Whether it’s racism, ethnicism, heightism or any-ism, teacher Adam Rabasca has seen the hurt caused by insults and suggests everyone mind their own business
Racism, ethnicism, religionism—ism warfare, if you will—is passive one-upmanship: one category of persons attempting to best each other on the degree of persecution or prejudice or discrimination experienced as a result of heritage or religion or nationality or height.
“We’ve got slavery,” say the blacks.
“We’ve got the Holocaust,” say the Jews.
“We’ve got the Trail of Tears, motherf***er!” say the Cherokees.
My daughters, ages two and four, are exactly a quarter Jewish. Indeed, “Jewish” is not a nationality, but more on that later. Their quarter Jewishness means that they, as granddaughters of only one Jewish grandparent, were “second-degree mischlings” and would have escaped the Holocaust and their father, a “first-degree mischling,” would have been murdered.
I teach at a high school where the administration recently began an initiative to eradicate bullying and harassment, an initiative that focuses considerably on ism warfare. Ours is an island where, after President Obama’s first election, locals burned three effigies. I have seen swastikas and the n-word graffitied on the walls in the same week that fellow colleagues have jokingly signed the Hitler salute. Not many have witnessed the same nor acknowledged the inappropriateness of these acts. I was “shushed” when I argued that the Confederate flag was being used by students to express their attitudes towards the non-white members of our community. When a former civil rights lawyer began working with us to eliminate hate language and acts, the faculty, aside from myself and one other Jew, was stunned to hear some of the things said in our hallways, written on our walls, said by each other.
Like this one: “My grandfather died in the Holocaust at a concentration camp. He fell off a watchtower.” I find this to be a highly evolved joke, one that even as a Jew, I would find funny if said by comedian Jeff Ross at a Comedy Central Roast. I was, however, rather shocked to learn that a fellow colleague and friend said it. Not because I was offended but because that even as a lover of off-color humor, I found it rather stupid to say such a joke in a classroom. This kind of humor can be perfect for taking ourselves a little less seriously, but when seriousness is necessary, good judgment should prevail.
The offending teacher said his generation didn’t know any better. I’m tired of predecessor generations “not knowing any better.” Get over it baby boomers -every now and then, I like to single them out. Just because you didn’t know any better doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know any better.
Oh, sorry. I wouldn’t have used the n-word…you’re just so light skinned! I didn’t know any better.
Oh, sorry. Didn’t realize you couldn’t say, “retard.” I didn’t know any better.
Oh, sorry. Didn’t know that towelhead and queer and midget and cracker are hate language. I didn’t know any better.
I imagine people are probably less even-tempered about these than the Holocaust joke, but perhaps I assume too much. On the other hand, maybe it’s okay to laugh at it. There are some good jokes out there. Should we be a little less sensitive?
Here’s the annoying part: I’m usually shrugged off because I’m being an over-sensitive Jew. Or, how could this possibly be an issue since you can’t see Jewishness? Or, as it is, Jewish is not a color. Relax Jewry of the world! Jewishness cannot be seen! Have no fear! The only difference will be that which is known. Don’t ask, don’t tell, right?
Nevertheless, don’t think people don’t make the difference known. I worry for my daughters when they enter a room of difference, even though Hitler’s laws would have had mercy on them. As it is, their genealogy traces back to Calitri, Italy, a home to the swarthier paisanos, although you would never recognize this blood to look at their blond hair and blue-green eyes.
Oh, sorry…I didn’t mean that you were WOPs…who could tell, though, right? Besides, I was referring to Mexicans…you know, “WithOut Papers.”
It can’t be seen. But it doesn’t necessarily feel welcoming when, upon learning of my heritage, people laugh. Or they ask, “Is that why you’re balding? Because you wear a yarmulke?”
I don’t wear a yarmulke.
There’s another point to be made here. I’m also only five-foot-three. On occasion, I may be the subject of snickering or questioning stares hypothesizing whether I’m a little person, but more often I receive the silly jest of, when I’m actually upright, someone says, “Hey, stand up, will ya’?”
Ha, ha, funny man! A clever and comical quip. Shall I give you other fodder for humor such as unwanted hair or male inadequacy?
Make mention of someone’s cultural garb, shade of skin, their accent, and you’re in trouble. But it is game on when it is a short joke or a fat joke. What does it matter, though, the topic of insult? It doesn’t matter that I have had to laugh off the start-a-parade-of-Jews-by-rolling-a-penny-down-the-street joke. Or the can-you-get-on-the-It’s-a-Small-World-ride-at-Disney-World joke.
Whether it’s f*g for a gay person, n***a for a black person, k*ke for a Jew, whatever the nature of insult, whomever the recipient, whether South Asian, Eastern Asian, South Pacific, North Pacific, Inuit, Italian, Russian, Irish or Polish, what matters is, simply, it hurts.
We hope to raise our children to be good to others, to accept, to be inclusive, but that is not the case. There is too much hostility out there. Cynical, yes. And sadly real. This is not an essay of mission or plight, only observance. Perhaps, however, the message should be for everyone to simply mind his or her own singular business. If it is going to hurt, then refrain. There are no rules for how isms hurt one another. The only rule is that isms do hurt one another.
—photo by Martin Terber/Flickr