The historical ideologies of anti-Jewish prejudice from the 15th century to the Overland Park, Kansas Murders.
We are learning from news accounts that the alleged shooter in the murders of three people at two separate Jewish sites, a community center and a retirement village in Overland Park, Kansas, just one day before the Jewish Passover, was inspired by hate. According to Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “This was a hate crime.” The federal government can now prosecute the suspected perpetrator, Frazier Glenn Miller (a.k.a. Frazier Glenn Cross), 73-years old, on hate-crime charges.
The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Miller as a former grand-dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a founding member of the White Patriot Party, a white supremacist group. Miller has posted approximately 12000 times on Vanguard News Network whose slogan is “No Jews, Just Right.”
So why did a self-described “white supremacist” target apparent white people at Jewish community centers? The answer is quite simple: Though Jewish people are members of every so-called “race,” even Jews of European heritage (Ashkenazim) have been and still continue to be “racially” othered by dominant Christian European-heritage communities in some quarters. For this reason, I argue that the federal and state prosecutors charge Miller with first-degree premeditated murder stemming from his religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry, even though it appears that he mistakenly targeted people who were not themselves Jewish. Anti-Jewish prejudice (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) is a form of racism.
Looking back on the historical emergence of the concept of “race,” critical race theorists remind us that this concept arose concurrently with the advent of European exploration as a justification for conquest and domination of the globe beginning in the 15th century of the Common Era (CE) and reaching its apex in the early 20th century CE.
Geneticists tell us that there is often more variability within a given so-called “race” than between “races,” and that there are no essential genetic markers linked specifically to “race.” They assert, therefore, that “race” is an historical, “scientific,” biological myth, an idea, and that any socially-conceived physical “racial” markers are fictional and are not concordant with what is beyond or below the surface of the body.
Though biologists and social scientists have proven unequivocally that the concept of “race” is socially constructed (produced, manufactured), however, this does not negate the very real consequences people face living in societies that maintain racist policies and practices on the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels.
For millennia, some Christian theologians distinguished Jews as different from and inferior to Christians on religious grounds. A number of passages within the Christian Testaments were used to give justification for persecuting Jews. For example, Matthew 27:24-25, and in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16:
[T]he Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God’s will and enemies of their fellow man … All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken the good of all.
They also often equated Jews to the Devil:
And Jesus said: “If God were your father, you would love me…[but] your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father’s desires” (John 8:44).
The Jews…are Satan’s synagogue (Revelation 2:9).
I will make those of Satan’s synagogue, who claim to be Jews but are lying frauds, come and fall down at your feet (Revelation 3:9).
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), born Carl Linné, (also know as the “Father of Scientific Racism”), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, developed a system of scientific hierarchical classification. Within this taxonomy under the label Homo sapiens, (“Man”), he enumerated five categories based initially on place of origin and later on skin color: Europeanus, Asiaticus, Americanus, Monstrosus, and Africanus. Linnaeus asserted that each category was ruled by a different bodily fluid (Humors: “moistures”), represented by Blood (optimistic), Phlegm (sluggish), Cholor (yellow bile: prone to anger), Melancholy (black bile: prone to sadness).
Linnaeus connected each human category to a respective humor, thereby constructing the Linnaeus Taxonomy in descending order: Europeanus: sanguine (blood), pale, muscular, swift, clever, inventive, governed by laws; Asiaticus: melancholic, yellow, inflexible, severe, avaricious, dark-eyed, governed by opinions; Americanus (indigenous peoples in the Americas): choleric, copper-colored, straightforward, eager, combative, governed by customs; Monstrosus (dwarfs of the Alps, the Patagonian giant, the monorchid Hottentot): agile, fainthearted; Africanus: phlegmatic, black, slow, relaxed, negligent, governed by impulse.
Later, although Charles Darwin himself did not assert this, some of Darwin’s successors, referred to as “Social Darwinists,” hypothesized that Jews no longer were simply a separate religious, ethnic, or political group, but rather they extended the idea that like black Africans and other groups (including homosexuals), Jews were throwbacks to earlier stages of religious and human development. They forwarded a so-called “racial” hierarchy placing “Aryans” on the top, black Africans at the lower end, and other “races” (including Jews) at various points in between.
In Europe, by the late 19th century CE, Judaism had come to be viewed by the scientific community as a distinct “racial” type, with essential immutable biological characteristics — a trend that increased markedly into the early 20th century CE. Once seen as largely a religious, ethnic, or political group, Jews were increasingly constructed as members of a “mixed race” (a so-called “mongrel” or “bastard race”), a people who had crossed racial barriers by interbreeding with black Africans during the Jewish Diaspora. If Jews were evil, as thought by many, this evilness was genetic and could not be purged or cured. Jews converting to Christianity, therefore, could no longer solve “the Jewish question.”
