So I'm standing on a street corner in Brooklyn, and two guys are speaking loudly near me. In the most matter-of-fact tone possible, one of them casually drops into the conversation disparaging remarks about Jews and gay people.
I managed to record, via high-speed mental camera, my brain's reaction:
1. Holy crap, did he really just say that?
2. It's been a very long time since I heard anything like that spoken in full voice in public.
3. These thoughts clearly aren't new to him; the only new element is the brazenness of his open expression.
4. Brazenness is a virus. It can spread quickly. He feels he's riding a wave, hence his calm assurance.
6. Better out loud than bottled up. "Just shut up about it" has never struck me as a winning solution.
7. There's nothing I could say to make him rethink.
8. This is a death throe. The wave's not strong enough to succeed this time. Society's progressed; tolerance now predominates. Social rejection - explicit, plus subtler nonverbal-yet-palpable aversion - will aggregate for brazen bigots, swinging the pendulum back, and suppressing this once again.
Previous postings on racism.
Something unfortunately few people realize: a great many Jews in early 20th century Germany were extraordinarily assimilated - arguably as much so as American Jews today. Nazi ghetto and concentration camp photos often show bearded Hassids, mostly from places like Poland and Hungary. But that strata wasn't the primary target. The Final [sic] Solution was originally directed at patriotic, unaccented, culturally assimilated, non-pious, thoroughly modern and indistinguishable Jews in Germany. And I'd imagine #8 is what a lot of them were thinking around 1934. (Understand that I'm not seeing the current situation through a narrowly Jewish lens - we likely wouldn't be the major scapegoats this time, not that this provides much consolation. I'm simply reporting my mental connections here.)
FWIW, I don't parse racism like most people. As a political moderate/centrist, I find myself easily agreeing with both sides' characterization of the other. The left is horrible, yes. The right is horrible, yes. I alone seem to register that the problem isn't with the other group; projection helps us avoid the darker truth that the problem is pan-human. As I once wrote: "racism, sexism, classism, etc. are nothing more than the incomplete registration of a perfectly appropriate misanthropy."
So when I hear sneers at savage blacks, greedy jews, hectoring women, and all the rest, I swap in the word "humans", and nod sadly in agreement. Not to say that I approve of time spent counterproductively ruing this. Dwelling on these aspects is no way to transcend to the divinity - the creativity, poetry, and wisdom - that humans are also capable of. We undeniably come from mud, but the origin is not the journey, nor the destination.
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