Emphasizing differences

Psychology Today:

Here’s what really happened: On November 21, Kayum Ahmed, a South African and an adjunct member of the Columbia University Law School faculty, spoke at Fieldston about apartheid. In the Q & A, which was recorded on video, in response to a student’s question, he said that “xenophobic attacks are a shameful part of South African history, but in some ways it reflects the fluidity between those who are victims becoming perpetrators,” and that he uses the same example in talking about the Holocaust. “Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel,” he told them, “today perpetuate violences against Palestinians that are unthinkable.”*

If a speaker had made comments such as these about any historically marginalized group in the U.S. other than Jewish people, it is hard to believe that an official from the school wouldn’t have condemned it long before the students left the room. Apologies would have flooded parents’ in-boxes. Counselors would have been on hand.**

I can think of another historically marginalized group that is an exception in that way. Women. (The author is a woman – Pamela Paresky PhD.)

I suppose it can happen to any (or almost any) historically marginalized group. People who are dominant in one context can be marginalized in another, and vice versa. That’s part of what “intersectionalism” is about.

To be clear, I do not have a problem with schools allowing speakers to say things like this in front of students. I think it’s important for students to see that words do not equal violence, to learn about antisemitic conspiracy theories, and to see firsthand that antisemites don’t all announce their bigotry by looking like Nazis or a skinheads. If a school would allow similar ideas about any other group to be shared without condemnation, then allowing it to be said about Jews would not be a marker of antisemitic undercurrents at the school. But of course, they wouldn’t. And that’s the insidious nature of antisemitism. It’s the form of bigotry often embraced by those who claim to be enemies of bigotry and advocates of social justice. 

But so is “TERF” hatred. I think the two are at least matched.

Long before this incident, some Jewish parents expressed concern about the school’s mandatory “conversations about race” program for all third, fourth, and fifth graders. Despite research indicating that friendships between children from different backgrounds reliably diminish bias and discrimination, and that emphasizing differences is counterproductive to those ends, the curriculum requires each child to self-identify as part of a segregated, racial “affinity group.”

The mutually exclusive options are African American/Black; Asian or Pacific Islander; Latino; Multiracial; White; and Not Sure. Each child must pick one. “Jewish” is not among the identities from which children can choose.

God, what a muddle. “Asian” is geographic; “White” is racial; “Latino” is…what? Geographic, linguistic, racial, what? Is a Mayan the same as a Guatemalan of all-European descent? And then, what about the Irish? What about Italians? Eastern Europeans? The US slices and dices its prejudices and belittlings very fine.

Regardless of whether their ethnic backgrounds happen to include one of the non-white available categories, Jewish children (age 8 to 11) are forced to “self-identify” (a misnomer) as one of the available “affinity groups” even if their Jewishness is the more salient aspect of their identity. Jewish children who do not fit any of the non-white racial categories are required to choose “white” or “not sure” (which was renamed the “general discussion” group). 

They weren’t all that “white” in Warsaw in 1942.

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