Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

On Racism and the Northern Elite

So there’s this video circulating the viral Web; a bunch of American Jews in Tel Aviv are interviewed by Max Blumenthal on the eve of President Obama’s speech in Cairo and are shown on camera spouting racial epithets and hateful words, directed at the president.

I’ve actually heard people express surprise at such racist outbursts. As Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it, “Blacks aren’t supposed to be serial killers, in much the way Jews aren’t supposed to be racist.”  Having heard plenty of American Jews go on racist diatribes against Arabs, I’m not surprised in the least that such hatred could be extended to black people. Neither is Coates, who says:

It’s true that you may expect certain classes of people to be less direct, but you don’t have to say “nigger” to make a man feel like one. You don’t have to say “white power” to exercise it. We don’t need videos to tell us this. It’s all out there.

I’m not surprised.  Not in the least.  After my SUNY educational experience, I’ve heard people of every demographic insult people of every other demographic.  I’ve heard white people look down on Asians,  Asians look down on Latinos, and Latinos look down on black people.

And I’ve been in a sociology course where I heard a group of Jews call the professor a “nigger” after she expressed support for Palestine.  But that was an isolated incident, just like the one in the video, right?  Sure, they both were.  Just as all incidents of racism are.

While trying to decide what I could possibly say on this matter, one comment on a post by Coates struck my eye:

These kids were all raised in the United States. This is not really about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is about American bigotry, for us Americans to think about and deal with. While these Jews too often move to Israel and contribute to the problems there, it’s a fundamentally American problem that needs to be thought about and dealt with by Americans. What about America is making this happen? How is the rubric of classic American racism changing? How do we deal with it differently? What does it mean when a historically marginalized group produces bigots who migrate to the right wing?

It’s way too easy to fit this into a rubric of Israeli racism.  The fact is, this is indeed an American problem – not one that is confined to Jewish communities by any stretch of the imagination, mind you, but one which is, unfortunately, not isolated in the least.

While much of the onus has been on the fact that these kids are Jewish (or mistakenly, Israeli), I’m more alarmed by the fact that the kids are of “a higher socio-economic class,”  have downstate New York accents, and with the exception of one or two, appear not to have been in Israel for very long (one of the girls, when asked what she thinks about Benjamin Netanyahu, says “Who’s Benjamin Yahoo?”).  They are the epitome of the Northeast elite.  There’s no more turning up our noses and calling this a problem of the South or the Midwest.

With our first black president in office, and our first Latina supreme court judge on the bench, one might think America has rid itself of racism forever.  But while behaviors have changed, and institutionalized racism might be disappearing (or at least on the downswing), I don’t think we’ve changed much at all.

4 Comments

  1. It’s frightening as well as revolting to see how much hatred has been poured into these people’s mind. I have the luxury of living away from such bigots and I rarely have to confront such racist rhetoric, but I always think about those poor Palestinians trapped in their own country with no choice left but to suffer the humiliations of a racist Israeli; no options whatsoever unless he/she wants to be automatically labelled a terrorist. This disgrace must end. The Obama speech was pretext for many discussions I heard or had my self with colleagues; you know the kind of people with whom you rarely talk politics. Obama incidentally gave me the opportunity to discover what was in those colleagues’ minds. I was just devastated and disappointed to the core, and horrified really to discover how much ignorance and bigotry was out there; sometimes pure racism disguised in phrases starting by “I’m not a racist but…”, “I don’t hate Arabs but…” And I’m talking here about people most of whom post graduates, highly skilled intellectuals. There is a huge counter offensive to be fought and a colossal effort of education to be conducted.
    Thanks for this heartwarming post.

  2. Jillian,

    I really appreciate your well-spoken, intelligent posts. They make my day (and they’re the highlight of my RSS reader).

    Keep up the great posts!

    أحب
    فلسطين

  3. Very informative post. Thank you.

  4. You’re quite right, you know.
    Racism is a growing problem, especially in europe, where neo-nazism is rising again to our grate fear.
    The thing is – education satrts at home, and until all homes condamn racism, it’ll remain to be a big problem of our society.

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