Jewish Racism

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One of the things that I don't think folks get is when it comes to the perspective of blacks on Jews/Italians/Irish/Scott-Irish/Germans/Polish, very few black people actually differentiate. I know that there is a legacy of singling out Jews among black Muslims (I wonder why...) and some black nationalists, but people who think that black power was ever a mainstream ideology among black folks, need to read some history. And I say that as someone who was, and still am, heavily influenced by black power/nationalism. Obviously James Baldwin and Chris Rock have made this point before. I understand why different tribes of white people don't completely see it that way also. I agree with much of what Jim Webb said about Appalachia, for instance, though I think he slightly downplayed racism.

Anyway, here is a great example of why black people don't make ethnic distinctions among whites. I have problems with this piece as a journalist, in that it basically surveys a bunch of people (Jews in Florida, most of them elderly) and reaches a broad conclusion (Obama has a Jewish problem). Of course the piece either ignores, or just dismisses complicating evidence. Indeed:

A new Gallup survey found that 61% of Jewish voters prefer Obama to McCain, who got 32% of the Jewish support. That number is far greater than the rate found for the general population, who only preferred Obama to McCain 45-43, according to the poll. Obama also still trails Clinton in Jewish support, according to the survey, with Clinton winning against Obama in the Jewish community 50%-43%.

But the stats would make it harder to write the cartoonish, simplistic conflict narrative that truly hackish journalism thrives on. That's all good though. Newspapers publish these sorts of badly sourced trend pieces all the time, and then turn around and wonder why they're loosing readers. It's just what they do. That is another rant for another day, here is where I am going with this. The piece has no problem calling out "black antisemitism" pointing to Farrakhan, a man who hasn't have a national following in over a decade, and, essentially, the rising crime rate in Brooklyn. Meanwhile the reporter interviews several voters who offer the following conclusions:

“They’ll pick on the minister thing, they’ll pick on the wife, but the major issue is color,” she said, quietly fingering a coffee cup.

This:

At brunch in Boynton Beach, Bob Welstein, who said he was in his 80s, said so bluntly. “Am I semi-racist? Yes,” he said.

And this:

Jack Stern, 85, sitting alone at an outdoor café in Aventura on Sunday, said he was no racist. When he was liberated from a concentration camp in 1945, black American soldiers were kinder than white ones, handing out food to the emaciated Jews, he said.
Years later, after he opened a bakery in Brooklyn, “I got disgusted, because they killed Jews,” he said, citing neighborhood crimes committed by African-Americans. “I shouldn’t say it, but it is what it is,” said Mr. Stern, who vowed not to vote for Mr. Obama.

The amazing thing to me is that, even after citing these examples--which sound eerily reminiscent of West Virginia and Kentucky, the attitudes aren't labeled racist, they're called "anxiety about race." Fucking amazing. I think if I told you there's no way I could support Mike Bloomberg because he's Jewish, you would not simply say I had some "anxiety about religion." You'd say I was an antisemite, and you'd be right, but you wouldn't stop there. You'd talk about how I emerge from a culture in which antisemitism is rampant. And whenever you wanted to claim your status in the Oppression Olympics, you'd invoke that culture. Then you'd start a letter writing campaign to sites like this and this, demanding that they denounce me and remove me from their blogroll. And then you'd publish editorials bemoaning the ungraciousness of blacks--don't they remember Philadelphia? You'd recruit a few black Ivy League scholars, who view black folks mainly as lab rats, to pillory this new wave of hate speech.There would be books publish, dissertations written. Whole careers would be made, lost, rescued.

More to the point, two factors are at work here: 1.) Say it with me children--In America, Jewish people are white. It's not that "Jewish racism" is dismissed, it's that "White racism"--short of calling for a mass lynching--is dismissed. It's been only two months since Pat Buchanan informed us that all of black America were recipients of welfare and food stamps. And yet this fool's face is still on TV. George Packer did some wonderful reporting on the racist attitudes toward Obama in Appalachia, but there was almost no moral outrage, indeed Packer didn't even term it as racism, he simply said "race is a factor." There is no white racism in America, so how could there be Jewish racism?

2.) Black antisemitism is ultimately about white antisemitism. One of the ways this country ducks a hard look at its own shortcomings is by racializing them. Thus vices which we all share, are basically only addressed when black people demonstrate them. Let's be clear here: In John McCain's has been endorsed by one who once said, "Fuck the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway," and another who thinks that Jews who didn't flee to Israel were sent to hell by God's agent, Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile Barack Obama basically is the ex-friend of a friend of Farrakhan's. But it's Obama who has the Jewish problem.

This is a clear demonstration of the fault-line of white racism. I'm obviously a huge Barack supporter, but one thing that is clear is that his candidacy will not fix this. Maybe it's not the job of public policy, academics, or newspaper editors to fix it. The most cynical part of me thinks that this won't change until black people achieve a certain level of wealth, and thus have people who can expose this dialouge for the fraud that it is. That's likely partially true. But a more optimistic take, and an equally credible one, would hold that we are watching the dying vestiges of racism. As I've said before, it's pretty heartening that most of the worst, most ignorant, most racist attitudes held about Obama seem relatively contained in the geriatric wing.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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