The British psychologist, Francis Galton (1822-1911) — a cousin of Charles Darwin — was a founder of the “Eugenics” movement. In fact, Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883 from the Greek word meaning “well born.” Eugenicists attempted to improve qualities of a so-called “race” by controlling human breeding. Galton argued that genetic predisposition determined human behavior. He proposed that the so-called “elites” in the British Isles were the most intelligent of all the peoples throughout the planet, while “[t]he average intellectual standard of the Negro race is some two grades below our own [Anglo-Saxons]. The Australian type is at least one grade below the African Negro…” and “The Jews are specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations.” Galton asserted that Jews were of a lower racial form, and that they could be easily recognizable by their appearance (apparently, though, not by Frazier Glenn Miller in Kansas). He also talked about a supposed cold and calculating “Jewish gaze.”
The U.S. writer, Madison Grant (1865-1937) codified this supposed “racialization” of the Jews in his influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis for European History (1916), in which he argued that Europeans comprised four distinct races: The “Nordics” of northwestern Europe sat atop his racial hierarchy, whom Grant considered as the natural rulers and administrators, which accounted for England’s “extraordinary ability to govern justly and firmly the lower races” (p. 207). Next down the racial line fell the “Alpines” whom Grant referred to as “always and everywhere a race of peasants” with a tendency toward “democracy” although submissive to authority (p. 227). These he followed with the “Mediterraneans” of Southern and Eastern Europe, inferior to both the Nordics and the Alpines in “bodily stamina,” but superior in “the field of art.” Also, Grant considered the Mediterraneans superior to the Alpines in “intellectual attainments,” but far behind the Nordics “in literature and in scientific research and discovery” (p. 229). On the bottom he placed the most inferior of all the European so-called “races”: the Jews.
Referring specifically to the Polish Jew, Grant asserted that “…the Polish Jews, whose dwarf stature, peculiar mentality and ruthless concentration on self-interest…” (p. 16), present themselves in “swarms” (p. 63). Analogous to the notion in the United States that “one drop” of “black African blood” makes a person black, according to Grant, the mixture of any of the European races and a Jew is a Jew.
By the end of the 19th century CE, the popular image of the “Jewish type” (portrayed invariably as the Jewish male), according to Sander Gilman in his book The Jew’s Body, “consisted of a hooked nose, curling nasal folds (ali nasi), thick prominent lips, receding forehead and chin, large ears, curly black hair, dark skin, stooped shoulders, [weak flat feet, deflated rump,] and piercing, cunning eyes” (p. 18). In addition, the gaze of the Jew was said to be pathological, searing, cunning, cold, and piercing.
An offshoot of Eugenics was phrenology: the study of the skull emphasizing that its size and shape determined mental abilities and character. Phrenologist practitioners held that a specific section of the “Jewish” or “Hebrew” brain was “abnormally” developed causing Jews to be highly interested in money. As we know, the Nazis used contrived “racial” arguments as a philosophical cornerstone for justification of their persecutions of Jews, as well as most people of color and people with disabilities. Jews and others they considered descendants from inferior “racial stands.” Nazi leadership argued vehemently that Jews were polluting the so-called “Aryan race.” They forced Jews to wear the yellow Star of David as a signifying marker, since to the Nazis, yellow represented a sign of “race pollution.”
This sentiment extended far beyond the borders of the Third Reich. For example, in 1939, the United States Congress refused to pass the Wagner-Rogers Bill, which if enacted would have permitted entry to the United States of 20,000 children from Eastern Europe, many of whom were Jewish, over existing quotas. Laura Delano Houghteling, cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and wife of the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration sternly warned: “20,000 charming children would all too soon, grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”
Once constructed as the “Other” in European society, Jews and “Jewishness” — while certainly not fully embraced by the ruling elite as “one of their own” — became a sort of “middle” status, “standing somewhere between the dominant position of the White majority and the marginal position of People of Color.” And this change in Jewish ethno-racial assignment has occurred only within the last 70 or so years.
“Race” then must be seen constructed NOT as a binary with “white” on one side and “people of color” on the other, but rather as a continuum. Ashkenazim are primarily constructed in the U.S. today on the “white” side of the line upon this continuum, and we definitely have white privilege vis-a-vis “people of color.” I would argue, however, that we do not have the degree and extent of white privilege in many sections of this country as white mainline Protestants. In fact, in some countries, for example, in Eastern Europe still today, we are not constructed as “white.” Obviously, so-called white supremacists believe this as well.