feel like to be, to know that they feel so in the right about their thoughts that they have no shame in being completely open about them. Ugh. Unrepentant bigots indeed.

 
At Wednesday, February 19, 2014 6:39:00 PM , Blogger Charles said...

The high school bowling league that my daughter is in reorganized this year, and the teams from the all-boys Catholic schools who had previously been in their own division are now in ours. It's amazing not only how cavalier they are when they're trying to get an advantage (bowlers at the beginning of the season with high handicaps, even though they're clearly very good), and how they're the first ones to complain (complaining because another coach made a perfectly legal roster move between games and they didn't catch it in time to counter it) when they think someone else is wronging them. My wife (our team's coach) just refers to them as "The Catholics", even though I was raised Catholic and she went to Catholic high school. And everyone knows exactly what she means. It's even worse that the worst of the group is the coach from the high school that I graduated from.

 

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