On Racism and Antisemitism

A short while ago a small kerfuffle erupted on my FB page. The cause was quite innocent–I made the mistake of replying to one of those constant annoyances of FB life, some sort of survey. The survey question was “Do you think Donald Trump is a racist?” and it promised the results of the poll today. If those results have been posted, I haven’t seen them.

I didn’t understand that when I answered the question that my answer would be posted on my public page, and then of course many of my friends began to interact about the topic. This is not the way I would have like to have had a conversation about this topic, but there it was.

The Sabbath allowed me to take a breather from the fray, and as I contemplated the stars, tea leaves and the meaning of life, it dawned on me that many of my friends have lost the knowledge so wisely provided over a decade or so starting in the 1970s in the brilliant sitcom, “All in the Family.” Week after week and year after year, this amazingly popular TV show explored the nature and definitions of phenomena like misogyny, antisemitism, and above all, racism. And it did it all with a wonderful sense of humor.

One of the frequent topics on the show was demonstrating how people could be prejudiced without any self-awareness or evil intent. The phenomenon of “Some of my best friends…” was explored with regularity.

I don’t want to reignite what I hope is now a dead issue on my page, but I think it’s important to understand things like the fact that you don’t have to want to put Jews in death camps and annihilate them in order to be afflicted with antisemitism. Perhaps we have done such a great job of educating the public about the horrors of the Holocaust that people think the Holocaust is synonymous with antisemitism. It is not.

Some folks are amazed when I mention that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who surely did as much as anyone on Earth to eliminate the scourge of Adolf Hitler, was an antisemite. But he was. He wasn’t a Nazi, he didn’t want to kill Jews, and yes, some of his best friends were Jews. But not in his country club. Not among his neighbors. He was an antisemite exactly in the ways that Archie Bunker was played so well by Carroll O’Conner. And perhaps that more subtle antisemitism allowed him to escape some of the guilt he might have felt when he turned away (literally) boat loads of Jews vainly trying to escape the Holocaust.

It’s no accident that All in the Family was based on a British sitcom called Till Death Do Us Part. In that British version, the family patriarch is a working-class character named Alf Garnett who frequently spouts racist views, but in his case, it’s the socialists who are one of the frequent targets of his bigotry.

Last night, Terri and I had the immense pleasure of viewing a beautiful little film called “Blinded by the Light.” It tells the story of a working-class immigrant Pakistani family in 1980s era England whose high-school age son finds an almost religious revelation in the music and lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. At one point the exasperated patriarch of the family scolds his son and tells him to forget about poetry and music and concentrate on math and economics. “Find the Jews in your school” he says. “Follow the Jews and emulate what they do–they can show you how to be successful!” His son looks at him and says, “Father, that’s actually a racist thing you’re saying.”

Exactly.

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