Jews know what it’s like to be “tolerated”. It’s not the most comfortable place to sit. The ground beneath is unreliable. It can shift at any second. Black and brown and Asian people in America all know what that’s like, too. That’s why some of us try to assimilate. We want to transition from “tolerated” to “accepted” by the larger, white society. In America, Jews have benefited somewhat from our “white adjacent” status — we look just enough like white people on the outside to get slightly better treatment from them; for one thing, Jews were permitted to accumulate and keep most of the wealth we accumulated here in America. Black people especially have not had that experience. Their wealth has been continually stripped from them. For what it’s worth, if the Jews were still living in the Old Days of Europe? They’d know exactly how Black Americans feel about that, too.
In the Old World, the pattern was “allow the Jews to accumulate wealth while holding the nation’s debt (usury being completely un-Christian) until such a time as the Kingdom seizes all the Jews’ wealth and nullifies any debt legally owed them. That was probably what kept Old Europe from coming to a Final Solution earlier. They were like the guy in the old joke who tells the psychiatrist his crazy brother thinks he’s a chicken. They’d take him to therapy to try and help him but they need the eggs. They might have gone and wiped out all the Jews but then, who’d do the dirty but necessary business of holding their debt?
Every human culture on earth has, within it, the potential for greatness. Every human culture — if given the same chances to learn, imagine, innovate and create would, in time, solve most of our problems because human beings, by their nature, are problem-solvers. While a few of us are a tiny bit smarter than all the rest of us (and a good thing too), most humans, left to their own devices, would, in time, muster the brain power to figure it out. It’ll be that or die. Some cultures have continually excelled at figuring things out while others have figured things out for a brief, golden moment before sinking back into confusion.
In his lecture “Beyond Belief”, given back in the early 2000’s in the aftermath of 9-11, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse-Tyson made a whole bucket of excellent, interesting points. He talked about “naming rights” after then president George W. Bush insisted that white culture had named the stars. No, actually, a lot of the stars have Arabic names since they were first identified by Arab navigators who were inventing celestial navigation. DeGrasse-Tyson reminds us that between 800 – 1100 AD, Baghdad was the center of world learning, an “open city” where people of every stripe came to trade spices and goods but also ideas.
Algebra was invented then. It’s an Arabic word. Same goes for algorithms. Medicine advanced significantly during that period. And then, as DeGrasse-Tyson tells it, a Muslim cleric named Al-Ghazali shows up and makes the pronouncement that “Mathematics is the language of the Devil”. The man literally demonizes math. Nothing good whatsoever can come of that — and, intellectually speaking, that denial of math would ripple through Arab culture for a thousand years and counting. The dogma of its faith over-rode the greatness of its thinking. This is not the first time that’s happened, is it?
Jews, on the other hand, DeGrasse-Tyson points out, did not succumb to any sort of religion-caused mass hysteria event (like a papal schism or a holy war or a Crusade). They put their minds to solving problems and answering perplexing questions. Plenty of them happily spoke the language of math. They won plenty of Nobel Prizes for their hard work. DeGrasse-Tyson points out that relative to their size relative to the human population as a whole, Jews have won an inordinate number of scientific Nobel Prizes (hundreds) while Arabs (a far larger part of the human family) have won three. DeGrasse-Tyson’s point isn’t to denigrate Arabs and their culture, it’s to point out that thinking scientifically is not alien to them — not at all. That, given the chance, Arabs would almost certainly have represented themselves better than they did.
There are plenty of cultures that value education above almost anything else. They recognize that the best way to give their children the best chance to succeed is to educate them. Americans don’t necessarily agree. Correction — some Americans. While not all cultures fight to make secondary education a part of all Americans’ education, it’s only white people who actively work to to deny secondary education to huge swaths of the population. First, they actively work to keep it expensive (the student loan business is incredibly lucrative). Then they work to keep it exclusive. If you don’t think some Americans would bring slavery back if they could, you’re looking at some other America.
Take Black people out of America, you don’t have America. Though slavery will forever be a blight on the idea of America, we need to celebrate — and learn from — how African Americans reacted to being enslaved here. White America could learn a lot about perseverance and loyalty to an idea. They could learn a lot about what America is really about, too — and what it means to actually BE American. In spite of being treated, well, like slaves, Black Americans have given American life vitality, art, innovation, scientific breakthroughs and all around greatness. So has Latino culture and each of the various Asian cultures. That diversity, in fact, is what makes America “America”. It’s at the heart of American Exceptionalism — a very real thing when allowed to shine.
America IS exceptional because something happened here that never happened anywhere else on the planet before. Whereas it took French people the better part of a thousand years to slowly transition from a bunch of tribes living in what’s now “France” into “French People” (same goes for every other country in Europe), aside from Native Americans (and if not for European diseases wiping them out, they might still be part of this equation), America had no slowly evolving local culture to call its own. All the nations of Europe actively engaged in exploring the planet saw the potential for profit in America. That’s what they came here in search of — not some democratic ideal or notion of human self-government.
The idealism beneath America’s founding — stripped of its White Guy’s Only worldview — drew every other nation’s people. America represented something revolutionary — the very real potential for self-reinvention (provided one was rich enough or willing to work hard enough). That was the draw — not white guys and their money. The potential do be whatever you want to be — whoever you are.
A few years back we regularly did “Days Without Latinos” to demonstrate to white people what their lives would be like if all the Latino men and women vanished from them. Spoiler alert — it didn’t go so well for the white people. An awful lot of our fruits and vegetables get picked by Latino migrant labor. Alabama learned the hard way a few years back what happens when you’re stupid (racist) enough to stop all that migrant labor from picking your crops: they don’t get picked. Theirs is a job most Americans refuse to do. Alabama lost an entire crop in 2002. The financial hit was brutal. How did Forrest Gump put it? “Stupid is as stupid does”? Yeah — that.
America would be a fourth world dump without the contributions made by Black people. And Latino people. And Asian people and Jewish people. America needs every contribution from every tribe here in order to do what it does and be what it is. The Republican Party would deny every bit of it.
That’s the funniest part of the joke (though it definitely isn’t haha funny) — white supremacy begins with the entirely false premise that white people could be “supreme” — better than all others. Um, no. Sorry, white people — you’re not “supreme”. That’s not to say you, too, haven’t made some very good contributions to humanity and human history. Hey — penicillin? A white guy (English) invented that! The telephone? White guy (Scottish)! The Ponzi Scheme? A white guy (named Charles Ponzi)!
Republicans have it in their heads that “they alone can fix it”. I’d focus in on the word “fix”. What does a Republican mean by “fix it”? “Fix” how and fix “what”?
All of us who aren’t white people look at white people differently from how white people look at us. For starters, we don’t look at white people like they’re cockroaches; that’s a luxury we don’t have. And, unlike white people who imagine a world free of us, we don’t imagine a world free of them. Frankly, it’d be impossible — there’s just to many of them.
But, confession, some of us do contemplate a world less dominated by white people and their racist way of seeing everything. “Jews will not replace us” is a strange chant to begin with. Replace them doing what? I bet, given a shot, most every Jew could replace them — that’s why they’re chanting. Frankly, it would be nice to live in a world where white racism, bigotry and ignorance didn’t feature constantly.
That’s the world the rest of us wish we could experience — if just a little: a world without white people — abusing the rest of us.