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The Jewish Report Editorial

Anti-black, anti-Jew - what to do… what to do?

  • Vanessa
It all started with a remark posted on Facebook by white Durban real estate agent Penny Sparrow who compared the behaviour of black people on a beach on New Year’s day to “monkeys”. Then Chris Hart, economist at Standard Bank, was fired for his tweet that 25 years after apartheid, “victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities”.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Jan 27, 2016

Media personality Gareth Cliff was next - dropped as a judge on a M-Net’s popular Idols talent show - for tweeting in response to the outcry about Sparrow’s comments, that “people don’t understand free speech”.

The current litany of racist missteps and accusations of racism is forcing South Africans to take stock. One view, expressed in this past weekend’s Sunday Times by researcher/author Liz Cowan is that “centuries of conditioning have genetically engineered us to be racist: to genuinely believe that we whites are superior”.

The black population is not the only one to be targeted. Only two weeks ago, the SA Jewish Board laid a hate speech charge against Port Elizabeth lawyer Maureen Jansen for a December Facebook post calling for “Bloody Israelis” or “monsters” to be “exterminated along with all the ‘Jews’
everywhere who support Israel by action or silence”.

Racism is defined as the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and ability and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. 

Coincidentally, Wednesday of this week was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a UN-designated memorial day that honours the victims of the Nazi era genocide and promotes the development of educational programmes to fight prejudice. 

Ironically, Israel’s 2015 anti-Semitism report was discussed at the Israeli Cabinet meeting this past Sunday. It showed that more than 40 per cent of European Union citizens hold anti-Semitic views and agree with the claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians and that they are behaving like the Nazis. Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said the report blames this sentiment on the spread of radical Islam; the refugee crisis; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; and the rise of the extreme right. 

Yes, the world is full of loathing; and hatemongers will find many excuses - for anti-black attitudes or anti-Jewish attitudes. But this pervasive animosity also makes it too easy to immediately label the views and actions of people we do not agree with as prejudiced. People who criticise Israel are too easily termed anti-Semitic, or people who criticise the ANC government might too easily be termed racist.

Yet, what it all seems to point to is a primitive part of all of us to recognise difference and to make judgements based on it. From pre-school, where children map their worlds by putting things and people into categories of size, shape, and colour, race - black or white - is a useful sorting measure. A three- or four-year-old will ask his/her parents for words to describe the differences they see, but do not yet make independent value judgements about racial differences. By the age of four however, developmental experts say children begin to absorb the lessons of a racist culture. 

There has been considerable work done in the field of “unlearning racism”. Theorists like Ricky Sherover-Marcuse, a well-known American political activist from the sixties and seventies, said that people hold on to racist beliefs and attitudes because this misinformation represents the best thinking they have been able to do at the time, and because no one has been able to assist them to change their perspective. 

According to her, people will only change their minds and let go of ingrained attitudes if an alternative view is presented in a way that makes sense to them; if they trust the person who is presenting the view; and finally, if they are not blamed for having had the prejudiced view in the first place. 

How do we change attitudes? It is a tough battle. We know that biased beliefs about particular groups of people tend to come from ignorance and a lack of real contact. It is very important to educate people and create environments for connection; it is often the lack of connection between groups that causes misjudgement in the first place.

The experts believe it is important to start at a young age. At age seven or eight, children become very concerned with fairness and are responsive to lessons about prejudice. In parts of the United States, schools are implementing programmes to help “unteach racism”: conversations with multiracial groups about racial attitudes and tensions; well-trained teachers teaching the histories of genocide; and children role playing being treated unfairly based solely on traits like eye colour or gender - to understand the experience of discrimination. 

In our own country, efforts are also being made. Just next month, Independent Media, owners of the Star, the Cape Times, and other major newspapers, is launching a campaign called “Racism Stops with Me”. It will include anti-racism concerts, and will encourage public debate across Independent’s media outlets, and at schools and universities.

Will these steps change attitudes? Many may think not. Rabbi Jonathan Lord Sacks, in his book, the Dignity of Difference, pleads with his readers to embrace difference, the other/the stranger, as an absolute necessity for humanity to continue with integrity and dignity. Debate, conscientising, education, anti-racism campaigns, and public outcries - are all a very good start.

– Vanessa Valkin, editor

 

4 Comments

  1. 4 Choni 27 Jan
    The only antidote to the poison of Anti-Semitism is mass Aliyah.
  2. 3 nat cheiman 27 Jan
    Generally speaking, a lack of education is the reason for racist behaviour. Even attorney jansen, who has a degree, is not educated in the lessons of life and humanity. Thus, her insane outbursts.
    Zuma, although uneducated is clever enough not to be specifically racist, although that machine gun song ( umshini wam) worries me because it is incitefull. Also, we dont know if he can even use a machine gun. Now that is dangerous.
  3. 2 Tamar Milshtein 01 Feb
    Well written and thought provoking! 
    Racism Stops with Me is the most important lesson...I always refer back to Son of Hamas, who changed his prejudiced, ingrained hatred towards Israelis based on his own direct experience with his Shin Bet handler as well as a direct experience with Hamasniks in jail. 
  4. 1 Karen Saltz 20 Feb
    With regard to the recent anti- Reform sentiment expressed in a letter to the SAJR recently, take note that the blatant anti- semite,Maureen Jansen ,states that she would like to see the extermination of ALL Jews who support Israel. Those Jews she would like to see wiped off the face of the earth, include Jews of every stripe - Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular. She makes no distinction in her blind hatred of everyone one who identifies as Jewish.

    We Reform Jews should be safe, if Mr Knight's non - acceptance of us was universal. However, it is not, and we are seen as Jews but all those who wish to see the  demise of every Jew in the world. Therefore, Mr Knight, we are just as Jewish as you are in the eyes of everyone, with the exception of biased, intolerant Orthodox Jews like yourself. You really should be very ashamed, and if you were a mensch, you would man up and apologize to all Jews who do not follow your very narrow minded and destructive way of thinking of your own people. You are to be pitied for your glaucomic view of Judaism, and the damage views like yours will cause, not only amongst non- Orthodox Jews, but in the community at large.

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