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April 21, 2016 6:42 am

Bigotry and Antisemitism Fight Back

avatar by Anne Faith

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This antisemitic sign targeting Jews at Yale University was posted in New Haven, Conn. Photo: Twitter.

This antisemitic sign targeting Jews at Yale University was posted in New Haven, Conn. Photo: Twitter.

Given what we know about the ultimate results of hate-filled stereotypes, you’d think that we would have abandoned them by now. At the very least, you’d have thought that by 2016, we’d be considerably less culturally biased. Sadly, however, it appears that cultural stereotypes are not only still in existence but — according to some sources — getting worse.

Jewish Stereotypes

We all know the pervasive Jewish stereotypes. We also know that they’re not particularly accurate. Most of us are more likely to apply for, rather than give, a monetary loan; we’re not conspiring to take over the world; and we don’t spend all night counting out towers of golden coins.

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Some might say that stereotypes are harmless, but the problem with reducing people to a set of proscribed characteristics (physical, mental, and cultural) is that it removes the complexity of the individual’s humanity. If one thinks of a Jewish person as a money-hungry individual with a large nose, they think they already know that person. They no longer feel the need to make the effort to learn about the actual nuances of that individual’s character, or feel empathy or sympathy for them.

Furthermore, stereotypes — even “good” ones — are exclusive. They separate people into stereotype-delineated ‘boxes’, thus encouraging others to define them by difference, rather than by accepting their common humanity. Sure, some stereotypes are less malicious (and perhaps more accurate!) than others. But defining people by demographic stereotypes dehumanizes them — and we all know where that leads.

Hatred Tides

Over the years, we’ve made good progress against insidious stereotypes. The civil rights movements, the wake-up calls we’ve had with genocide and other hate crimes and an increased voice for minorities have allowed us all to demand to be seen as people, not as stereotypes. As a society, we’ve grown more tolerant of minorities, and less tolerant of intolerance. Up until now. Recently, it seems that bigotry has been fighting back — and it’s regaining ground.

Tribalism and the Politics of Fear

Whether or not we’re actually getting progressively more intolerant is something of a moot point. You don’t need to look far for evidence of antisemitism. For a start, it never really went away — as the comments made by certain prominent individuals reveal. But now, rather than hiding away and keeping their uninformed opinions to themselves, the antisemites and the leaders who rouse them have decided that they have a perfect right to voice their opinions.

Perhaps they do — freedom of speech is, after all, important. Yet many of these people also wish to shut down the freedom of speech of minorities. They believe that they are the true inheritors of America, and as such should be allowed to do as they please, while others toe the line. It’s a complicated attitude born of, and fueled by, a need for exclusive (rather than inclusive) tribalism, and fear. Many feel unstable in their current socio-economic-political position, and are taking that fear out on ‘the other’ rather than seeking deeper explanations/solutions. Sadly, Jewish people are feeling the sting of much of this fear-born hatred — as any quick perusal of the Internet will reveal.

Still Hope?

Of course, it may well be that antisemites are feeling the need to make their voices heard because they are feeling pressured and unaccepted. In a truly antisemitic world, intolerance and the use of stereotypes would be the norm. Nobody would need to fight in this manner for their right to be bigoted. So perhaps, in a weird kind of way, the recent rise in open bigotry and prejudice is a good sign. It means that the bigots are feeling pressured enough to fight back — which in turn means that bigotry is no longer the norm. We can but hope.

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